COVID and Grant Applications: ASCB Asks NIH for Clarification

When the Public Policy Committee reviewed the results of its survey about member productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the more concerning results was that almost 80% of the primary investigators said they had lost between three and nine months of productivity on their federal research grants.

Public Policy Committee members have also heard reports that grant applicants are not including any discussion of individual COVID-related difficulties as part of grant applications and that study section reviewers have been given varying instructions on how or even if they should consider any COVID-related difficulties when reviewing grant applications.

In July, ASCB President Ruth Lehmann sent a letter to Noni Byrnes, Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Scientific Review (CSR), urging that CSR and other NIH offices provide grantees and reviewers with “clear guidance about the role research-related COVID-19 experiences should play in future grant applications.” In particular, she asked CSR to clarify for reviewers how to consider the impact COVID-19 may have had on applicants. In follow-up conversations with CSR, they committed to giving reviewers a clearer understanding of how they should consider any such information provided by applicants.

ASCB also sent a letter to the NIH Office of Extramural Research (OER) asking for “clearer guidance about the role research-related COVID-19 experiences should play in future grant applications.” OER recently issued an announcement that says that “applicants may address effects due to the pandemic on productivity or other scoreable issues.” In asking for further clarification, our letter makes the point that “those most in need may be hesitant to ask for help out of concern that asking for assistance will cast them and their research in a negative light.” 

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: