Volume 28 | 2005 | Number 2
Getting Funding from the National Institute on Drug
Mark P. Reilly, Ph.D., Central Michigan
With increasing costs of research, dwindling state coffers for
universities, and increasing pressures to succeed in the academic
environment, securing funding for research is fast becoming a
necessary part of the existence of the behavioral scientist.
However, it need not be our bane. There are many positive aspects
to grant writing besides the possibility of getting money to do
something you want to do, and fortunately, numerous opportunities
for funding exist. One such source has been the National Institute
on Drug Abuse, or NIDA. NIDA was established in 1974; its mission
is to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on
drug abuse and addiction. Support from NIDA has long fostered
behavior analysis and behavioral pharmacology (Charles R. Schuster,
who coauthored one of the first textbooks in the fledgling field of
behavioral pharmacology, was once the Director of NIDA) and
continues to provide a source of funding for behavioral research
and support for postdoctoral positions. So what does one do to
receive a NIDA-sponsored grant?
Times have changed considerably from when Skinner could write a
4.5 page letter to the National Science Foundation soliciting
financial support for his research program (see Catania, 2004). Now
days, there are many pages of instructions and many forms that have
to be filled out exactly as instructed. Grant writing is sometimes
a painful and arduous experience with delayed, probabilistic
consequences that are not always positive. In 2003, there were
1,038 new grant submissions of which only 333 were funded (success
rate of 32%) and more than 104 million dollars were distributed. I
have had more than my share of rejected submissions. My Career
Development Award (called a K-Award), titled Toward a General
Theory of Drug Behavior Dynamics, was unscored upon its first
submission, which means it was not going to be considered for
funding. The score indicates how likely it is that the grant will
be funded, the lower the better. My first pass was not even scored!
Nevertheless, I addressed most if not all of the readers'
criticisms, resubmitted it, and it was funded. This brings me to my
most important lesson learned I have learned in the grant game: be
Through the years, I have learned other lessons about the
grant-writing process, mainly through observing my highly
successful mentors but also through my few successes. This is the
advice I can offer for other behavioral scientists seeking funding
If possible, surround yourself by
successful people who have a demonstrated track record of obtaining
grants…pay close attention to their grant-related behavior.
Review successful grant proposals
(these are public domain and are available for review).
Attend grant-writing workshops such
as the one offered by ABA in 2005.
Generate an idea that addresses the
needs of NIDA's mission or a Request for Applications (RFAs) or
other calls for proposals.
Determine the best mechanism for
your proposal (e.g., R01, R03, R21, B-STARTs, K award).
Dedicate a substantial amount of
time developing that idea and writing the proposal.
Have one or two colleagues outside
and inside your area review it.
Edit, Edit, Edit.
Take advantage of services your
university may provide, such as budgetary assistance (Central
Michigan University's Office of Research and Sponsored Projects
offers terrific assistance in preparing grants for submission).
Learn to accept criticism and
rejection (remember only a small percentage of grants are funded);
be resistant to extinction and punishment. If your proposal
receives a score that will not likely be funded, resubmit and
thoroughly address each issue raised by the readers.
As mentors, we need to do a better job training the skills
required for successful grant writing. We can start by shaping
grant writing and the collateral skills as part of our graduate
training (predoctoral and postdoctoral students can apply for
training grants and National Research Service Awards or NRSAs. My
postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan was supported
by a NIDA training grant and the University of Michigan Substance
Abuse Research Center). Of course, the ability for NIDA to fund
research is critically linked to their budget. Let us hope that
NIDA's budget will not be slashed in these economically difficult
times, and it will continue to be a source of funding for behavior
analysts/behavioral pharmacologists in the near and distant
For more information, go to the link http://www.nida.nih.gov/Funding/.
Here you will find FAQ, downloadable forms, instructions, lists of
previously awarded grants, and descriptions of the various funding
mechanisms. Two other fine links are: Resources for New
Investigators at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/index.htm
and the Research Assistant at http://www.theresearchassistant.com/index.asp.
These links offer advice and other resources for grant writing.
Catania, A. C. (2002). The
watershed years of 1958-1962 in the Harvard Pigeon Lab. Journal of
the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 77, 327-345.