Grant Overlap

May 19, 2011

Should you be so lucky to be awarded a new NIH grant, one of the things you have to do right before the award is made is to report to them your sources of Other Support. Meaning an accounting of all your other research funding. One of the things that you have to address is “Overlap”, meaning the degree to which the new award and one of your existing awards proposes to do the exact same research. This is not uncommon and a question at writedit’s blog pleads for help in addressing overlap so as to avoid any reduction in the budget of a new award.

For this project, currently I have a small foundation grant ($100K for 2 years) and I am one year into it. Though the goals and approach are very similar on paper, the scope of the two projects are very different because of the money and duration. How do I report my current funding without getting budget slashed? Do I have to report the ‘overlap’ quantitatively (% overlap) or qualitatively (pilot vs detailed project etc) in my funding list?

Not too unusual, particularly for newly appointed Assistant Professors, right? They are cobbling together little bits of research support in the beginning that allows them to generate the Preliminary Data that are necessary for the NIH R01 proposal to sail through to funding. So it would not be at all strange that at some point there will be a lot of apparent (and actual) overlap between smaller, foundation-type grants and the big R01 proposal.

My prior experience suggests that it is really not that hard to deal with potential overlap and that NIH Program Officers aren’t too hard-case about the issue. They are just looking for a general response, not a point-by-point (or dollar-by-dollar) accounting. They understand that foundation and local awards are the seeds of Preliminary Data. Times change, of course, so it is always worth seeking other experiences and opinions.

My generic advice is to talk about the research progress and not worry so much about specific experiments. Point out what was proposed in your new grant that is already funded by the foundation grant. Roughly. Although in some cases, depending on how y0u wrote your pending NIH proposal, I suppose you might want to reference specific experiments.

Then, outline what you are going to do with the “saved” money and how this will enhance the project *as proposed*. This is important. Your goal, after all, is to preserve your original budget as proposed. You can say things such as“This will allow me to hire an undergrad for the summer.” Or perhaps, “The postdoc proposed for 50% time will now be 75% time…” Perhaps you are going to buy some bling-bling equipment that is going to speed many of your proposed experiments.

The goal is to write something that suggests you will able to do better without stating that you had a compromise in the original budget, if you see what I mean. A couple of additional experiments might be okay but be wary of venturing too far outside of the scope of what has been peer reviewed (in the eyes of the PO). This makes them very nervous.


Any other thoughts Dear Reader? How do you phrase your Overlap excuses?