Helping your Fellow, Man

One of the more difficult awards to navigate is the fellowship.  Fellowships are awards that come with lots of prestige and the opportunity for excellent research pursuits, but they aren’t without their hardships for the recipient (and often for the administrator as well).  Federal policies have a significant impact on the policies and practices of research institutions, and Wayne State University is no exception.  If you have a pre- or postdoc in your department who has been offered a fellowship, it is very important to have a conversation with him or her so s/he fully understands both the benefits and consequences of accepting a fellowship.  Here are some points that potential fellows need to understand:

  1. Fellows are not employees.  They are not employees of the university, and they are not employees of the agency awarding the fellowship.  Legally, fellows are considered “trainees” or “stipendees” performing independent research, and therefore not subject (or entitled) to the same set of standards and benefits as an employee.  There is an excellent article in Science Magazine from several years ago that discusses how this has come out in the courts, for better or worse.
  2. Medical and dental benefits come out of the fellowship payment, not provided by the university or the granting institution.  This is related the above point, as perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp for many fellows. The fellow can enroll in a university health care plan, however the premium is at a higher rate.  Most fellowship stipends provide for this in the explanation of the award’s intent; NIH provides for this as an “institutional allowance”, a defined part of the award specifically meant to defray the costs of healthcare.  This means that for a fellow, when selecting health care coverage from the university options, a higher-cost plan will mean more money out of pocket, but whose pocket?  Some departments choose to help their fellows by picking the excess costs from departmental funds, but are under no obligation to do so and often do not.  The burden of responsibility for health care costs is a very important conversation to have with your fellow.
  3. When administrators are reconciling fellowship accounts, check the FRIGITD and PHICHEK screens for the correct account codes:  6223 indicates Medical Insurance and 6224 indicates Dental Insurance.   It is important that these codes show the correct proportions of the fellowship stipend dedicated to satisfying the charges associated with these coverages.   In many cases, administrators have found either incorrect deductions, or no deductions at all.  Ensuring that the account codes are correctly entered when the account is initially established will prevent not only future deficit, but the painstaking steps necessary to correct them.

For documentation of Wayne State University’s definition of a fellowship status, check out the  Administrative Policy and Procedure Manual (APPM) section 1.3.4; section 4.0 specifically discusses procedure for establishing the correct payment line.  If you are specifically working with an NIH F32 award, PA-06-373 details the required allotment for stipend funds in section II.2. (Note: if you are APPLYING for an F32, don’t forget to use the new codes from the reissue!)  For help in deciphering your award, contact us anytime!

Progressive Party: Understanding the Functions of the RPPR

Many of you know that the RPPR (Research Performance Progress Report) format is now required for most NIH progress reports (specifically Streamlined Noncompeting Award Process (SNAP) and Fellowship awards).  Note that NIH has discontinued the use of the PHS 416-9, NRSA Individual Fellowship Progress Report for Continuation Support, and requires use of the RPPR for all Fellowship progress reports. (As a side note, did you know that all of the NIH Fellowship Award Announcements are being reissued under new numbers?  If you or one of your students is in the process of applying, be sure to look for your new announcement number.)

To help you navigate the RPPR process, here are a selection of the top ten things you’ll want to know to understand the behavior of the report form:

  1. Your RPPR is populated with information from your last report.  This information appears in a gray font, which may lead you to think that you can’t edit, but much of it you can!  There will be an “edit” link toward the right side of your screen that will allow you to change the pre-populated information; you don’t need agency approval to do this.
  2. Your selection of references comes from you NCBI bibliography.  If you do not see a publication that you wish to include, go to your NCBI account to add it manually.  Once you have done this, you will be able to add it to your RPPR.
  3. RPPR  does NOT automatically save information that has been entered or uploaded when the user navigates to a different component or a different Commons page.  Be sure to use the “save” button often, which appears at the top and bottom left of each screen.
  4. The Recipient ID field is for YOUR, use, not NIH.  This field allows you to record an internal tracking number or identifier WSU use.  It is not a mandatory field and NIH will disregard the information, so don’t panic trying to find what number goes here.
  5. “Major goals of the project” are the same thing as your “Specific Aims.”  If NIH approved changes to the goals prior to award or during the reporting period, list the revised goals and objectives and explain any significant changes in approach or methods from the agency approved application or plan; you will only be able to edit these directly in Year 1.  If you are in Year 2 or later, checking the box indicating that goals have changed will yield a new box for your new goals.  In this case, both your original Specific Aims and your revised goals will be displayed.
  6. NIH’s recommended length is up to one page for each section, even though the physically allowable amount is the equivalent of three pages.
  7. The maximum size for PDFs uploaded to the RPPR is 6MB.
  8. All publications arising from an award during the reporting period must be reported regardless of the public access status of the publication.  You must, then, report your publications even if they appear in your NCBI bibliography as “noncompliant.”  If you submit with a noncompliance publication, you will receive a warning message, and an email requesting compliance verification no later than two weeks prior to the start date of the next budget period.  It’s surely a pain, but you have to report all of your publications.  Remember, you only need to report a publication one time per award so if you’ve already reported a pub in a previous progress report, you don’t need to do it again on subsequent reports.
  9. When reporting effort, person months are now rounded to the nearest whole month.  This is the new federal standard promulgated for interim progress reports by OMB in the RPPR Final Format.  For interim reporting purposes, however, the new standard allows a reasonable variance of 0.5.   Although by NIH definition PD/PI effort must be greater than zero, in  instances where the PD/PI has 0.4 person month or less, you will need to report zero person month in the RPPR.
  10. When preparing “Other Support” for the RPPR, include the effort for the next year of the current grant. The effort listed in the RPPR for “Personnel”is retrospective,  while effort included in the “Other Support” should be prospective.

Don’t see your issue here?  Contact RAS for some help in finding the answer, or take a look at the RPPR FAQs page.

You May Need an Appendectomy

Strictly-speaking, we’re speaking of the removal of information in a document appendix, of course. The “Appendices” section of the SF424 cannot be used to get around the page limits of other sections (the most popular? Research Strategy, which is limited to 12 pages for an R01 in case you’re counting along).  Information that *is* allowed as appendices includes:

  •   Up to 3 of the following types of publications (any exceptions will be noted in your announcement):
    • Manuscripts and/or abstracts accepted for publication but not yet published
    • Published manuscripts and/or abstracts only when a free, online, publicly available journal link is not available
    • Patents materials directly relevant to the project
  • Surveys, questionnaires, data collection instruments, etc.
  • Clinical protocols
  • Informed consent documents (as necessary)

Information that is NOT allowed in the appendix is:

  • Published manuscripts and/or abstracts that are publicly available in a free, online format
    •  Note: you can reference these in the application, and URLs and PMCID numbers can be included in the References Cited section.  There is no limit on the number of references you can site, but applicants are encouraged to be “both judicious and concise.”
  • Graphic images of gels, micrographs, photographs, etc.  These may be included in your research plan and are therefore subject to the page limit.  The  SF 424 (R&R) Application Guide sets forth guidance as to size and resolution of images that you may include in your plan
    • Note: there are some liberties that may be taken with PAPER SUBMISSIONS ONLY.  If you are planning on submitting via paper application, please contact RAS and we will clarify your latitude.

For more details on what is and is not allowable, check out NOT-OD-07-018.  If you’re unclear on whether your planned appendix is permissible, drop RAS a note; we’ll help you figure it out!