Watch Your Asterisk

As the June 5 deadline approaches for NIH new R01s, take a moment to double-check your PDF file names (and make sure all of your attachments are PDFs, come to that). NIH systems can be touchy with unexpected character recognition, and no one wants an error at 4:58p next Friday. Remember: file names should be less than 50 characters, including punctuation and spaces. Names CAN contain any of the following characters:

  • A-Z
  • a-z
  • 0-9
  • underscore: _
  • hyphen: –
  • space
  • period
  • parenthesis
  • curly braces: { }
  • square brackets: [ ]
  • tilde: ~
  • exclamation point
  • comma
  • semicolon
  • at sign: @
  • number/pound sign: #
  • dollar sign
  • percent sign
  • plus sign
  • equal sign

 

Names CANNOT contain any of the following:

  • Two or more spaces in a row between words or characters
  • Ampersand: &
  • Apostrophe (note: the official NIH list of acceptable characters includes apostrophes, but we have encountered more than one error when using apostrophes so we recommend avoiding them)

 

Be safe: keep it simple!  For more tips on compliant file attachments, look over NIH’s PDF Guidelines.  Questions about what you’re reading? Drop us a note!

O, What A Tangled Web

No one likes to admit defeat, and most are not particularly excited to shout a mistake from the rooftops.  Self-protection is human nature, but covering tracks in research can land you in some hot water.  HHS defines “research misconduct” as ” fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, and does not include honest error or differences of opinion.” NIH has procedures in place to handle research misconduct claims, but ultimately no power to investigate (except in the case of intramural research).  All research misconduct allegations involving NIH awards (or any agency under the umbrella of HHS) are forwarded to the HHS Office of Research Integrity (ORI) for their oversight.  Just to be clear:

 

  • Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
  • Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
  • Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.

 

If a PI is found to have engaged in research misconduct, HHS can take action by means of debarment from eligibility to receive Federal funds for grants and contracts; prohibition from PHS service; certification of information sources by the respondent that is forwarded by the institution; certification of data by the institution; imposition of supervision; submission of a correction of published articles by the respondent; submission of a retraction of published articles; and more, including recalled funds and withdrawal of support for associated PIs.

 

WSU PIs are full of integrity and honor, but panic can blur a bright line. In your moments of most overwhelming, results-driven disappointment, make sure the object you cling to is a life raft and not an anchor.  ORI sanction happens (and just recently did), and it can ruin a career.

On-Again, Off-Again Relationship

Ah, the F&A rate portion of your awards: can’t live with them, can’t – quite literally – live without them.  The F&A rates here at WSU are variable as you well know (we’re in a 52.5% period on-campus right now), and that portion generated by awards is distributed according to the policies set forth in section 03-5 of the WSU Administrative Policy Manual.  Those funds pay the salaries, leases, capital projects, etc. etc. that keep our research infrastructure viable.  Many awards allow you to calculate and request F&A (or indirect costs) on top of a direct cost cap, but many do not.  When this is the case, that 52.5% can swiftly eat into your project budget.  That’s when the 26.0% off-campus rate sure starts to look good.  But when can you use it?

 

What is “Off-Campus” Research?

The definition of “off-campus” applicable to WSU is negotiated in our DHHS agreement. In our case, “off-campus” is agreed to mean:

 

For all activities performed in facilities not owned by the institution and to which rent is directly allocated to the project(s) the off-campus rate will apply.  Grants or contracts will not be subject to more than one F&A cost rate.  If more than 50% of a project is performed off-campus, the off-campus rate will apply to the entire project.

 

This is the standard for determining which rate you can use until our current agreement is renegotiated (in 2020, barring extenuating circumstances).

 

My research is done in a non-WSU facility; is it “off-campus”?

Whether your non-WSU facility research is considered “off-campus” is entirely dependent on the terms of your lease; the terms of your lease is the first place you should check.  If WSU is the responsible party for payment on your space, chances are you should be using the on-campus rate (as that cost is factored into the on-campus F&A rate).  If WSU is not the named responsible party, there is a possibility that the off-campus rate in effect at the time of submission could apply (be sure to build those costs into your proposal!).

 

Even after reading the contract, I’m not really sure who is responsible for my lease.  Who can help?

There are definitely murky circumstances, especially when it comes to leasing DMC space and our affiliation agreements. If you’re not sure,  be sure to contact SPA to find out how your space relates to certain existing blanket agreements. Once you’re sure, we can help you with any adjustments that may need to be made!

Good Morning, How May We ASSIST You?

Last week, ASSIST became a submission option for R01s and U01s.  This means that ASSIST is now available for R01, U01, R03, all multi-project grant programs, and Individual Career Development Award (K, excluding KM1 and K12) applications.  Right now, you may choose to use ASSIST for its features (we like how you can validate for errors and warnings BEFORE submission), or you may continue to use the downloadable SF424 forms.  Keep in mind, however, that SF424 wasn’t always required either 😉  In order to use ASSIST, you must use or obtain an eRACommons ID.

 

We’ve used ASSIST a few times here at RAS and we thought we’d share a few things we’ve found:

  • Because ASSIST is cloud-based and directly populated to NIH, you can see errors and warnings before submission.
  • More than one person can be signed in and working on an ASSIST application, just not on the same component.
  • Only a person with recognized signing authority by NIH (according to their eRACommons credentials) can actually submit. You’ll need to add your GCO as a contributor.
  • All components of your application will need to be marked “Final” before you can mark your application as “Ready to Submit.” Conversely, if a component is not marked “Work in Progress,” you cannot edit.  As annoying as this will be when you are making last-minute changes, it does prevent accidental submission of unrefined applications.

 

Take a look around the system and see what you find.  ASSIST is nothing to fear: if you can do an SF424, you can use ASSIST.  In fact, we bet that you’ll like the administrative data carry-over population and pre-submission validation features.  We’ve stumbled through enough now that we’ve hit many of the hiccups; if you run into one, let us know and we’ll be happy to help you navigate.  Also check out the NIH ASSIST page,  where you can access FAQs, common errors and training resources on the left-side menu.