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The Developmental Core provides funding and mentoring support for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) who are interested in pursuing an HIV research career. We work collaboratively with other CFAR Cores provide mentoring resources for CFAR ESIs.

The UNC CFAR Developmental Core provides one year of funding for: 1) Traditional Developmental Awards (TDA), 2) Secondary Data Analysis (SDA) responding to the related CFAR Notice of Special Interest (NOSI); and 3) Microgrants related to CFAR-funded research. Awards are made to one of the following:

  • Early stage investigators*
  • Experienced investigators new to HIV

A senior mentor is required to assist ESI applicants and Awardees in preparing applications, project implementation, manuscript preparation, and writing a directly-related larger grant proposal to the NIH. Research can be basic, translational, clinical, or social/behavioral, and can address treatment, transmission, or prevention.

*Early Stage Investigators are defined as never having received an R01 or R01 equivalent grant as a PI; holding a terminal degree (e.g. PhD, MD); is eligible to serve as PI on an NIH grant; and employed at UNC, FHI 360, RTI, or an NC HBCU.

Developmental Cohort

The CFAR Developmental (“Dev”) Cohort is open to all UNC CFAR-affiliated ESIs and post-docs. Virtual Dev Cohort meetings are held monthly throughout the academic year. The Dev Cohort leverages a wide range of professional development resources and provides opportunities for structured feedback from senior CFAR investigators on members’ research.

Each year’s Cohort will participate in activities such as grant-writing and manuscript-writing workshops, peer and senior investigator review and feedback on members’ Specific Aims, and a Q&A session with a panel of NIH reviewers. Additional meeting topics are driven by members’ interests and may include such topics as effective poster design, impact measurement and visualization, communicating research findings to lay audiences, choosing where to publish, and/or sensitivity training for working with the transgender community.

Request for Proposals for Developmental Awards

The UNC CFAR Developmental Core provides Developmental Awards and small secondary data analysis awards to emerging HIV investigators for one year of research.

  • Q: What types of feedback does the CFAR Developmental Review Committee give to applicants?
    • There are definitely themes that we frequently see across applications, disciplines, and years. Common positive feedback includes:
      • Project is significant, scientifically interesting
      • The proposal includes strong mentors
      • The hypothesis is plausible and novel
    • Common negative feedback includes:
      • The proposal and intervention are too ambitious
      • PI needs guidance with methods
      • The analysis plan was lacking
      • The sample size is too small
      • No power calculations were discussed
      • The intervention may be too diffuse
      • No clear path to follow-up NIH funding
    • Much of the negative feedback could be avoided by active engagement with the PI’s mentor during the application process. In addition, pre-submission application reviews are required by the CFAR Biostatistics Core for projects using quantitative methodology and/or the Social and Behavioral Science Core for projects using qualitative methodology.
  • Q: A mentor sounds useful. How do I get one of those?
    • If you have one or more already, feel free to use them. We understand the value of a mentoring team that may include a senior investigator who specializes in the science or methodology utilized by your proposal, another who knows your population or topic area, and perhaps another who has your dream career and can help you plan how to achieve one just like it. If, however, you have not yet found a mentor that is a good fit for you and your research goals, don’t worry – we can help! We could probably make some recommendations based on a conversation with you, but it would be even better if you had some ideas already. We suggest that you go to the NIH RePORTER and search for R01-funded investigators based on location (ideally UNC, FHI, or RTI), topic area (e.g., HCV and HIV, medication adherence and HIV, or whatever you are interested in), and NIH Institute that you think is the best fit for you. After all, wouldn’t it be great to have a mentor that already knows the project officers, interests, quirks, etc., of your favorite Institute? If they have already figured out how to succeed in your area and Institute, they might be a good person to seek out for advice.  Find a few people that fit those criteria if you can, and then email us with those names. We’ll facilitate your interactions with them and see if we can’t help get you one of those useful mentors.
  • Q: Are overhead/indirect costs or PI salary support allowed in the Developmental proposal budget? [THIS POLICY HAS CHANGED]
    • A: It is our policy not to provide indirect costs at research-based colleges or universities. The UNC SOM similarly donates their share of the indirect costs back into the Award funds to maximize their reach.
    • However, PI salary support is now allowed for ALL ESI applicants. The amount should be carefully considered and thoroughly justified, and fall within the total budget limitations. As the application and amount of time that the applicant needs to be devoted to the proposed project is being developed, keep in mind that 10% LOE equals one half day a week, and 20% LOE equals one full day a week, and prepare the budget justification accordingly. Applicants are not required to request salary support and all justifications including salary support will be thoroughly reviewed.
  • Q: What’s a SWG?
    • The UNC CFAR is committed to fostering interdisciplinary collaboration among research investigators, and provides the support and resources necessary for investigators to work together in pursuit of unique research topics. UNC CFAR’s Scientific Working Groups (SWGs) are comprised of investigators who share common research interests and goals, and participate in competitively funded research.
    • One of the CFAR’s missions is to support the work of our SWGs, so we like to see new interdisciplinary research come out of these groups and encourage that by offering them money.  Currently, our CFAR has one SWG:
    • Carolinas United to End HIV, or CUE-HIV (Ann Dennis and Kimberly Powers, co-Chairs)
    • If you share their research interests, SWGs are always open to new members. Then, if you’d like to collaborate with other SWG members to put in a CFAR Developmental application, you can apply for $10,000 over the regular funding limit!
  • Q: I’m a post-doc/fellow and really need some money for a great HIV-related project. May I apply?
    • We appreciate post-docs/fellows and would love to help you but unfortunately our funds are limited. You are welcome to join the Dev Cohort (just tell Cathy Emrick that you are interested) but the CFAR’s continued funding depends in part on how successful our Developmental Awardees are at getting R and K level awards while they are employed in permanent positions at CFAR-related institutions. Therefore, we generally only fund ESI faculty (or researchers employed in permanent positions by RTI or FHI 360). We will consider making an exception for post-docs who have a clear path to becoming faculty by the end of their proposed year of Developmental funding and can provide documented proof from their future Department Chair in a letter of support. If you are a post-doc considering submitting a funding application, reach out to the Developmental Core first to discuss your situation.
  • Q: I’m not an ESI, but I haven’t worked in HIV before. Don’t you want to help me?
    • Of course we do! In fact, we love to lure in senior investigators from other fields… I mean, help them expand their research interests. The application process is the same as for Early Stage Investigators, as are the required documentation and outcomes. If you have already been PI on an R01 for a project in HIV, however, you are already one of us and we cannot lure, ahem, fund you.
  • Q: My research interests align with NIH’s priorities and will lead to an R01, I’m sure of it. Is that all I need to say about that?
    • No, of course not! Tell us more – we want to hear all about it. To which institute will you be applying? Convince us that you and the NIH are soulmates, destined to come together in the relatively near future. We want a very specific funding path, a plan outlining how the proposed work will lead to NIH funding, a timeline for seeking such funding, the NIH institute or center from which you anticipate seeking funding, and the type of grant you plan to pursue (one page maximum, and not part of four page grant text limit). With which of NIH’s priorities does your project align? Your application must also include a separate document explaining how the proposed work is aligned with those NIH priorities. This document does not count toward the four-page grant text limit.
  • Q: OK, so let’s say I get funding from the CFAR Developmental Core. What do YOU get out of it?
    • Well, if you can cure AIDS, that’d be good. But even if you can’t (yet), what we want is for you to succeed. Our goal is to help ESIs build their HIV research careers and make a difference in this epidemic. Our former Developmental Core Directors were wise and eloquent: Charlie van der Horst always said that we are training our replacements; Kate MacQueen added that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the next generation of researchers is going to get to actually walk out into that light.
    • Of course, to justify our CFAR’s continued funding from NIH, we have to provide evidence that we are on the right track. As mentioned above, the primary desired outcome is always a larger, directly related NIH grant. The gold standard is an NIH R01 (or a less common “R01 equivalent”, i.e., R23, R29, or R37) grant, and that is what all of our Awardees should strive for. However, any post-Award funding that is directly related to your CFAR award is a positive achievement and should be reported proudly back to the Developmental Core so that we can brag about it to NIH and anyone else who will listen. An R21, for example, can be an intermediate step toward an R01 and may be easier to attain first. Funding from CDC or other sources are also nice, although less desirable as far as our needed outcomes for reporting to NIH. In summary, smaller follow up funding is great, but keep your eye on the R01 as your ultimate goal.
    • We also need for you to share your CFAR research results with the scientific community. We are all partners in the fight against AIDS and sharing information makes us all stronger. Therefore, our other desired outcome for all CFAR-funded research is dissemination of results.  The gold standard in this outcome category is publication in a peer review journal (citing the CFAR, linking to our grant # P30AI050410, and obtaining a PMCID are all required), but as an intermediate step, we accept the presentation of research at national and/or international conferences. Again, keep your eye on the prize – plan to publish.
    • Your mentor should play a key role in helping you achieve each of these outcomes. We can help as well. You have the support of an incredible HIV research community behind you – utilize us! In fact, even if you are not funded by CFAR but you are a CFAR-affiliated ESI, we want to help you succeed. Consider joining the Dev Cohort (see our About section) to access helpful mentoring resources all academic year long.
    • Remember, we will be closely watching – and reporting on – your success(es), so that NIH and Congress will see how important it is that they continue to provide CFAR funding.
  • Q: Is there any guidance online about writing an NIH grant proposal?
  • Q. I want to do an RCT but I’m not sure whether it’s actually considered to be “clinical trial” per se. Does that really matter?
    • Projects involving clinical research (e.g., observational studies or sub-studies using existing data from an ongoing clinical trial) may be funded by the CFAR. However, CFARs are not allowed to fund clinical trials. The NIH definition of a clinical trial is very broad. Some investigators conducting human subjects research may not be aware that NIH considers their study to be a clinical trial. To find out for sure, click here. Applicants considering submission of proposals that might be considered clinical trials are strongly encouraged to seek advice from the Core Director before submitting a proposal.
  • Q. What happens next, after I find out that my Developmental application is going to be funded? Other than celebrations on both sides, of course.
    • A whole lot of paperwork. I’m not gonna lie, there are a ton of documents that you will be required to complete before we are allowed to release your funds, most having to do with human subjects. Therefore, please reach out to the CFAR Regulatory Office immediately to learn what they need from you to help you with all approvals relevant to your project. Their contact info is in your Award letter (email).
    • Obviously, you must forward a copy of all current Institutional Biohazard, Animal Care, and IRB approvals to the CFAR Developmental Core. All projects must be approved by the UNC-Chapel Hill IRB, even if the Awardee/PI is elsewhere. If there are two domestic IRBs that should be involved, the CFAR Regulatory Office will help you put together an IRB Authorization Agreement (IAA) form for one of them, authorizing the other to be the one to make a judgement on the project.
    • You and your mentor(s) will need to sign a mentor-mentee contract to be sure that everyone involved understands what we require your relationship to look like. And for sure we want your photograph to put on our website to show everyone how cool our newly funded folks are!
    • If your research involves human subjects and the UNC and/or international IRB/Ethics Committee has deemed the study “more than minimal risk”, your project must receive NIH Clinical Clearance before funding is released. If your project is international, you will also need NIH International Clearance. Don’t worry, though – while it is a lot of paperwork, the Dev Core will guide you through every step of the process. For example, we will give you an example of a detailed SOP that the NIH loved to serve as a template for yours. The Human Subjects Study form is likewise very detailed and time-consuming to put together, but we will give you a guidance document to explain every question on the form. You will be required to send us documentation that all of your current research team has completed research ethics training (e.g., CITI training), etc. But again, I promise we will help you through that painful process (and believe me, it is painful for all of us!).
    • The NIH requirements for Developmental Awards are far more demanding than for other NIH-funded awards simply because the applications don’t go through peer review at NIH before they are funded. Therefore, in order to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that all NIH-funded projects are conducted ethically, they must require a lot more documentation – that they seriously go through extremely carefully! – after the funding decisions are made but before the start of the research. In other words, after your Award notification but before we are allowed to release your funds. They are very strict about receiving and reviewing all of the documentation before the research starts – if we start a project without getting all of the necessary approvals, the NIH could shut down the entire CFAR. Please let’s not do that. As the mother of a child might say, that’s the wrong kind of attention to seek.
Visit our UNC CFAR Secondary Data Analysis NOSI page for more information.