Q&A with LRP Liaison – Roya Kalantari, Ph.D., Program Officer in the Division of Lung Diseases (DLD) at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Hi everyone! I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are well during these unusual times. If you’ve heard one of my LRP presentations, you’ve heard me discuss how absolutely crucial it is to reach out to an LRP program officer before submitting your application, as they know the ‘secret sauce’ regarding research and funding priorities for their respective Institutions/Centers. For the next couple of blog posts, I’ll be chatting with LRP program officers, just to drive home the importance of getting comfortable with discussing your research with NIH officials.
Conversation with Dr. Kalantari
What is your current title and role/responsibilities within your NIH Institute/Division?Why did you choose to become involved in research training?
My current title is Program Officer in the Division of Lung Diseases (DLD) at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Beyond managing the LRPs for NHLBI, I handle training grants for most of the Lung Biology and Disease Branch in DLD in a variety of research areas ranging from rare lung diseases, to lung development, and infection. I also manage a portfolio of research grants on the lung microbiome. I am the DLD representative on several committees including the NHLBI Training Committee, the contact for various funding announcements (such as the K23 and our R03 program), and also participate in a variety of other activities such as organizing workshops and other meetings.
I’ve been interested in career mentoring since I started my own research career. NIH systems and programs can be really overwhelming and confusing to navigate, so to me, being able to provide some guidance to researchers early on is really important. It’s very rewarding to provide the support and help that allows people to build the foundations of their career and watch them go on to become successful, independent researchers!
Can you provide a general overview of some of the priority research areas supported by your Institute?
NHLBI supports research, training, and education programs on heart, lung, blood, and sleep (HLBS) diseases and disorders. This research ranges from basic through clinical, implementation, and population research. The best place to view examples of the kinds of research we support and to read about our research priority areas is in our Strategic Vision.
I know that you have a role with providing support for the LRPs, but what other funding mechanisms do you have in your portfolio?
I have a very wide variety of mechanisms in my portfolio. I support funding mechanisms from training up through standard research grants, including NRSAs (F30, F31, F32, T35, T32), Career Development Awards (K01, K08, K12, K23, K24, K25, K99/R00), R25s, and R01s.
I’m sure that you know that early stage investigators are ALWAYS a little anxious about reaching out to a program officer because they are afraid that they will ask ‘the wrong’ questions.What are some examples of good questions that any investigator should ask their program officer?
There really aren’t bad questions, especially if this is your first time applying for NIH funding! But I do think the best questions are informed ones. Do your research on your program of interest ahead of time and figure out where your gaps in knowledge are so that you can really maximize your time with the PO (especially since the LRP website is full of helpful information!).
Discussion topics you might want to bring to your program officer include: fit with the Institute (but check out the NIH Matchmaker first!), what a strong mentor or mentoring team would look like, the factors the make for a strong training plan, what key areas reviewers tend to look at, and if you’re sending in a resubmission, how to respond to reviewers to strengthen your application for the next round. It’s best to at least have some kind of idea for what you want to include in various sections of the application before asking about them so that the discussion can really be tailored around you and your plan. POs really do have your best interest at heart, so don’t be afraid to reach out!
In your words, can you tell me the importance of reaching out to a program officer before applying for an LRP or other NIH funding mechanisms?
Since Program Officers handle many grants and listen to a lot of reviews, they have a wealth of knowledge on common pitfalls and what factors play into a successfully funded application. While your mentor and collaborators may be a great resource for discussing the science, they may not have applied for a career development award, or other type of training grant very recently (or at all). POs in the training space can help you navigate the factors involved the application that your mentor may not be as familiar with. POs are also very good to talk to when you’re planning a resubmission, since they have a more unbiased view of the reviewer comments and may have insights as to what issues are most important to focus on. We also might also know of other funding programs that would fit your research to help you maximize your potential for success.