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Q&A with LRP Liaison – Raushanah Newman, NIAID

Q&A with LRP Liaison – Raushanah Newman, Program Officer in the Office of Research Training and Special Programs, at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). 

Reaching out to an LRP Program Officer before submitting your application is an important first step if you’re serious about applying for an LRP award. Why? Because they have a wealth of knowledge on the factors that play into a successfully funded application, including the research and funding priorities for their respective Institutions/Centers. For the next installment in our Q&A series with an LRP Program Officer, we sat down with Raushanah Newman, the current LRP Program Officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for a conversation about her role and responsibilities with the NIH LRP and the advice she has for anyone who may be interested in applying for an LRP award.

Let’s start with an introduction of yourself.  What is your current title and role/responsibilities within NIAID?  How long have you been involved with the LRP?

My current title is Program Analyst in the Office of Research Training and Special Programs (ORTSP) in the Division of Extramural Activities (DEA) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). I manage a portfolio of Research Supplements that supports early career stage investigators. Individuals range from high school students through senior faculty members who are members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, have physical or mental disabilities, or have taken a career hiatus (between one and eight years) for family obligations are eligible to be hired through a research supplement. 

I have been the program officer for the LRP for the past 2 years.

How did you get involved in research training?  What other funding mechanisms are you involved with?

I’ve always had an interest in outreach and assisting the next generation of diverse independent investigators at all career stages. It is very important that we support and develop opportunities to engage early career stage investigators in addressing knowledge gaps about how research training works and how it adds value to their career goals. Ultimately, I hope these opportunities build on their skills and grows their confidence in pursuit of a research career.

Beyond managing the LRPs for NIAID, I manage the research supplements portfolio which includes Diversity, Reentry and Reintegration, Continuity/Critical Life Events, Primary Caregiver Technical Assistance, and Diversity Small Business. I also manage the permission-to-submit process for the R13 Conference Grants.

What would you say is the most important thing for applicants to know when they apply to the LRP?

The most important thing for applicants to know is to reach out to the Program Officer as early as possible to discuss their application plans and goals. Unlike grants for training or research, the research itself in a loan repayment application is not re-evaluated. A critical component of these applications is the careful planning and demonstration of a commitment from the applicant and mentor toward the goal of becoming an independent investigator. This may be demonstrated by a clear description of the applicants training plans, a well-considered statement from the mentor about the mentorship that will be provided and plans that include a timeline and the accomplishments required, to achieve the next career milestone (individual grant, publication record independent position, etc). The science should be used as a vehicle to help the applicant develop their research career as an independent investigator.

The NIH LRP has seen its total funding allocation increase over the last few years.  NIAID has been part of this trend as they have increased their amount of funding for the LRP.  Can you give us some perspective on NIAID’s commitment to the LRP and what this means for NIAID and the extramural research community?

NIAID research strives to understand treat and ultimately prevent the myriad infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases that threaten millions of human lives. NIAID has a unique mandate, which requires the Institute to respond to emerging and re-emerging public health threats.

Our investment to this unique extramural research community continues to be of the greatest priority to our mission areas. The LRPs are a vital way for us to recruit and retain highly trained physician-scientists and some doctoral-level professionals who may otherwise choose other career paths due to increased educational loan debts. We are highly committed to ensuring these investigators remain active in their research careers without the negative effect of financial pressures.

What would you say is the most common (and easily avoidable) mistake that applicants make?

A most common mistake is a limited description on the applicant’s research commitment. Reviewers may not get a sense of the applicant’s commitment to research if it lacks details or the details are disjointed.  If the applicant’s accomplishments are limited, it is imperative the application reflects their strong and eager commitment to research. The letters of recommendation must also demonstrate this commitment and emphasize the applicant’s eagerness to pursue a research career.

What would you say are the most common characteristics of a strong application?

I would say a strong application should effectively demonstrate the applicant’s qualifications and commitment to research. These are very important factors, and the applicant must emphasize them in their application and Biosketch. As the saying goes, “Don’t sell yourself short”.  Anything that shows your commitment to research should be included. Also, providing a well-written research plan that is clear and innovative is beneficial.

What advice do you have for someone who unsuccessfully applied for the LRP in the past?

It is important to contact your Program Officer to discuss reviewers feedback after you have been notified. Based on this feedback, if the comments can be addressed, reapply! There are no limitations to the number of times you can for the LRP as long as you continue to meet the eligibility criteria and have eligible debt.

When is the best time of the year for applicants to reach out to you with questions about the LRP?  The worst?

In general, the best time would be early or mid-spring. The worst time is usually mid-fall when the application deadline is weeks away.

Do you have a final piece of advice for anyone who may be considering applying for an award with the LRP or another career development funding mechanism?

Based on your research goals, I would strongly encourage you to connect with the NIH Program Officer at the relevant Institutes/Centers (ICs) to discuss your research goals and how they may fit with ICs research priorities. The goal is to start early the process so you’ll have an opportunity to discuss your goals, especially if your research work is multidisciplinary. Before reaching out, I recommend using the NIH Matchmaker to help you identify which ICs your research best aligns.

In addition, it is very important to choose a good mentor that will help you define your research goals and demonstrate their support towards your pursuit of becoming an independent investigator in the application. Overall, your mentor should be someone you trust to always keep your best interest in mind.

Lastly, I always encourage applicants to utilize the LRP Ambassador Program - It is a great resource that can connect the applicant with past and present LRP awardees at a nearby institution. Initiating a collaboration with a fellow investigator with similar research interest is beneficial in many ways.