RD: Researching an RFA

Research a funding opportunity for a large grant proposal


The Research Development group (RD) in any organization is mainly tasked with helping scientists and scientific groups attain their research goals by attracting funding and increasing institutional competitiveness.

Most research institutions, including universities, use RD groups to help them strategically apply for funding so that applications sent to the appropriate grant agencies and funds are distributed in an efficient manner. RD is particularly critical for institutions and faculty looking to apply to large grants. The types of grants that are considered “large” varies from institution to institution, and may be defined by the potential award size (e.g., >$1M per year in direct costs) or the complexity of the proposal (e.g., the proposal requires multiple components like cores and research projects).

When RD participates in the development of a large grant, they will provide strategic advice and hands-on support writing and editing the proposal. However, before any of that can happen, RD must first orient themselves to the proposal’s Request for Applications (RFA), which includes the instructions and review criteria for a specific funding opportunity. This job simulation focuses on this important proposal development task.

The Large Grant Proposal Development Process

RD groups may become involved in development of a large grant proposal in several ways. In many cases, a PI who has already identified a funding opportunity reaches out to RD for support. Alternatively, an individual such as the Vice Chancellor of Research may contact RD and ask them to find and coordinate a research group that would be competitive for a particular  funding opportunity. If RD is called in to help early in the proposal development process, the process may look like this:

    1. Organize an onboarding meeting with the lead PI to discuss the current status of application and review the types of RD support that can be offered.
    1. Research RFA and funding agency priorities, prepare RFA summary, and potentially contact the funding agency for clarifications.
    1. Develop a pre-submission timeline by consulting with the PI.
    1. Throughout the proposal building process, RD groups may provide additional support, such as:
        1. Strategic input – regarding members of the scientific team, institutional facilities to include in the proposal, and letters of support from university leaders to highlight institutional support.
        1. Technical writing/consulting – providing templates for proposal sections, developing subsections of the proposal (e.g. diversity, training, core facilities), and providing overall edits to improve cohesiveness, clarity, competitiveness of the grant.
      1. Project management – developing a timeline with scientific milestones, organizing scientific meetings, and coordinating communication between the scientific team and administration to meet internal deadlines. 
  1. Work with the scientific team to finalize the proposal before submitting it to Grants Administration for institutional review and submission.

Your role:

You are an intern in the RD office at a top-tier research institution.

The exercise:

Research an RFA and provide strategic input on a large grant proposal development.

Your RD team is tasked with helping a multi-department team of cancer scientists prepare a proposal to apply for the NIH’s National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Program Project Award (PAR-18-290).

Task 1: Research the RFA

Prepare a set of RFA guidelines for the research team to use when preparing their proposal. This is Step 2 of the Process described above.

Researching the “call” or RFA is essential to an RD getting oriented to the proposal, and can also be a critical service that an RD professional can provide for a research team. Closely reading the RFA will allow the your team to strategize how best to highlight the components of the proposal.

    1. Read the PAR-18-290 RFA carefully, identify the following scientific components: Overall, Administrative Core, Research Projects, and Shared Resource Cores.
  1. Summarize each component into a brief paragraph and enter them into the appropriate boxes of the abbreviated RFA FORM.

Note that a full RFA summary form may encompass multiple pages of information. For the purposes of this job simulation, UCSF’s RD Office has created an abbreviated form.

Task 2: Collect additional strategic information

In addition to following the instructions listed in RFA, an RD professional can gain a competitive edge by doing additional research on the funding agency. Collect and summarize some information on NCI’s current funding priorities and similar projects that have already been funded. Enter information for this task into this abbreviated RFA FORM.

    1. Use the NCI’s website and recent press releases to suggest potential research areas that could be highlighted or avoided. Create a bullet point summary in the provided form.
  1. Since it is highly unlikely that NCI would fund two P01s that overlap in scope, use NIH RePORTER to get a list of currently funded NCI P01s. Populate the table provided above.
      • Note that P01s are often 5 years in duration and each call for applications has a unique RFA #. For your NIH RePORTER search, use at least two RFA #s, for example use PAR-16-457 and PAR-15-023 to look up P01s from 2016 and 2015. The previous RFA # is generally listed in the “Announcement Type” section and will state that the new RFA is a “reissue.”
    • Include PI name, institution, and title of the grant in your table.

The Deliverable

The deliverable is the completed form (provided in Task 1). The final recipients of these deliverables would be the PI and research team involved in preparing the proposal. The proposal development team (including RD and the PI) would then use this information to develop a strategy for preparing the proposal to best meet the funding agency’s priorities.

As an intern, you would first review this form with your supervisor before it would be presented to the research team that needs to fill out the components.  Make sure that any technical writing is precise and all writing is clear, concise, and self-explanatory.


Skills used to perform this task:

    • Technical writing
    • Ability to distinguish important points from complex information
    • Critical thinking

Skills used in the Research Development field:

    • Technical writing and editing
    • Scientific knowledge (how to judge “good” research)
    • Creativity
    • Project management
    • Verbal and written communication – especially with those in more senior positions
    • Organization and time management
    • Confidence asserting yourself as part of the team

Additional tasks in Research Development:

A professional in the field of Research Development may also perform these tasks:

  • Draft Sections of a Center Grant and create templates
  • Edit a Grant Proposal
  • Coordinate Large Grant Proposal
  • Identify and communicate funding opportunities
  • Manage and define intramural funding
  • Research team building
  • Research marketing
  • Liaise with funding institutions and sponsors
  • Communicate research and research opportunities internally and externally
  • Facilitate collaborations within and between institutions
  • Develop tools and spaces to foster collaborations ie. online, symposia, workshops
  • Research a funding opportunity

Learn more about Research Development and from the National Organization of Research Development Professionals – NORDP.

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Simulation author – Linet Mera, PhD

Simulation vetted by RD professionals at UCSF