How to Apply


Outline of the RTOI Application and Review Process

1. NCBDDD develops RTOIs and AUCD distributes them to the network (UCEDDs, LENDs, and IDDRCs)
NCBDDD develops their Research Topic of Interests (RTOI). A Research Topic of Interest is a specific research topic that is of interest to the NCBDDD. RTOIs indicate that the NCBDDD has a high degree of interest in funding projects addressing this subject matter, but not all approved projects are necessarily funded.

Each NCBDDD RTOI will include the following:

    • RTOI number
    • RTOI title
    • Brief description of the research project - this will include specific areas of study focus
    • Number of anticipated years for the project
    • Potential level of funding

The NCBDDD will designate a coordinating liaison for all RTOIs. The NCBDDD liaison will notify the AUCD about RTOIs. The AUCD will notify network members by posting RTOIs on the AUCD website and sending e-mail notification of the RTOIs with deadlines and instructions for application. The AUCD will develop web pages that instruct network members how to submit letters of intent (LOI) for NCBDDD RTOIs to AUCD.

In certain instances, AUCD network investigators may want to inquire if there is NCBDDD interest in funding research projects not proposed by a RTOI. Although AUCD does not expect many of these requests, investigators will be able to propose investigator initiated research topics of interest (I-RTOI) to NCBDDD. I-RTOIs will be submitted in the form of a letter of intent (LOI) to AUCD. Investigators submitting I-RTOIs will follow the same LOI guidelines proposed below.

2. Investigators submit Letters of Intent to AUCD
The Letter of Intent (LOI) has traditionally been a method of communication between researchers and potential collaborators at NCBDDD prior to the development and submission of a full project application. The goal of the LOI is to increase the likelihood that the application would be responsive to NCBDDD's activities and to assist in the development of full applications. The LOI is a 2-4 page succinct description of proposed research activities written in response to a particular RTOI or I-RTOI. Both RTOI and I-RTOI LOIs will be submitted online to AUCD.

AUCD will provide technical assistance and respond to questions regarding the LOI to all requesting members. Common questions and answers with regard to the application process and general topical matters to particular RTOIs are found on the FAQ page. The proposed LOI guidelines follow:

Proposed LOI Guidelines
The LOI is designed to provide a general overview of the proposed research activities with sufficient detail to allow for the evaluation of the merit of the proposed projects. LOIs should not be longer than 4 pages. LOIs should address the following:

    • Proposed project's long-term goals and specific objectives
    • Concise description of research designs and methods including;
      • relevant preliminary studies
      • relevant research partners or partner institutions/organizations
      • an evaluation component within the proposed length of the project designated in RTOI description (I-RTOI investigators may request up to 3 years of project support, but must justify the request by stating the planned activities in each year)
    • Brief budget discussion including projected total cost
    • A short list of investigator publications that are relevant to the RTOI topic, or that were funded through prior projects by NCBDDD, may be included in an appendix to the LOI. LOIs should not include curricula vitae.

3. AUCD categorizes and submits LOIs to NCBDDD
AUCD will review each LOI to ensure that the proposed guidelines are addressed. AUCD will submit all RTOI and I-RTOI LOIs in compliance with the guidelines to the relevant NCBDDD Project Officer or designee at a predetermined date.

4. NCBDDD reviews LOIs
Pertinent NCBDDD scientific staff will review the LOIs and determine which investigators will be invited to submit full applications.

5. NCBDDD identifies LOIs to invite to submit full applications
The NCBDDD will provide AUCD with a list of LOIs that will and will not be invited for full applications. The NCBDDD reviewer may write technical comments about each LOI that will be invited to submit full applications.

6. AUCD sends invitations for full applications to investigators
AUCD will contact each investigator invited to submit a full application with the following information:

  1. an invitation to submit a full application,
  2. written technical comments from the NCBDDD about the LOI,
  3. application and submission instructions, and
  4. notification of the full application submission deadline.

Investigators will notify AUCD by completing the online Intent to Submit Form. The notification will assist AUCD in determining the number and size of peer review panels for the application review process.

7. Investigators submit full applications to AUCD
Invited full applications are submitted to AUCD by the investigators on predetermined deadline date. The full application will be based on the Standard Research Form PHS #398. Investigators submitting full applications will be encouraged to address NCBDDD technical comments made with regards to the LOI. In addition, investigators should address each of the six evaluation criteria (see below) as it pertains to the initial project description in the RTOI.

8. AUCD identifies evaluation panels
AUCD will identify 12-20 researchers to serve as members of a peer reviewer pool. Members of the reviewer pool will include CDC staff (excluding NCBDDD staff), other federal agency staff, AUCD network members, and other individuals who are recognized researchers in their respective fields and have experience serving as principal investigators or key staff and/or reviewers of grant applications or research manuscripts. An attempt will be made to maintain diversity with respect to the geographic distribution, gender, race and ethnicity of the reviewer pool to the extent possible. Every effort will be made to include reviewers from traditionally under represented groups such as persons with disabilities and ethnic and culturally diverse groups.

Members from the reviewer pool will be selected to serve on evaluation panels based on their expertise in a proposed topic area. Evaluation panel members will be recognized authorities in the field relevant to the application being reviewed. The evaluation panels will review and score the full applications. Evaluation panel members will not review applications in which they have a conflict of interest.

The following table illustrates the proposed number of evaluation panel members based on the number of invited applications for each RTOI or I-RTOI project.
Number of Applications

Number of Applications Number of Study Panel Members
1-4 3-5
5-9 5
9 + Additional study panels
will be developed as needed.

Additional study panels will be developed as needed.

No more than 50% of a evaluation panel will be composed of federal staff. If more than nine applications in a particular topic area need to be reviewed, additional study panels will be developed as necessary.

9. Evaluation panels review applications
AUCD will schedule and coordinate a time for the evaluation panel to convene. AUCD may designate one evaluation panel member to serve as the Chair of the evaluation panel. The Chair of the evaluation panel will not be from CDC. In general, the Chair's responsibilities will be to preside over the meeting and ensure that adequate discussion takes place for each application.

AUCD will coordinate and assign applications for review to evaluation panel members prior to the evaluation panel meeting. AUCD will assign a Primary Reviewer and a Secondary Reviewer for each application. Both the Primary and Secondary Reviewers will be expected to write complete evaluations of the full applications assigned to them. Both Primary and Secondary Reviewers will be required to review and consider RTOI descriptions (if applicable) prior to developing evaluations.

During the review discussion, the Primary Reviewer will begin the discussion by reviewing the RTOI description (when applicable). Next, he or she should clearly summarize his/her views emphasizing the major strengths and weaknesses of the application based on the criteria relevant to the application under review. The Secondary Reviewer will integrate his/her comments with the Primary Reviewer or raise additional concerns with the application, as necessary. Applications will be reviewed in relation to the following evaluation criteria:

Evaluation Criteria

  • Significance. Does this study address an important problem? If the aims of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge be advanced? What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts or methods that drive this field?
  • Approach. Are the conceptual framework, design (including composition of study population), methods, and analyses adequately developed, well integrated, and appropriate to the aims of the project? Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider alternative tactics?
  • Innovation. Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches or methods? Are the aims original and innovative? Does the project challenge existing paradigms or develop new methodologies or technologies?
  • Investigators. Is the Principal Investigator appropriately trained and well suited to carry out this work? Is the work proposed appropriate to the experience level of the Principal Investigator and other researchers (if any)? DO NOT INCLUDE descriptive biographical information unless important to the evaluation of merit.
  • Environment. Does the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Do the proposed experiments take advantage of unique features of the scientific environment or employ useful collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence of institutional support? DO NOT INCLUDE description of available facilities or equipment unless important to the evaluation of merit.
  • Ethical Issues. What provisions have been made for the protection of human subjects and the safety of the research environments? (An application can be disapproved if the research risks are sufficiently serious and protection against risks is so inadequate as to make the entire application unacceptable.) The degree to which the applicant has met the CDC Policy requirements regarding the inclusion of women, ethnic, and racial groups in the proposed research. This includes:
  1. The proposed plan for the inclusion of both sexes and racial and ethnic minority populations for appropriate representation.
  2. The proposed justification when representation is limited or absent.
  3. A statement as to whether the design of the study is adequate to measure differences when warranted.
  4. A statement as to whether the plans for recruitment and outreach for study participants include the process of establishing partnerships with community(ies) and recognition of mutual benefits.

10. Applications are summarized and submitted to NCBDDD
After the evaluation panel members discuss each application, each panel member will privately score each application. Each reviewer will assign a overall priority score ranging from 1.0 (highest priority) to 5.0 (lowest priority). Reviewers will use their judgment in weighing the relative importance of each criterion. However, evaluation panel members will be encouraged to consider applicable RTOI description information. An application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have a major scientific impact. For example, an investigator may propose to carry out important work that by its nature is not innovative, but is essential to move a field forward. An application of average strength relative to other applications ordinarily reviewed by the evaluation panel should receive a score of 3.0.

Each scored application will be assigned a single, global score that reflects the overall impact that the project could have on the field based on consideration of the six review criteria (significance, approach, innovation, investigator, environment, and ethics), with the emphasis on each criterion varying from one application to another, depending on the nature of the application and its relative strengths. The best possible priority score is 100 and the worst is 500. Individual reviewers mark scores to two significant figures, e.g., 2.2, and the individual scores are averaged and then multiplied by 100 to yield a single overall score for each scored application, e.g., 253. Abstaining members and those not present during the discussion do not assign a numerical rating and are not counted in calculating the average of the individual ratings. If the Primary and Secondary Reviewers alter their views as a result of the discussion, they will be required to modify their written critique appropriately so that the summary statement reflects their final evaluation of the application.

AUCD staff will collect the scoring sheets for each application in order to average the reviewers' total scores and classify the applications. The following table illustrates the categories the applications will be assigned based on the range of the total average score.

Outstanding 1.0 - 1.5
Excellent 1.6 - 2.0
Very Good 2.1 - 3.0
Good 3.1 - 4.0
Acceptable 4.1 - 5.0


AUCD will submit to the NCBDDD written summaries for all applications that are found to have average total scores in the Outstanding, Excellent, or Very Good category. The written summaries will include a summary of the application's overall strengths, weaknesses, panel recommendations and comments regarding the budget. AUCD staff will develop the summaries from the Primary and Secondary Reviewers' written evaluations and the discussion that occured during the review.

11. NCBDDD selects applications to be funded
The NCBDDD will review the summary statements and determine which applications will be funded by a predetermined date. A grant award document will be sent to AUCD listing the applications to be funded. AUCD will review and establish for each application: the funding timeline, financial responsibilities, and research requirements. AUCD will monitor the completion of obtaining appropriate IRB documentation for each of the proposed awards. In addition, AUCD, the NCBDDD Project Officer, and the CDC Procurement and Grants Office will negotiate differences between proposed or actual funding for awards.

12. AUCD notifies applicants of the results
AUCD will review and establish with each investigator of funded applications the funding timeline, financial responsibilities, and research requirements. AUCD will notify those investigators that are not funded. Each investigator that submitted a full application (regardless of whether they were funded) will receive written summaries. The written summaries will include a summary of the application's overall strengths, weaknesses, panel recommendations and comments regarding the budget. AUCD will monitor those projects that are funded and will inform the NCBDDD of major milestones that are accomplished or major challenges or problems if they are encountered. Interim reports will be due at the time of project continuation. AUCD will be responsible for collecting all progress reports and final reports and submitting them to the NCBDDD on pre-determined dates.