Nicholas Hobbs Research Grants

Annual Request for Proposals Now Open-Due Due September 17, 2021.


Nicholas Hobbs Discovery Grant Awards are an internal grant mechanism available to Vanderbilt University faculty who are Investigators or Members of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. The purpose is to encourage Kennedy Center researchers to conduct multidisciplinary, innovative pre-clinical or clinical pilot studies in preparation for submitting competitive grant applications to federal agencies or substantial applications to private foundations. The program is not meant to serve as bridge funding or extensions of previous Hobbs awards. This initiative is made possible by the generous gifts of donors.

Period and Amount of Awards

Awards will be for 12 months (November 1, 2021 – October 31, 2022) and are non‐renewable. However, cost carry‐over is possible. Budgets allow up to a maximum of $30,000; this includes 15% indirect costs.

Research Objectives and Eligibility

This competition is open to VKC faculty Investigators or Members for conducting pilot projects consistent with the mission of the VKC. Its mission is to facilitate discoveries and best practices that make positive differences in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Hobbs Discovery Grant Program supports interdisciplinary research on fundamental mechanisms of behavioral, cognitive, and brain development and plasticity relevant to developmental disabilities, across the lifespan.

Applications are encouraged that represent excursions into promising new areas of multidisciplinary research and for which existing grant funds are not available. Applications from individuals who are in the process of developing a research program are strongly encouraged. Single investigator applications will not be considered.

The Hobbs Discovery Awards are intended to support original empirical research. This grant mechanism does not support literature reviews, manuscript preparation, conferences, workshops, training programs or non-research clinical activities. The goal is to fund cutting‐edge research that will advance scientific knowledge and contribute to the overall competitiveness of the Center.

Priority will be given to applications that propose innovative, multidisciplinary research, and that are most likely to lead to extramural grant support. Applications proposing research that links biomedical (e.g., neuroscience or genetics) variables with behavioral, educational, or policy components (e.g., learning, behavior problems) are especially encouraged.

Application Procedure

Applications are due by 5 p.m. Friday, September 17, 2021. Applications submitted beyond that date will not be considered. Applicants should email a pdf file to Julia Harrison. A return confirmation will be sent to you electronically. Award decisions will be made in in October 2021.

Slightly modified PHS 398 templates (Word format) are available below in the application contents section. Applicants should complete the application forms as though they were applying for an R03 Small Grant; however, there is a 2‐page limit on Research Plan sections (1) through (4). With respect to the 2-page limit, a suggestion is that the first page could consist of background/significance, innovation, and impact; second page could be approach, written at a general level in order to give reviewers an understanding of the feasibility and scope of the work. Arial 11 pt. font should be used. The only required signature on the Face Page is from the PI.

IRB and IACUC Approvals

It is not necessary for your project to be approved by the IRB and/or Animal Care Committees at the time you submit your proposal; however, if your proposal is awarded, funds will not be made available until you have submitted your approval notification to Julia Harrison. (Your IRB or IACUC approval notification should include the title of your Hobbs COVID-19 Discovery proposal, and the funding source should state Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Hobbs Discovery Award.)

Application Contents

The following items should be completed using the modified application forms:

  • Cover/ Face Page (Note. PI is the only required signature)
  • Page 2: Abstract, not to exceed the space provided
  • Page 3: Table of Contents
  • Page 4: Budget (Detailed Budget for Initial Period only)
  • Page 5: Budget Justification (provide brief summary)
  • Page 6: Biographical Sketch for each Key Personnel

Research Plan (2-page limit for sections a-d)

  • (a) Introduction - Statement of Problem and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Mission Relevance
  • (b) Specific Hypotheses
  • (c) Background and Significance
  • (d) Research Design and Methods
  • (e) Human Subjects--if applicable
  • (f) Vertebrate Animal--if applicable
  • (g) Literature Cited (optional, 2-page limit)

Appendices: limited to three reprints, preprints, or other essential documentation.

Specific Instructions Regarding Budget and Allowable Costs

Applicants must provide a detailed budget and brief budget justification. Allowable expenses are salaries for research staff (or term appointments) and student assistants, small equipment, consumable laboratory supplies, travel necessary for carrying out research, participant reimbursements, research computer software and supplies, and other miscellaneous costs necessary for carrying out the proposed research. Examples of costs that are NOT allowable are investigator or co‐investigator faculty salaries (tenure or research track), travel expenses to and from conferences (including registration fees, hotels and meals), tuition, subscriptions, books, office renovation or equipment and furnishings, local meals with guests, and other non‐research costs.

Nicholas Hobbs Awards are not intended to supplement ongoing NIH or DOE grants. However, the award may be used to complete an already productive pilot project supported with private foundation grant funds or which has been a spin‐off project growing out of a previously funded grant. If an applicant is proposing to use remaining funds from another source (e.g., a small grant from an advocacy organization or private foundation) in addition to the Nicholas Hobbs Award, the proposed budget must show what each source of funding would cover.

Submission Procedure

Applications are due by 5 p.m. Friday, September 17, 2021. Applications submitted beyond that date will not be considered. Applicants should email a pdf file to Julia Harrison. A return confirmation will be sent to you electronically. Award decisions will be made in October 2021.

Review Criteria

The review criteria employed in evaluating these applications will be similar to those in evaluating NIH Small Grant (R03) applications. The focus of applications must be on furthering the understanding, prevention, or intervention for problems associated with intellectual disabilities and/or other related developmental disabilities. Five criteria with be used in evaluating proposals:

  • Ideas have scientific merit and are innovative
  • Responsiveness to stated criteria and mission of the VKC
  • Work appears to be realizable
  • Likelihood the project will lead to external funding
  • Investigator qualifications.

Scientific merit includes originality and innovative nature of the scientific question and approach and soundness of research design and proposed measurement system. Pilot research typically involves small samples that may preclude an adequate statistical power analysis; however, applicants will be expected to demonstrate how such preliminary findings will be interpreted, given the nature of the anticipated findings. Applicants must describe how they plan to use that information to convince an NIH or OSERS committee that findings based on a small sample is likely to be generalizable to a larger group.

Feasibility refers to ability to carry out the research described with the funds provided. Proposals that promise to do far more than can conceivably be accomplished with the limited funds provided will not fare well on this criterion.

It is very difficult to predict accurately whether a given pilot project will lead to a funded federal research grant. However, the applicant will be expected to explain her/his rationale concerning how the findings generated with the proposed Hobbs Discovery Award funds would logically lead reviewers to conclude that a subsequently proposed project submitted to a federal agency would likely be successful and makes sense in light of the data generated using the grant funds.

Evaluation Process

The VKC Director and Associate Director will assign two faculty reviewers (in most instances, VKC investigators/members) to review each application to assure a competent and impartial review. An NIH Peer Review Scoring system will be used in which applications will be scored on a scale of 1.0 to 9.0 (Outstanding to Disapprove). Mean scores will be rank ordered. Final decisions will be made jointly by the VKC Director and Associate Director (providing no conflict of interest).

Typically, applications will be funded in ordinal sequence of priority scores. However, other factors, such as the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of the proposal, may be involved in the final funding determination. In addition, two applications on closely related topics emanating from the same laboratory or program are unlikely to be funded in the same round even if their priority scores are ranked in close proximity.

Expectations of Nicholas Hobbs Discovery Grant Award Recipients

It is expected that the findings from this pilot research will be a basis for grant applications to federal agencies or substantial applications to private foundations. At the conclusion of their projects, recipients of funded applications will be expected to provide a brief written summary of their work and findings and to keep VKC leadership informed about federal or foundation grants that stemmed from their Hobbs Award.

Acknowledging Hobbs Discovery Grant support

When reporting research findings from Discovery Grants, please acknowledge this support. Sample: Research reported in this publication was supported by an intramural Hobbs Discovery Grant from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Development and Developmental Disabilities.


Inquiries are encouraged in order to clarify procedures or priorities. Questions regarding procedures should be directed to Julia Harrison or Tim Stafford. Substantive questions regarding research priorities should be referred to VKC Director Jeffrey Neul.

For more information contact:

Julia Harrison or Tim Stafford