GCO Helpful Hints – Be a NIH Super Hero! Top 9 Ways to Avoid Potentially Fatal Foibles


GCO Sponsored Programs Education Director Allison Gottlieb’s little super hero ready for action!

Have you ever thought about quitting your day job for something more exciting and meaningful like the life of a super hero where you can take down evil villains while traveling the world at supersonic speed through fire, flood, earthquake, and wind storm?

Yes, that thought has crossed my mind once or twice but I always got cold feet at the prospect of getting bogged down by a technical snafu, like the door in the telephone booth jamming as Superman completed his costume change or Spider-Man’s under the wrist web gizmo malfunctioning.  It’s always those technicalities that can bring down an operation.  Lucky for us at Mount Sinai, our PIs don’t need to quit their day job but can remain super heroes on their own turf while avoiding those seemingly petty but potentially fatal foibles.

Here is a list of GCO’s top technical and administrative errors that will stop your NIH competitive application dead in its tracks like the Bat Mobile running out of gas or stalled on the road.

By the way, that is a photo of my son ready to battle the bad guys or perhaps NIH cyber application moles? (For those into important details, you might notice the remnants of the energy boosting power snack, chocolate, on the super hero’s face.)

#1 Driving without GPS or a Road Map? Use GCO’s Application Submission Checklist and Instructions

Use GCO’s Application Submission Checklist and Instructions each and every time you submit to the GCO (i.e., think words of encouragement and not a requirement).  There are 20 steps listed that may be applicable to your application.  Miss a step like forgetting your InfoEd eForm or all the subaward documentation or  your co-investigator has an expired FCOIR education certification? Your Bat Mobile has stalled on the road and is sinking in quicksand fast.

#2 Selecting Your Destination?  Remember to Use the NIH Assignment Request Form and NOT a Cover Letter

For those super hero vehicles that must be parked in the garage of a specific study section, remember to use the new NIH Assignment Request Form and not a cover letter.  You would select this optional form in the InfoEd SetUp questions.  Please see complete Instructions for the Assignment Request Form on the NIH site.

#3 Attention PIs and Mentors – Forgot your ID?  It’s called “Sponsor Credentials”

PIs and mentors must enter their eRA Commons ID into InfoEd.  You would enter the information in “My Profile” in “Sponsor Credentials” section. Another option is for staff working on the application to  add it in “Sponsor Credentials” box right in the Personnel tab for the investigator.  Without it, it’s like being pulled over on the side of the road for driving without your ID.  In this case, you can’t even return home. You’re just stuck out there on the open road in the hot blazing sun. Need an eRA Commons ID? E-mail grants@mssm.edu, indicate your role on the project and the GCO will assign one to you.

#4 On the Wrong Road from the Get Go?  Check to Make Sure the NIH Institute / Center Will Accept your R03 or R21 Application or other non-R01 parent application

Did you know that not all NIH Institutes and Centers (IC) accept the R03 and R21 and other non-R01 applications in response to a Parent Announcement? When reading the Parent Announcement, you’ll see right at the top the “Components of Participating Organizations” section, which means the institutes/centers that will accept the application.  ICs that do not participate in the announcement will not consider applications for funding.

#5 Are these Human Subjects in My Super Hero Vehicle? What are Specimens?

Are human samples expedited, exempt, or not human subjects research?  The confusion is especially prevalent around coded or deidentified specimens. Please follow the first FAQ to help make the determination: https://humansubjects.nih.gov/human-specimens-cell-lines-data.

#6 Toll Bridge Ahead – New Enrollment Tables and Differences in Planned vs. Cumulative Enrollment

Planned means prospective enrollment; cumulative means you are using previously collected samples/specimens/data (for example, if using a biorepository). There are different instructions for completing the tables, depending on which type of enrollment is selected. For example, if you select “Planned”, but input numbers into the “Unknown” category, it generates an error, as this column is only for cumulative enrollment.  (GCO has a fill list of table validations available upon request.)  Can one select both “Planned” and “Cumulative” on the same table? No, this is not possible. It has to be either or; if using both, then two tables, one for each type of enrollment, is required.

#7 Want to Race Through the NIH Cyber Highway at Warp Speed During Rush Hour? Even Super Heroes Must Follow Traffic Rules

The warp speed button on everyone’s super hero vehicle has been disabled by Management.  It is purely ornamental and doesn’t work.  The GCO must be in receipt of the COMPLETE AND FINAL proposal, including completed and signed Conflict of Interest and Suspension and Debarment forms 5 business days prior to the NIH deadline by 11 am to guarantee an on-time delivery to NIH. In addition, please see NIH Competitive Application Due Date Information.  There always seem to be unforeseen circumstances so do plan ahead and submit on time.

  #8  Change the Radio Dial on Your Bat Mobile from the Biosketch Blues to Something More Upbeat?

GCO reminds PIs and staff in the review process that many items must be removed from the Biosketch page like pending awards, or grants completed more than 3 years ago, or completed projects that are listed as still active.  You might want to get a jump start on the process by reviewing the Biosketches prior to submission to the GCO. Please see the NIH Biosketch Instructions and Sample pages.

 #9  File Attachments: Beware of the “&” and Really Looooooooooooooooooong Attachment Titles 

Your InfoEd file PDF file attachments that get exported into the NIH forms are like little passengers in your Bat Mobile. They need to be loaded in just right.  Please follow these Dos and Don’ts adapted from:



  • Save all document attachments with descriptive filenames of 50 characters or less (including spaces).
  • Use unique filenames for all attachments in an application (or within a component of a multi-project application).
  • Use any of the following characters: A-Z, a-z, 0-9, underscore, hyphen, space, period, parenthesis, curly braces, square brackets, tilde, exclamation point, comma, semi colon, apostrophe, at sign, number sign, dollar sign, percent sign, plus sign, and equal sign.
  • Use one space (not two or more) between words or characters and do not begin the filename with a space or include a space immediately before the .pdf extension


  • Use the ampersand (“&”) since it requires special formatting.

Questions about Sponsored Projects?  Please click here for a listing of Departmental Grants Specialists at the GCO who can assist you.