Frequently Asked Questions

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Applying for HEI funding (6)

Frequently asked questions about the application process.

Who Can Apply for Funding as a Principal Investigator?

The Principal Investigator (PI) must possess an advanced degree, be an expert in their field with a track record of producing high-quality and objective research published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The PI should be affiliated with an established academic or independent, non-profit research institution and demonstrate experience in successfully leading a multidisciplinary team of scientists.

Who Cannot Apply for Funding as a Principal Investigator?

Employees of non-regulatory government agencies and private sector companies cannot apply for funding or serve as a co-principal investigator but can participate in research projects as a paid co-investigator, collaborator, or consultant.

Employees of regulatory agencies and HEI sponsor organizations cannot actively participate in HEI-funded research in any capacity except to provide data and other information that cannot otherwise be obtained and that enhances  the proposed study and its ability to achieve its research objectives.

Where do I send my application?

Applications should be submitted here:
File size limit is 16 MB. 

Can I send in more than one preliminary or full application per RFA? Can I apply to more than one RFA?
HEI does not recommend sending more than one application per RFA. However, being part of another application as a collaborator would be fine, as is applying to more than one RFA at the same time.
What is the review process for applications?

Preliminary applications are generally reviewed by the HEI Research Committee. Full applications are sent to two or three external peer reviewers with appropriate expertise.The full applications and peer reviews are then discussed by an RFA review panel (for major RFAs) or by the Research Committee (for smaller RFAs and the New Investigator Award).

How does HEI handle conflicts of interest during the application process?

HEI has strict procedures in place to guard against conflicts of interest. Peer reviewers of applications are selected to be independent and not have direct ties to an applicant (i.e. being at the same institution or having a close collaboration). In addition, they cannot have direct ties to other applicants who submit an application under the same RFA. The same strict rules apply to RFA review panel members and Research Committee members.

Letters of intent and Preliminary applications (6)

Is a Letter of Intent mandatory? Is it binding?

Letters of Intent are not mandatory but help us anticipate the volume of expected applications. Letters of Intent are not binding. If you sent a Letter of Intent but will not be applying, please let us know as soon as possible.

Does HEI provide feedback on Letters of Intent?

HEI generally does not provide feedback on Letters of Intent. However, HEI will contact the applicant if the intended topic of the application is outside the scope of the Request for Applications or HEI's research interests, or if the applicant or their institution does not meet qualifications for applying. 

What are preliminary applications? Does HEI provide feedback?

Preliminary applications are a mechanism for HEI to preselect proposals when a large volume of proposals is expected. Investigators are asked to describe their research idea in a few pages and provide some information on feasibility of the research and experience of the research team, and an estimated budget. After review, if HEI is interested, a full application is requested and feedback of the application may be provided. HEI generally does not provide feedback if it is not interested in a full application.

Can I apply if my preliminary application was not selected?

No, full applications submitted through a preliminary application process are by invitation only.

Can I send more than one preliminary application?

HEI does not prohibit submission of more than one application by the same investigator. However, we recommend taking a careful look and presenting the research idea that is the most innovative and viable. Another option would be to submit as a collaborator with another investigator.

Are preliminary applications screened?

Yes. The Research Committee will review all preliminary applications and makes a selection based on whether the proposed topic and approach are considered innovative, high quality, and feasible. Selected applicants will be invited to submit a full application.

Applying for the Rosenblith Award (8)

Who can apply for the Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigator Award?

Scientists of any nationality residing anywhere in the world and holding a PhD, ScD, MD, DVM, DrPH, or equivalent degree are eligible to apply. By the date that full applications are due, the applicant must be appointed at the Assistant Professor (USA), University Lecturer (UK), or equivalent level at an academic or research institution.

This position must be a permanent, ongoing position (not a contract with a fixed end date).

The applicant cannot have held such a position for more than five years (60 months) by the date that full applications are due.

How do I find out if my proposed research is relevant to HEI?

HEI welcomes any application that is focused broadly on air pollution and health. HEI seeks to fund studies that span a range of scientific fields, including atmospheric science, epidemiology, exposure science, risk assessment, social science, statistics, economics, and toxicology. Please refer to our Strategic Plan to see the issues and topics that are priorities for HEI.. Emerging areas of interest for HEI include (a) climate, air quality, and health, (b) transportation and health in a changing landscape, and (c) environmental justice.

Can I submit a full application if my preliminary application was not selected?

No. Full applications are by invitation only. However, if a candidate is still eligible to apply, they can reapply the following year provided they still meet the eligibility requirements.

What are the budget restrictions for the Rosenblith Award?

The project should not exceed a total cost of $600,000 including indirect costs. Indirect costs are limited to a maximum of 30% of direct costs excluding equipment charges and subcontracts). Funds can be used to support the applicant’s salary, to hire additional staff (e.g., postdocs, graduate or undergraduate students, or technicians), provide project support (e.g., consulting statisticians, core facilities), and/or to purchase equipment and supplies. Funds cannot be used to support the salaries of co-investigators or mentors.

Why does HEI require involvement of a (bio)statistician?

Involvement of a (bio)statistician is required during the study design and data analyses. Although some applicants may have statistical expertise themselves, it is useful to have someone scrutinize the proposal, take a look at study power, how treatment groups and group sizes are designed, and what kinds of control groups (or populations) are needed. Similarly, a data analysis plan should be decided upon before the study starts and should be described in detail in the full application. Proposals without appropriate statistical involvement are likely to receive lower scores.

Can I have more than one mentor?

Yes, it is often useful to have several mentors. We encourage applicants to recruit mentors who work in the same field as well as others who can fill in missing expertise. Mentors do not need to be based at the same institution as the applicant, and they do not need to be someone who has worked with the applicant previously. Please reach out to Dan Crouse ( if you need suggestions for potential mentors.

What letters of support are required?

Cover letter, mentor biosketches, CVs, and letters of support are not needed with preliminary applications. Applicants should submit a biosketch for themselves of no more than 2 pages with their preliminary application (see here for biosketch form).

How many applicants will be awarded each year?

Typically, HEI receives 15-25 preliminary applications to this RFA each year, invites 3-5 applicants to submit full applications, and ultimately funds one or two awards.

For current HEI-funded investigators (4)

Frequently asked questions about HEI study oversight and reporting requirements.

What is the role of the Research Committee?

The Research Committee is an independent group of experts that develops Requests for Applications, reviews research applications, and recommends studies for funding to HEI’s Board of Directors. Once a study has been funded, Research Committee members are assigned to oversee specific studies. They provide feedback on progress reports, interact with investigators during webinars and site visits, and approve contract renewals and amendments.

What is the role of the Review Committee?

The HEI Review Committee, which has no role in the review of applications or in the oversight of studies, provides an independent evaluation of the results of HEI-funded studies. The Review Committee evaluates the Investigator’s Report by an unusually rigorous process that goes well beyond that generally used by journals.

What is the HEI Annual Conference? Am I required to attend? Can my post-doc or graduate student attend?

HEI organizes its Annual Conference each Spring to provide a forum for sponsors, investigators, scientific experts and other interested parties to meet and discuss the latest science of air pollution and health. Principal Investigators funded by HEI are required to attend and present study progress in a poster session. HEI will pay for the PI and offers a reduced registration rate for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows  on the study team.

What is the purpose of investigator workshops?

Periodically, HEI organizes workshops for investigators working on related research projects. Research Committee members and expert consultants also participate in these meetings, which afford an opportunity for investigators doing related research to understand each other’s research better and to explore opportunities for coordination of studies and collaboration.

Contracts and study oversight (7)

What is the difference between an HEI contract and an NIH grant?

HEI uses contracts rather than grants to make sure that the research performed does not substantially differ from what was originally proposed, as opposed to grants that are generally more open-ended. HEI funded researchers are held accountable for the work they propose to do within the stated time-frame and budget. If the originally proposed research does not work out as intended for technical or other valid reasons, or if an alteration in the proposed plan is needed for some other reason, a change of course can be negotiated with (and needs to be approved by) the Research Committee.

Once my application has been approved for funding, when can my study start?

Your study can start only after the contract has been negotiated and approved and signed by all necessary parties. Due to the nature of the steps outlined below, study initiation can take several months.

What is a Statement of Work?

A Statement of Work provides a framework for the work to be performed in a given contract year, turning the broad goals described in a research proposal into actual tasks and deliverables. The Statement is part of the study contract that is negotiated with the investigator’s institution. HEI requests a Statement of Work once a study has been approved for funding.

Which studies require IRB approval? What if my study is exempt?

Studies that use human subjects or data are required obtain approval from their Institutional Review Board (or equivalent entity) and submit a quality control/quality assurance plan to HEI. HEI in turn seeks approval from the U.S. EPA before the study begins. Details are provided in the section Studies involving human participants. If a study is considered to be exempt, documentation submitted to the IRB and its determination of exemption should be provided to HEI. Please contact HEI for details.

Which studies require QA/QC procedures?

All HEI studies require a Quality Assurance / Quality Control (QA/QC) plan that needs to be approved by the Research Committee. All investigators should adhere to QA/QC standards and guidelines applicable to their field of research and according to HEI guidelines. The goal is to ensure that all studies are designed and conducted well and produce reliable, meaningful and traceable data.

Which studies will receive an external Quality Assurance audit?

For certain studies, especially those using human subjects, HEI organizes QA/QC site visits, conducted by a third party, independent auditor. Details are provided on our QA/QC page.

What if I need more time, or need to make other changes in the study?

A contract amendment should be requested to change the budget and scope or timeframe of the study. For example, a change in the direction of work due to technical difficulties or unforeseen personnel changes may require a substantial change in budget categories. In other cases, the investigator may need more time than expected to complete a certain part of the research. HEI occasionally agrees to no-cost extensions, although they are generally discouraged due to HEI’s obligation to its sponsors in providing timely results.

Progress reports and site visits (4)

When are progress reports due?

Progress reports are due yearly at 5 months and 10 months, except during the final year when a comprehensive final report is due instead of the last progress report. Five-month progress reports are used to check on general progress and provide an opportunity for feedback from the Research Committee. Ten-month progress reports are the basis for contract renewal for the following year. The 10-month report/renewal application provides information on progress in meeting the goals for that year and the results obtained. It also presents a plan and detailed budget for the subsequent year.

Is there a specific format for the progress reports? Where do I send the report?

HEI will send a reminder about one month before the report is due and provides a form that you are asked to fill out. The completed form should be sent to the Science Administrative Assistant and copy the HEI staff scientist assigned to your study.

Does HEI provide feedback on the progress reports?

Yes, Research Committee members with oversight for your study will review the progress report and provide feedback. The overall goal is to help solve any issues that arise and make the study stronger. You are asked to address comments in a response letter or in the next progress report. The Research Committee approves contract renewal for the subsequent year based on the 10-month progress report.

What is the purpose of site visits and webinars?

If the Research Committee feels that more in-depth discussion of a study is indicated, HEI conducts a site visit to the investigator’s laboratory. Site visits are conducted by a few Research Committee members, HEI scientific staff, and external expert consultants. Site visits may be scheduled because of concern about progress or problems encountered during the study, but often the purpose is to have a detailed scientific review and discussion of progress, results, and the future course of work.

Final report and review (6)

What is the Final Report and what are the requirements?

One of HEI’s goals is to publish research reports that are of value to sponsors, scientists, regulators, government officials, and the interested public. When a study is completed, the investigator is required to submit a comprehensive final report that describes the study and its findings. This includes both results in which effects were found ("positive results") and results in which no effects of a pollutant were seen ("negative results") because, if studies are well-conducted, negative results are as important as positive results in understanding the health effects of pollutants.

What is the HEI Commentary?

The Review Committee’s Commentary provides a succinct summary of the study and its findings and puts the research results into a broader context, points out their strengths and limitations, and discusses the interpretation, conclusions, and implications of the findings. It has an important function in communicating the results to a broad audience that may not read the detailed report.

What is the HEI Statement?

The HEI Statement is a brief synopsis of the Investigators’ report, highlighting the key results and the Review Committee’s evaluation of the study. It is written for a broader and non-technical audience.

What is the process for reviewing HEI Investigators’ reports?

When a final report is received at HEI, it is sent to outside peer reviewers who are independent experts in relevant areas of research. It is then discussed by the Review Committee, which provides detailed feedback to the investigators’ team based on the peer reviews and its own assessment. The investigators are asked to submit revisions. The Committee reviews the revised report and prepares a Commentary that will be part of the published report. Investigators have an opportunity to read the Commentary before it is published.

Can I publish my results elsewhere? Should I send my manuscript to HEI? Does HEI provide feedback?

Yes, HEI investigators are encouraged to publish their results in peer reviewed journals at any time. All submitted manuscripts and conference abstracts, as well as published papers and final presentation materials, should be sent to HEI for information and for HEI’s study files. HEI does not provide feedback on manuscripts, unless input is specifically requested by the investigator or unless HEI has any other concerns.

How do I acknowledge HEI funding?

Article 16 of the HEI contract provides language to acknowledge HEI funding in a disclaimer.

Funding Sources (7)

Frequently asked questions about HEI sponsors and how HEI manages its impartial research process.

Where does HEI funding come from?

HEI’s core funding is provided jointly by government (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and all of the major companies in the worldwide motor vehicle industry. Additional funding for specific programs is provided by other sponsors, including other industries and government entities, nongovernmental organizations, and private foundations.

What role do HEI sponsors play in guiding its research program?

Every five years, HEI sponsors provide input to developing HEI’s Strategic Plan. The Plan provides broad guidelines for HEI’s research direction, for example to fund research on particulate matter or on accountability, etc. Sponsors are not involved in developing Requests for Applications (RFAs), although they review and comment on a final draft of each major RFA.

What role do HEI sponsors play in reviewing its publications?

HEI sponsors are not involved at any stage in reviewing HEI research during study selection or oversight, or during the evaluation of an investigator’s report, preparation of commentaries and the final publication.

Can HEI sponsors receive funding from HEI?

No, sponsors or their employees cannot receive HEI funding. However, HEI-funded investigators may collaborate with sponsors, for example, to avail themselves of specific expertise, equipment or facilities. In such cases, the plans for such collaboration should be included in the application; however, HEI will not provide funding for the sponsor.

Do HEI sponsors participate in workshops?

Yes. Technical experts including sponsor employees often participate in workshops and may be invited to speak.

How does HEI handle conflicts of interest?

HEI has strict procedures in place to prevent bias in study selection or during study oversight and evaluating the results of a HEI-funded study. Please see our Conflict of Interest page for details. 

What is the HEI Annual Conference?

Every year, HEI invites all its funded investigators, sponsors, experts from the scientific community and any other interested party for a 2.5 day conference. In addition to sessions on the state-of-the-science regarding air pollution and health, the conference provides an opportunity for exchange of ideas and an update on HEI research program. It is a unique conference that brings together people from diverse backgrounds (epidemiology, statistics, biology, medicine, toxicology, atmospheric science, and engineering) around the topic of air quality and public health.