Frequently Asked Questions
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Frequently asked questions about the application process.
Researchers with advanced degrees (PhD, MD, or equivalent) who are affiliated with an established research organization can apply for funding. We welcome applications from researchers in the United States and elsewhere, as long as the proposed research targets HEI's main research interests. Please refer to our Strategic Plan and current funding opportunities for details.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
No, full applications submitted through a preliminary application process are by invitation only.
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.
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.
Researchers with advanced degrees (PhD, MD, or equivalent) who are affiliated with an established research organization and are in an Assistant Professor or equivalent position can apply for funding. The highest degree should have been received at least 2 and no more than 7 years ago (by the preliminary application submission deadline). Researchers planning to respond to the Rosenblith RFA are required to send HEI staff a CV to confirm their eligibility before applying.
No. Full applications are by invitation only. However, if a candidate is still eligible to apply, s/he can reapply the following year provided s/he is still meets the eligibility requirements.
The maximum budget allowed is $500,000 over 3 years. Funds can be spent on salaries of the applicant and junior personnel (technicians, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students), supplies, and equipment. The Award does not support senior personnel and mentors, although statistical support can be exempted from this rule. In that case, a senior biostatistician can be entered on the budget as a consultant. Mentors do not need to be included on the budget. Senior collaborators who will actively participate in the project should be listed under personnel with their % effort but no salary.
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.
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. We strongly recommend having at least one mentor at the same institution who is familiar with the proposed research and can provide input on a regular basis.
Full applications should be accompanied by two reccomendaiton letters. One recommendation should be provided by a former supervisor or colleague who is very familiar with the applicant’s work. A second recommendation should come from someone who is not closely affiliated with the applicant but is familiar with their work.
Recommendation letters may be sent separately to HEI or included with the full application, whichever is preferred by the applicant and referents. Please indicate in your cover letter who the referents are and whether their letters are included or sent separately.
Frequently asked questions about HEI study oversight and reporting requirements.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where necessary, the HEI Research Committee recommends changes to the original proposal. HEI staff will inform the investigator of the Committee’s recommendation and ask the investigator to modify the original proposal, budget, or both. The proposal is then sent to the HEI Board of Directors for their approval. HEI then initiates contract negotiation with the contract office of the investigator’s institution. HEI staff will communicate with the investigator about additional documents, such as the Statement of Work, that may be needed.
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.
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.
All investigators should adhere to Quality Assurance / Quality Control (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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
One of HEI’s goals is to publish research reports of 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.
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. The Commentary is published by HEI together with the Investigator’s Report as a Research Report and made available to HEI’s sponsors and the public on the HEI website [LINK] and in print.
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.
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.
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 it is specifically requested by the investigator or unless HEI has any other concerns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes. Technical experts including sponsor employees often participate in workshops and may be invited to speak.
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.
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.