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National Institutes of Health Grant Boot Camp

UCI's National Institutes of Health (NIH) Boot Camp is a comprehensive, multifaceted mentoring program designed to help university faculty researchers successfully apply for their first research grants from NIH.

Teams of established faculty members with strong NIH funding track records and peer-review experience guide mentees through the process of developing NIH research project grant proposals, while encouraging peer support and feedback.

The Boot Camp program pilot launched in 2017. During the last five years, 74 faculty mentees have utilized the program representing the Schools of Medicine, Biological Science, Engineering, Information and Computer Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Social Ecology, Public Health, Nursing, and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Numerous faculty members have served as team coaches and subject experts.

The NIH Boot Camp is a campus-sponsored program supported by UCI's Office of Research and several schools across campus, and organized through the School of Medicine Office of Research.

Applications for the 2022 cohort are closed. For any inquiries, please email

About the NIH Boot Camp Program »

This comprehensive, multi-tiered mentorship program is comprised of the following:

  • Large group events and workshops designed to provide mentees with the tools and knowledge they need to write a successful NIH research grant application (e.g., proposal writing seminar, mock review). View a list of planned group events ›

  • Self-directed interdisciplinary peer group activities of about four to eight faculty mentees and one or two established faculty coaches. Under the guidance of the coaches, mentees write and review proposal sections, provide constructive feedback to one another, and address problems and needs of mutual interest.

  • Faculty coaches with established track records of external funding and a commitment to mentoring meet with and advise their assigned mentee peer group. Coaches also communicate with the mentees' department chairs and the boot camp manager.

  • Internal subject matter experts (ISME) provide counsel on mentees’ research plans and help mentees prepare and present a "Chalk Talk," review and critique proposal drafts.

  • External subject matter experts (ESME) review mentees’ final proposals.
Goals for Boot Camp Mentees »

Boot camp goals are to:

  1. Map your research career strategy using a research roadmap. Along with your peers, you will develop a strategic path to build a national reputation and become a leader in your field of science. Sample research roadmap topics include:

      • What do I want to be known for as a researcher?
      • How crowded is the field? Given the competition, can I build a national reputation in this area?
      • Are my research questions significant? Innovative? Fundable?
      • What further skills/knowledge/abilities do I need to acquire?
      • How many people will I need in my lab? What qualities/expertise will they need? Where will I get them from?
      • How much will it cost to conduct this project?

  2. Learn to present a well-conceptualized grant idea persuasively, which is usually a combination of "offense" and "defense":
      • What are reviewers looking for when they evaluate an NIH proposal? Know what to expect and be prepared! Anticipate weaknesses/criticisms and learn to deflect with well-prepared justifications. 
      • Identify the best study section to review your proposal.
      • With the help of your coach and peers, prepare for a dialogue with your program officer.
      • Become a reviewer of your peers’ proposals to role-play the perspective of the reviewers.
      • Prepare and present a "Chalk Talk" to get expert feedback on your specific aims.
      • Scheduled eight-hour grant writing webinar

  3. Meet investigators from other departments and fields. Participating in small groups of scientists fosters camaraderie, stimulates research ideas and encourages transdisciplinary and translational research.

View frequently asked questions about becoming a mentee ›

Please send inquiries to

Role of Faculty Coaches  »

For the NIH Boot Camp, one or two UCI faculty coaches work with a group consisting of four to eight mentees. Volunteer coaches guide their group through a research roadmap, which helps mentees identify and confirm a specific scientific field, determine the skills and resources necessary to become an expert in the research topic, and develop an NIH grant application.

In much the same way that an athletic coach is not an expert at all team positions, a boot camp coach is not necessarily an expert on the scientific expertise needed for each mentee’s grant proposal. Rather, the coach is a process expert. Each mentee also is required to work with an internal subject matter expert, or 1:1 scientific mentor, who is contracted to consult with the mentee on the scientific content of the proposal.

Small group activities include helping to determine a realistic deadline for each mentee, advising them on developing sections of a proposal, and reviewing proposals in the group. Coaches help the group find answers to other issues that may surface, such as questions about NIH policy or how to engage NIH program officers. The boot camp manager serves as a resource for the coaches and can arrange for additional support when requested by the group.

Each team is self-governing. Coaches will have a hosting budget ($500/team) to support meetings and — together with the group members — determine when the group will meet (e.g., breakfast meetings, pizza after work, etc.). The boot camp manager provides a dedicated team folder for team members to upload and share proposal sections for review.

Individuals interested in serving as faculty coaches should email a statement of interest and recent version of their NIH biosketch to:

Why should you apply to be a coach? How does the role of coach benefit the program and the mentees?

  • Share knowledge you have gained
  • Guide and encourage new researchers
  • Learn about new technologies and discoveries
  • Work in an interdisciplinary/translational group
  • Contribute to the research mission of UCI
  • Have fun!
  • Receive $5,000 in discretionary funds per coach, plus $500 for hosting expenses per team

View frequently asked questions about serving as a coach for our NIH Boot Camp program ›

Please send inquiries to

Internal Subject Matter Experts (ISME) »

Internal subject matter experts (ISME) serve as 1:1 scientific mentors for mentees. ISMEs should be selected by the mentee in consultation with coaches, department chairs and other leadership as appropriate.

ISMEs provide counsel on mentee research roadmaps, help them prepare and present "Chalk Talks," and review proposal drafts.

If you are interested in becoming an ISME, contracts must be completed prior to the start of the NIH Boot Camp. Contracts ensure ISME commitment to their mentees and facilitate compensation at the end of the program.

View frequently asked questions about becoming an ISME ›

Please send inquiries to

External Subject Matter Experts (ESME) »

External subject matter experts (ESME) work with mentees to review their proposal in advance of the NIH application deadline.

To obtain an ESME review, the mentee must contact the boot camp manager with completed materials (i.e., request form and draft proposal) at least six (6) weeks in advance of the NIH deadline. The boot camp manger facilitates the review process, and once completed, the ESME receives $500 for his or her service.

If you need assistance finding an ESME to review your proposal, please let us know!

The ESME is expected to return the review within two (2) to three (3) weeks. Please note that it is best to obtain this review at least six (6) weeks in advance of your NIH deadline to allow time for further refinement and data assimilation.

View frequently asked questions about working with an ESME ›

Please send inquiries to

NIH Video Resources »

NIH held a Virtual Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration in November 2021. All presentations, transcriptions, and PowerPoint presentations have been posted here.