Nicholas Hobbs Discovery Grants


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.

See Hobbs Discovery Grants by year.

Period of Awards

Awards will be for 12 months (carry-over is possible.)

Number and Amount of Awards

The annual number of Hobbs Discovery Grants awarded and their amounts vary based on funds available. Funding ranges from $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the merits of the proposal, demonstrated need, feasibility of accomplishing a significant piece of work with the requested funds, and availability of funds. Only those proposals ranked in the outstanding or excellent categories will be considered for funding.

Research Objectives and Eligibility

This competition is open to Vanderbilt Kennedy Center faculty Investigators or Members for conducting pilot projects consistent with the mission of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center’s mission is to conduct and support collaborative research that investigates fundamental mechanisms of behavioral, cognitive, and brain development and plasticity relevant to developmental disabilities, across the lifespan. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center's aims are to better understand children's development, to prevent and solve developmental problems, and to enable people with developmental disabilities to lead better lives.

Applications that represent excursions into promising new areas of multidisciplinary research and for which any existing grant funds are not available are encouraged. Applications from individuals who are in the process of developing a research program are strongly encouraged. Proposals from investigators and associates with disabilities, women, under-represented ethnic and racial minorities are especially encouraged.

The Nicholas Hobbs Awards are intended to support original empirical research. This grant mechanism is not intended to support non-research clinical interventions, demonstration projects, training programs, literature reviews, manuscript preparation, conferences, or workshops. 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 which 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

Applicants should submit an PDF copy of the application to Tim Stafford. If an investigator needs assistance with preparation of an application, please contact Tim Stafford at (615) 875-9108 or e-mail Award decisions will be made by mid-September.

Slightly modified PHS 398 templates (word format) are available from Tim Stafford upon request. 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 (a) through (d). (NOTE: slightly modified section headings are required within the Research Plan section—see below.) Arial 11 pt. font should be used. The PI is the only required signature on the face page. If your project is approved for funding, it will be necessary to have your IRB / IACUC approval prior to accessing funds. Please send the approval letter to Tim Stafford.

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 (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. Salaries for part-time research staff (or term appointments) and student assistants, small equipment, consumable laboratory supplies, travel necessary for carrying out research, subject reimbursements, research computer software and supplies, and other miscellaneous costs necessary for carrying out the proposed research are allowable. 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 & 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 grant awards (R01, R29, P01 projects) or Department of Education Field Initiated Grants. However, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center researchers who are seeking to complete an already productive pilot project which has been dependent on modest private foundation grant funds (e.g., The Arc, PWSA) or which has been a spin-off project growing out of a previously funded grant may be allowable. 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.

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 disability and/or other related developmental disabilities. Five criteria will be used in evaluating proposals:

  • scientific merit & innovation
  • responsiveness to stated criteria and mission of the VKC
  • feasibility
  • likelihood the project will lead to external funding, and
  • 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

A Peer Review Committee will be established each year based on the nature of proposals received to assure a competent and impartial review. The committee will consist of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Research Program Directors. Other Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Investigators and researchers at other universities serve as ad hoc reviewers to assure that each proposal receives an appropriate peer review.

An NIH Peer Review Scoring system will be used in which applications will be scored on a scale of 1.0 to 5.0 (Outstanding to Disapprove). Mean scores will be rank ordered and submitted to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Director, who will make the final determination regarding funding.

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 give a brief oral presentation at some time during the following academic year. Recipients may also be asked to give a brief oral presentation to the Nicholas Hobbs Society or the Leadership Council, through whose generosity these funds are made available. A presentation at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Grand Rounds or within a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center seminar may also be scheduled.


Inquiries are encouraged in order to clarify procedures or priorities. Questions regarding procedures should be directed to the Director of Operations, Tim Stafford. Substantive questions regarding research priorities should be referred to the Center Director or the appropriate Research Program Director.


Tim Stafford, (615) 875-9108