2021 Pilot Projects Program

2 year Undergraduate 
Research Internship Program

IntroductionEligibilityKey DatesLetters of IntentApplicationReporting Requirements & Review CriteriaAppendix

Program Introduction

The Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (SCEHSC) is pleased to announce the 2021 Pilot Projects Program, supporting one-year research projects that aim to promote the understanding of environmental exposures and human disease. The goal of the program is to provide investigators with an opportunity to collect preliminary data and/or validate the utility of specific methods or techniques to establish the feasibility of larger-scale research projects and ultimately seek external (especially NIEHS) funding.
For questions or more information, please contact Vivian Lee (viv.lee@usc.edu).
The SCEHSC is seeking investigator-initiated applications from all environmental health research areas. Topics of special interest include:
New Approaches for Exposure Assessment
New Approaches for Environmental Disaster Response Research
Environment, Neurodevelopment, and Neurological Diseases
Novel Approaches in Environmental Disparities Assessment
Cancer and the Environment
Complex Mixtures in Environmental Health
Environmental Contributions to Obesity and Metabolic Dysfunction
Application of Omics’ Technologies to Environmental Health Research
Human Microbiome and the Environment
Community-Based Participatory Research
Climate Change, Adaptation and Environmental Health
(The SCEHSC intends to fund at least one pilot project in this research area.)


Individuals with a full-time faculty appointment in any department or school at the University of Southern California are eligible to apply.

Applicants are encouraged to pursue multidisciplinary collaborations, including with investigators at other institutions affiliated with the Center (e.g. UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Riverside, UCSD, Caltech, CSUN, Kaiser Permanente Southern California and CHLA). Applications are also highly encouraged from junior faculty.
Career Development Funds
Postdoctoral researchers at USC with a full-time faculty sponsor may submit proposals for up to $10,000 in direct costs, subject to the same application requirements and deadlines.

Key Program Dates

Request for 
Non-binding Letter of Intent & Specific Aims Deadline
Invitations to Submit Application
Full Application Deadline
Notification of Award
Award Start Date
January 12, 2021
January 25, 2021 at 5pm PT
January 28, 2021
February 22, 2021 at 5pm PT
April 2021
May 1, 2021

Letters of Intent & Specific Aims

Prospective applicants must submit a non-binding, one-page Letter of Intent along with one page of final Specific Aims. The letter should include the project title, a brief summary of project objectives, identification of the key participating investigators. All proposed projects should have a clear and identifiable environmental health emphasis. Please e-mail Letters of Intent and Specific Aims as one PDF file to Vivian Lee, viv.lee@usc.edu, by the deadline, January 25, 2021 at 5pm Pacific Time.
Successful Letter of Intent applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal for up to $50,000 ($10,000 for postdoctoral applicants). Instructions for full proposal submission can be found below. Please email full applications as one PDF file to Vivian Lee, viv.lee@usc.edu, by the application deadline, February 22, 2021 at 5pm Pacific Time.

Application Instructions

Invited Full Applications should include the following, in this order:
1. Cover Sheet – Including the full title of the project; name, contact information, institution, and department of the Principal Investigator (PI); and the name, institution, and department of any co-investigators or faculty sponsors.
2. Project Abstract (300 words or less) – A brief summary of the project.
3. Specific Aims (1 page) – Concise goals of the proposed research and a summary of expected outcomes, including specific objectives.
4. Research Strategy (6 pages MAXIMUM, not including references)
i. Significance – Describe the importance of the problem or critical barrier that the project addresses, and explain how the project will improve scientific knowledge, technical capability, or clinical practice if the proposed aims are achieved.
ii. Innovation – Describe how the proposed research seeks to shift research practice paradigms and how any methodologies or theoretical concepts that are being developed or used in the project may have an advantage over existing practices.
iii. Approach – Describe the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish specific aims, including how data will be collected. Discuss potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks of success.
5. Grant Potential (1 page) – Clear description of how a successful pilot project and/or expansion of the project will lead to an R01 (or equivalent) submission.
6. Project Timeline (1 page) – A proposed timeline of study performance should be included, identifying specific tasks and milestones in project progress for the estimated 11-month period of performance.
7. Budget – A budget table of personnel, equipment, supplies, travel, and other estimated costs to perform the proposed project. [Full-time faculty applicants may budget up to $50,000 for direct costs. Postdoctoral applicants may budget up to $10,000. Indirect (F&A) costs should be listed separately from direct costs.]
8. Budget Justification – A detailed explanation and justification of the funding request.
Non-allowable expenses:
i. Salaries for Associate and Full Professors
ii. Salaries for investigators and staff at institutions outside of USC
iii. Tuition for graduate students
9. NIH-Format Biosketches – For the PI, co-investigators and faculty sponsors (5 page limit per investigator).
10. Required if human subjects research (see Appendix) –
i. NIH-Format Protection of Human Subjects section
ii. NIH-Format Planned Inclusion Enrollment Report
iii. Human Subjects training documentation for the PI, co-investigators and faculty sponsors (CITI Human Subjects Training)
iv. If clinical trial, a data safety monitoring plan is also required
11. Facility Core Usage and Correspondence – The SCEHSC provides technical support to our Center investigators and pilot project awardees. A wide range of capabilities, including biostatistical support, analytical sample preparation/processing, and biological sample measurements are available. For more information on the Center’s Facility Cores, please read our core descriptions. Early discussion with Core Directors is strongly encouraged. SCEHSC Facility Core Directors should be contacted to provide an electronic letter of support as part of the full project application submission. If Facility Cores are NOT proposed to support pilot project performance, written justification must be provided in the project application.
Core Directors may be contacted as follows:
• Integrative Health Sciences Facility Core (Interim Director: Louis Dubeau, MD, PhD, ldubeau@usc.edu)
• Biostatistics Facility Core (Director: Jim Gauderman, PhD, jimg@usc.edu)
• Exposure Factors Facility Core (Director: Ed Avol, MS, avol@usc.edu)

Reporting Requirements

The anticipated period of funded project performance will be May 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022. IRB/IACUC approval letters must be received as soon as possible to avoid any delays in funding. Funded projects will be expected to submit initial IRB applications immediately following the notice of award. All funded projects, along with IRB approval, must be reviewed and approved by NIEHS prior to the funding start date.

In addition, all pilot project grantees are required to submit an Annual Progress Report each fall. The progress report will contain updates on the project, publications directly related to findings from the project, and grants directly associated with project results. Grantees may be asked to present a poster or short oral presentation on pilot progress at an SCEHSC workshop dedicated to pilot project grantees.

All publications resulting from pilot funding must include the following acknowledgement:
“This work was supported by the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center, NIEHS grant # P30ES007048.”

Review Criteria

Applications will be reviewed by a multidisciplinary panel of scientists. Awardees will be selected following the review, and funding is anticipated to begin May 1, 2021. Notification of award will be in April 2021.
Major review criteria include:
Relevance and potential to identify solutions to environmental health problems
Scientific quality, approach and significance
Stimulation of interdisciplinary activity, particularly with other centers, initiatives, or programs
Likelihood of leading to R01 or other external funding
Novelty and innovation of ideas.


Instructions for Human Subjects Research Additional Requirements
1. NIH-Format Protection of Human Subjects section
For non-exempt studies: The NIH-Format “Protection of Human Subjects” section is required.
In summary, the “Protection of Human Subjects” section should include the following. For complete instructions, see Section 3.1 of the NIH Application Guide.
1. Risks to Human Subjects
a. Human subjects involvement and characteristics; vulnerable populations
b. Sources of materials – what, how, access to identifiers
c. Potential Risks – physical, psychological, social, etc.
2. Adequacy of Protection Against Risks
a. The consent process
b. Procedures to minimize risks
c. Additional protections for vulnerable subjects
3. Potential Benefits of Proposed Research to Research Participants and Others
a. May not be direct benefit to subjects
b. Discuss risks in relation to anticipated benefits
c. Should not include monetary compensation
4. Importance of the Knowledge to be Gained
a. Discuss knowledge in relation to risks
For exempt studies: The full NIH-format “Protection of Human Subjects” section is NOT required. Instead, please provide the following:
1. Description of study
2. What human data/samples will be used
3. Where these data/samples will be obtained from

2. NIH-Format Planned Inclusion Enrollment Report
NIH-format Planned Inclusion Enrollment Reports are required for all non-exempt human subjects studies. NIH instructions can be found here.
3. Human Subjects Training Documentation
CITI Human Subjects Training Certificates are required for the PI and all co-investigators and faculty sponsors for any human subjects study (exempt and non-exempt). CITI training must be up-to-date at time of application submission and must be active at time of funding.
4. NIH-Format Data and Safety Monitoring Plan (required ONLY if pilot is a clinical trial)
If the pilot is a clinical trial, the NIH-Format “Data and Safety Monitoring Plan” is required. For complete instructions, see Section 3.3 of the NIH Application Guide.
In summary, the “Data and Safety Monitoring Plan” should include the following:
1. Overall framework for data and safety monitoring commensurate with risk
2. Responsible party for monitoring, including details such as whether a single person, multiple people, or a data safety monitoring board will provide monitoring and what type indicate what type of entity will provide the monitoring (e.g., PD/PI, Independent Safety Monitor/Designated Medical Monitor, Independent Monitoring Committee, Safety Monitoring Committee, Data and Safety Monitoring Board, etc.)
3. Procedures for reporting Adverse Events/Unanticipated Problems
4. Trial monitoring by individual(s) or group:
a. Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) required for multi-site trials with greater than minimal risk, and generally, for all Phase III trials
Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center
Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
2001 North Soto Street, MC 9237
Los Angeles, CA 90089-9013
Supported by NIEHS grant P30ES007048
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