Field of Science

NIH's new forms won't accept zip codes!

OK, so I dotted every 't' and crossed every 'i' for the new NIH RO1 application forms. Everything done perfectly, to assemble the 16 form pages and dozen of so attachments into the multi-component Adobe-format application. But one ridiculous problem is preventing us (i.e. the UBC Research Services grants administrator) from submitting the application to NIH.


My address, of course, doesn't have a zip code - I chose Country = Canada and entered the post code in the field above the zip code field, no problem. But my consultant is in the US, and I need to enter his address on the Key/Senior Personnel page. So I chose Country = United States and entered his zip code in the zip code field. But the text turned red and a pop-up window told me this isn't a valid zip code. I confirmed the zip code on his letter of support and on his university's web site, I tried other valid zip codes, no success. I tried to delete the Key/Senior Personnel section for the consultant, but that box is greyed out (apparently I can't delete it until I successfully complete it...). The 'Check application for errors' function told me that the application is perfect except for the invalid zip code.

So I took the all-but-complete form (on a memory stick) over to the grants administrator, hoping she could either submit the application as-is, or solve the problem. But the problem was the same on her computer, which told me that it's not a Mac-specific problem. She was too busy dealing with other people's messed-up NIH applications to contact NIH (or for help.

Back to my office to try a few more things. Downloading a fresh copy of the application form took ages (mostly finding the right web page), but the new one had the same problem. In a way that's a relief, as I really don't want to have to redo the whole application on a fresh copy. As a test I tried changing my entry in the PI section, telling it that I was located in the United States, and giving myself a zip code. Same problem, so now I know it's a general problem with zip codes, not just with that one field.

While unsuccessfully searching for a technical support address or phone number, I found a tester version of the application form, provided to allow applicants to check that they had the right version of Adobe Reader. So I downloaded that form, and had no problem entering a zip code into it. So that tells me the problem isn't with my version of Adobe Reader.

I've tried Googling various combinations of terms (NIH, RO1, SF 424, "invalid zip code") but haven't found any evidence that other people are having this problem. The only solution I can think of now is to tell the form that the consultant is located in Canada (Charlottesville Virginia Canada?) and enter a fake post code.

Later: I was going to tell NIH that the University of Virginia is in the city of "Charlottesville VA USA 22908", in the country United Arab Emirates, but in the meantime the grants administrator discovered that the problem was simply a requirement for a 9-digit zip code!

Now I've also fixed the errors that were identified post-submission, which existed because I didn't realize that the 'Months' section of the Budget for salaries was to indicate the amount of their 'effort' each person would put into the project.

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