eRA: Good and Getting Better
When I look at this image, I think… how much would the one on the right set me back? Then my second thought is potential. Here at eRA we have been working hard to reach our greatest potential for helping you with the NIH grant process… trying to go from relatively unstructured carbon atoms to lattice structured crystalline carbon atoms!
We have been rethinking, redesigning, and redoing our web pages; implementing new and exciting tools for online help; and creating new, more interesting training resources. And during this time, the one mantra that keeps coming back is "How will this be for the applicant or grantee? How can we make it easier and better for them?"
Our hope is to unveil our new web design in the coming weeks. The new design is more graphical, focusing on processes, less text heavy and thus (hopefully) making the pages easier to navigate, and less overwhelming. And while we are not quite ready to launch the web pages, that does not mean you have to wait to see all the new stuff.
We have recently started producing new video tutorials, and with the help of our Web Team, we now have our own eRA YouTube Playlist! The first tutorial videos to hit the Ethernet are:
- How Not to Miss Important Information About the Receipt and Referral of Your Grant Application
- Personal Profile Overview
- Submitting Reference Letters through eRA Commons
And if you forget how to find us on YouTube, you can always go to the eRA Training page for Commons and the links are right there for you.
Additionally, we continue to release new online help resources for our various systems. To date you can find in-depth, searchable and generally way cool online help for:
The online help is also accessible via the question marks on the screens of the modules themselves.
And coming soon will be new online help for eRA Commons (a HUGE project), Account Management System (AMS), and Administrative Supplements. These resources are truly the diamonds in the rough!
And if you would like to add your own polish to the diamond, feel free to provide us with suggestions on how we might make things better for you! What video tutorials, PDFs, or other resources would you like to have? Send ideas and topic suggestions to eRACommunications@mail.nih.gov.
Don't Hang Your SSN Out in the Wind…
Security. It is a huge issue in this day and age. And one we all take seriously. In particular, NIH has very strict security processes and procedures. Cutting edge research data, patient information, financial information: it all needs protection. With that in mind you might have come to notice that NIH and other federal agencies seldom ask you for your Social Security Number (SSN) as part of the identifying information for a person on an application. And the reason is simple… identity theft. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the country.
So beyond not asking for your Social Security Number, we want you to be aware of the little know feature of Commons. We have found that sometimes our customers want to share with each other their SSNs via the comment fields on the routing. This may be related to a fellowship grant or collaborative processes that will require salary/payment information. Regardless of the valid reason, it is not a good idea as routing will send an unsecured email with comments to the routee. So the NIH scans all text fields on the automated emails it processes looking for 9 digit values, values formatted as XXX-XX-XXXX and other variations that a SSN might be added to a form.
If this is found… well it can be bad. The email will not get processed and will be flagged with an error. This can, of course, cause downstream issues with meeting deadlines and submission dates and generally muck up the works.
So for the protection of your identity and the protection of the process, please do not slip in any social security numbers on any of the comment fields we ask you to use for routing forms.