A few weeks ago, I attended a fancy pants conference for the first time. I was very nervous about going--worried that I would only know two or three people, feel impossibly out of my league, and retreat into a corner and cry for the extent of the meeting. As it turned out, I knew something closer to 20 or 30 people there, and it was one of the most fun, stimulating, and rewarding meetings I've ever been to. One of the people I reconnected with was someone my grad program had tried to recruit, but who'd ultimately decided on somewhere warmer. He's now an assistant professor like me, and so we bonded/commiserated on numerous assistant professor talking points, which naturally included the NIH grants system.
What struck me in this conversation was something he said when the topic of R21s came up. "The problem with R21s," he bemoaned, "is that you need preliminary data." Now, I found this to be a surprising thing to say, since my R21 was funded without any preliminary data--for that particular project. I did include a few figures to show that my post-doctoral work had taught me the techniques I proposed to use in that project. But it made me wonder whether different people have different ideas about what "preliminary data" actually means, and how necessary they think it is when evaluating grant proposals.
It's been said that when you submit an application, you basically need to have half the thing done already. Do you think this is true? If so, why? Where did this attitude come from? Do you think about R21s vs R01s differently?
Please take my handy poll! And please expand on your answers in the comments. I love comments!