Does your grant ever get that....not-so-fresh feeling?

Oct 19 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

If you submitted your beautiful, perfect grant this summer like I did, then chances are its review date fell during the government shutdown. Word came down yesterday via notice NOT-OD-14-003 that instead of rescheduling 2 weeks' worth of study sections, NIH has simply bumped all of those beautiful, perfect proposals to join their Oct/Nov-submitted brothers and sisters at February's meeting dates. Which means that in comparison, your now 8-month old grant may be...not so fresh.

Aha! But the sensitive folks at NIH have seen the inequity in such an arrangement, and tossed us the tiniest of bones in anticipation of our rage: the opportunity to "refresh" our submissions (their words), with a new, fresher, Nov 20 deadline.

I hate everything about this. First, it means that I absolutely have to do it. If I don't, my proposal gets judged against others from my cohort who did, putting me at a disadvantage. So goodbye, whatever I was planning on getting done in the next 4 weeks (which, btw, overlaps completely with the Society for Neuroscience meeting), and hello scrambling for preliminary data and updated figures. Second, whether conscious or not, the reviewers will almost surely add a 6th criterion, "progress since original submission." So, those who, hypothetically speaking, spent the summer fighting with their university's biosafety committee over the meaning of "replication-deficient" instead of making actual progress on the proposed work are again at a disadvantage.

Basically, we are fucked. But I guess I'd better get going on all that refreshing.

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20 responses so far

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    A sort of humerous story. Years ago a Venezuelan colleague and I applied for a cooperative grant between NSF and CONICIT (the Venezuelan NSF.) We hand carried the application over to CONICIT, and mailed it off to NSF. Did not hear anything, so contacted NSF. Was told CONICIT did not receive our application. Called Venezuelan colleague. In a few days, a call from NSF, Our grant was funded in Venezuela, so they would do the same. I never got complete details, but there was a turnover in CONICIT staff, and they were replaced with friends of ours who immediately found and funded our grant application. I don't think it works that way here.

  • David says:

    I've heard mixed opinions about whether your summer 13 submissions are eligible for this "refresher" or whether this only applies to fall 13 submissions made before the shutdown. (Anyone know?)

    If the former, I urge caution. Many reviewers, myself included, had reviewed nearly all the grants we were assigned before our Oct 13 study sections were cancelled. That means that I already read all my grants and authored all my critiques.

    If all those applicants withdraw their applications and refresh them, my work will be flushed, and I - and others like me - will likely be very cranky.

    Just sayin'.

    • drugmonkey says:

      be this as it may, this doesn't address Dr Becca's concern that everyone else will be doing it and there will be a 6th criterion. Since we can't know if the reviewer has done his/her job...or had left that one until last and failed to complete....how is the individual PI to game that out?

      and even if the reviewer is grumpy about a "refreshed" grant landing on his or her pile again...the fact of the matter is that it might strengthen the grant to add new preliminary data. I'm scrambling like hell to figure out if I can strengthen my proposal before Nov 8 when I have to choose. If we get the data, it will seriously trump any reviewer annoyance at factors that are clearly not under my control.

  • Dr Becca says:

    David -

    My reading of the language, under "Opportunity to 'Refresh" is that "Applicants whose review meetings are rescheduled and whose applications are reassigned to the May 2014 Council" explicitly refers to people who submitted in June/July 13, per the language in the immediately prior section, where it says that review meetings that were missed bc of the shutdown will be rescheduled for Feb/March and reassigned to May council. I don't really see the need for a refresher opportunity for those who got their Oct submissions in a few days or weeks early. Am I reading that wrong?

    Your last point is more troubling, though, since my primary goal is not to make my reviewers hate me. Maybe I start the grant with a few quick bullet points on the aspects that have been refreshed?

  • David says:

    I think this CSR plan is awful. The best case scenario is one where specific reviewers have to author 20+ reviews. That's already really atrociously awful. To have some subset be ones you already wrote and which you must now read and review again adds insult to the injury.

    I don't blame grant writers. They didn't cause this, but there is only so much you can expect from reviewers before things start getting really messy.

    (BTW, if you are going to do it, bullet points with revisions indicated do seem better than nothing)

    • David says:

      Maybe I should be clear. I am NOT suggesting that people don't refresh... just that they don't do it unless it's really justified. Doing it for the sake of doing it is what I'd discourage.

      • Physician Scientist says:

        David-
        You are assuming the same reviewer will be getting the grant the second time. There's no evidence that this will be the case. A new reviewer might be seeing the grant among their pack of 20.

        • David says:

          Even worse. So, what did I do my reviews in Oct for? For giggles?

          • drugmonkey says:

            and is the PI going to get all *three* return reviewers? Seems very doubtful to me.

            Even "refreshing" to fix typos and streamline the argument* is awfully tempting if one is to get 1 or 2 new reviewers on it....

            I totally feel your pain as a reviewer David but damn.....I just can't see any logical path for a PI that includes helping out with the reviewer load here.

            *otherwise I would totally agree that one should only refresh with highly meaningful changes.

  • eeke says:

    Dr Becca, I would think that it is the other way around - the Oct submissions are fucked. Can the study section members distinguish the June submissions from the October submissions? The June people presumably may have collected pretty data over the summer and now have the opportunity to freshen up their proposals, possibly making them more competitive. Those of us who submitted in October, though, are unlikely to have much of anything new to add. Either way, I don't know how they plan to deal with twice the load of applications. Are they going to bring in additional reviewers?

    • drugmonkey says:

      As David alluded to above, yes, any reviewers that get the same 'refreshed' application will know.

      Are they going to bring in additional reviewers?

      An excellent question and it speaks to the issue of the same reviewers getting the refreshed application. You can only load a given reviewer down with so many applications. So the SRO brings in a bunch of new reviewers...now you've got uneven representation of ad hoc to empaneled reviewers. Or you spread the reviews around so that some of the apps do not go back to a reviewer who has previously written a critique....but of course s/he is now invested in that discussion to a high degree- also an inequity.

      There is no winning here.

  • Susan says:

    Yeah, as an October person, I feel f*d too. You have the opportunity to demonstrate 6 months worth of progress, which could be substantial, and you're crowding into MY round! Wah.
    As always, though, best of luck.

  • Ola says:

    As Eeke says, it's just as hard on the October submitters. We have an A1 going in this fall, and now we're worried because of course it's the last chance for this particular app'. Previously we'd be up against maybe 80 other applications, but now we're going to be against 160+ with all the hung over ones. Barring a doubling of study section membership (i.e., a lot of ad-hocs), each reviewer at the Feb' meetings is going to have 18-20 applications instead of the usual 8-10, and the meetings are gonna have to be held over at least a 3-4 day period, so the "quality" has to suffer. Basically we're all fooked, not just the summer applicants.

    The only shining light at the end of the tunnel here, is that ALL this shit will eventually hit council meetings at May/June time, and that's the end of the fiscal year when the institutes find out how much spare cash they have left, so they go around vacuuming up proposals. As such, there could be more smiling faces in July/Aug 2014 when the NOAs go out for these applications. But yeah, overall you can't polish a turd.

    • drugmonkey says:

      each reviewer at the Feb' meetings is going to have 18-20 applications instead of the usual 8-10,

      I would be very surprised if SROs didn't recruit a substantial number of ad hocs to keep loads from going to the 18-20 level.

      • David says:

        If loads go to 18-20, the participation rate for regular members will go down the tubes (and I mean, lots, myself included). That means that a ton of ad hoc people will review these two rounds worth of grants (not necessarily a bad thing until you realize that this means the grants will be reviewed by fresh eyes in the form of regular members at A1). I think the biggest problems from all of this are the unintended consequences down the road... not just the ones that are happening now.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Aaaaaaand today's news seems to be that CSR may be reconsidering the plan and trying to get the meetings done in November.

    • Ewan says:

      Not for me: just got the PD's note of cancellation-and-may-refresh. She was pleasantly supportive about the current proposal and apologetic about the delay, but it appears to be a done deal.

  • Matt says:

    Well Nov 20th came and went. At least it's over now. Back to relaxing?

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