Grant Progress Reports: Training or PIA?

In NIH land (and apparently at NSF) the annual Progress Report functions as the application for the next non-competing interval of support. The NIH ones are short, 2 pages, and you have to squeeze in comments about progress on the project goals and the significance of the findings. So there isn't a lot of room for all the data you have generated.

Science Professor indicates that she involves trainees in the preparation of progress reports.

I was asked to do this when I was a postdoc and I have continued the tradition with my postdocs. As you will surmise, I always think it a good idea to train postdocs in the grant-game. How much were/are you involved with progress reporting as a postdoc, DearReader?

Prof-like Substance's post was asking how seriously to take the NSF progress report. I have always taken my NIH ones pretty seriously and tried to summarize the grant progress as best I can. (Yes, I rewrite the drafts provided by the postdocs - thus is training after all.) One benefit is that when it comes time to write the competing renewal application you have a starting point all ready to go.

For the noob PIs... Don't sweat it. I've only once had a PO so much as comment on the Progress Report. In that case this person was, IMO, clearly out of line since we were right on target with the grant plan. More so than usual for me. And the PO also was misunderstanding the science in a way that was a little concerning for that little subarea of the IC...but whatevs. I made a response, the PO backed down and the project went on without further kvetching from this person.

So how about it? Do you involve your trainees in writing Progress Reports? Have you had any responses from POs on these? How seriously do you take them?

22 responses so far

  • The NIH ones are short, 2 pages, and you have to squeeze in

    There's a page limit? I never noticed that.

    Do you involve your trainees in writing Progress Reports? Have you had any responses from POs on these? How seriously do you take them?

    Of course not: I can't think of an administrative task that is more of a waste of time for a scientific trainee. No: never. Not at all: like a joke.

  • Namnezia says:

    I'm with CPP. I haven't had to write too many of these, but in general I paste in the abstracts of any papers/posters we published that year related to the grant, arrange the flow so it all fits together and that's it. So far the PO has never complained. The NSF ones require quite a bit more detail and there's an online form with various sections you need to fill, so that takes longer and the first time I did it the PO wrote to say I didn't include enough detail.

  • Barney says:

    I would guess that detail required for NSF varies somewhat by program officer. Once I figured out the point was mostly to give the PO information to help support his/her program, with the higher-ups it became a bit less of a hassle.

  • ScienceProfessor says:

    I think it is important to emphasize that I mentioned "involving" students/postdocs in reports --specifically, in contributing information for the reports. I do all the mind-numbing detailed aspects of the report, and I do the final compilation of the narratives (activities, results). However, if the research that is being described in the report involved a student and/or postdoc, I don't see how it is a waste of their time to ask them to write a progress report of their research activities and results -- for general purposes and for also for use as part of the grant report.

  • Joe says:

    NIH progress reports are a PIA, and I never involve trainees. I do take them seriously to the point that I think they should show you are making progress, but I am never sure if anyone actually reads them. I've heard people say that if you are changing directions in any way, you should put that in the progress report as a way of getting tacit approval for your change.

  • biochembelle says:

    Progress reports? Hahaha!

    PD lab 1 - never even saw the grant relevant to my project.
    PD lab 2 - wrote part of a section for renewal but didn't see grant in its entirety until the day it was submitted.
    PhD lab - students and postdocs were more integrally involved in aspects of grant writing.

    Personally I wish more PIs would involve trainees in the grants process. Some of us hope to be writing them for our own labs one day. Others have interest in serving as scientific writers for labs. Not to mention this sort of thing forces to think in very concrete terms about what we've accomplished and what we need to do next.

    Some PIs seem to think they shouldn't burden or distract trainees with grants. I don't think this is the service to mentees they perceive it to be.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    SP- yes, the science part only.

    PP- yes, 2 pages. Now I want to see your meticulous first ones

    Joe- they really aren't all that bad. I definitely put changes in. Especially when they cut the budget. Dunno where this would ever help...reviewers of your competing continuation would never see that. Hmmm....maybe they *should*!

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Barney- good point. I have occasionally seen my progress (papers) be used by the PO in reporting from their section on up the chain. Advisory Council minutes or Director's report kind of thing.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I've only had one small NSF grant. I haven't thought about it in a while, but I think we produced at least one publication per $1000. I don't recall doing a progress report.

    I have had several contracts which have called for quarterly reports. I thought this a real pain. then I started using them as partial drafts for the final report. This made them more useful to me and less of a pain.

  • confounded says:

    My PI has never involved me in her progress reports, but I recently had to write one for my own R03. She joked that she isn't sure if anyone reads them, but she helped me edit it.

    As a sidenote, I was asked to serve as a temporary member of the same study section that funded my R03. I've never heard of postdocs doing this, but I'm wondering if you have and what you think about it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I have often proposed that new faculty and perhaps even postdocs should serve. You've won a R grant so this would seem to be a slam dunk. I am happy that the SRO sees it this way too.

    It is *possible* that the SRO assumed you'd be promoted to something that is technically more permanent status like Instructor, so you might want to drop the details when you talk to him/her.

  • miko says:

    I wrote part of the R01 that funds my PD project (and some others), then got dicked by that institute when I applied for an F32 because it was "too similar" to the R01 that funds my work and they can't fund the same project 2x. I was like, it's not "similar", it's my fucking project, one is for research costs and the other is for my salary. I rewrote the abstract using different buzzwords and then they said it was now outside their funding interests, and I was like "it's the same fucking work, you're already fucking interested in funding it because you did fund it," and they were like "did we mention that we can't fund the same thing twice?" and I was like "are you listening to yourselves?" and they were like "yes, it's fucking crazy, but we're the NIH so that's our all day, jack."

    So I went to another institute where I could make an argument for marginal relevance, and they were like "why isn't this at [first institute]?" and I explained and got literally a one-word email from the PO: "Sigh." And then I got fucking creamed by reviewers that have nothing to do with my field.

    And that is my NIH story.

  • And that is my NIH story.

    Do you understand that all of this was avoidable, had you adopted proper grantsmanship strategy?

  • drugmonkey says:

    In a situation like this it is essential for the F32 to find a spin that is a new direction but yet entirely consistent with the project as funded. It isn't really that hard- if you actually manage to write everything relevant and interesting about your project into the one R01 it is a good bet you are doing it wrong. There are always some bits left out because they distract from the main or best story, grantsmithing-wise.

  • miko says:

    Yes, I realize we blew it. Both my and my PI's first NIH experience. For the record, it makes no fucking sense. I guess I'm willing to go down that rabbit hole, but I won't pretend it's not Calvin Ball.

  • drugmonkey says:

    There is *much* about the NIH grant game that is such that if you do it the way it makes sense to a normal person...you can kiss your chances goodbye.

  • Virgil says:

    There are a lot of senior PI's at my institute who simply do not bother with competing renewals any more. Sure, back in the day there was a cerain prestige to the tag "continuously NIH funded for XX years", but now all that matters is your current grant. Unless the performance on the previous cycle was absolutely stellar, why give the reviewers more ammunition to ding your proposal? Just write a new one and have it judged solely on what you plan to do. Taking this logic, who gives a **** about progress reports, if you are going to drop the grant after 4 years anyway? Are they (the PO's) going to look at the progress reports for one grant, to make the call on funding for another grant? Unlikely.

  • There are a lot of senior PI's at my institute who simply do not bother with competing renewals any more.

    These people are idiots. Have you looked at the scoring histograms for Type 2 applications compared to Type 1s?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Are they (the PO's) going to look at the progress reports for one grant, to make the call on funding for another grant? Unlikely.

    You are making a HUGE mistake to think that career productivity does not matter to individual POs, to the branch/division structure (the heads of which were once lowly line POs assigned to you back in the day) and eventually to TPTB at the upper ranks.

    These people are the ones that decide to pick up greyzone grants or not. To issue R56 bridge funds or not. To award a R37 or not. AYFK that their opinion of you from all along your career doesn't matter?

  • confounded says:

    It is *possible* that the SRO assumed you'd be promoted to something that is technically more permanent status like Instructor, so you might want to drop the details when you talk to him/her.

    That was a good call. The SRO didn't actually realize I was a postdoc and had simply selected the names from highly scored R03s in recent cycles (which was nice to discover).

  • Virgil says:

    Following up on my comment about not bothering with competing renewals, I just found out today mine was scored very badly. That's despite 36 publications in the past 4 years, 18 of which were directly related to and by the award, and 14 of those as senior author (my h factor is 33). It just emphasizes the point - prior performance does not matter. Well, it matters, but even if it's good they will find something else to ding you with.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Or your grant writing needs work. Competing continuations are not merely progress reports.

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