Your Grant In Review: Overstuffing the Vertebrate Animals Section

Feb 20 2013 Published by under Grantsmanship, NIH, NIH funding

There is little doubt that shortening the length of the NIH R01 application from 25 pages to 12 put a huge premium on the available word space. The ever declining success rates have undoubtedly accelerated the desire of applicants to cram every last bit of information that they possibly can into the application.

Particularly since StockCritiqueTM having to do with methodological detail has hardly disappeared.

It is possible that a somewhat frustrated, tongue-in-cheek comment of YHN may have led some folks astray.

Since I am finally getting serious about trying to write one of these new format grants, I am thinking about how to maximize the information content. One thought that immediately strikes me is....cheat!

By which I mean taking sections that normally I would have put in the page-limited part of the grant and sneaking them in elsewhere. I have come up with the following and am looking for more tips and ideas from you, Dear Reader.
1) Moving the animal methods to the Vertebrate Animals section. I'm usually doing quite a bit of duplication of the Vertebrate Animals stuff in my General Methods subheading at the very end of the old Research Design section. I can move much of that, including possibly some research stuff that fits under point 4 (ensuring discomfort and distress is managed), to the Vertebrate Animals section.

Now mind you, one of my always perspicacious commenters was all over me right from the start:

DM - Please don't encourage people to cheat their way out of 12 pages. Please tell them to write a 12-page grant.
I would warn grant-writers to be careful of cheating too much. I was at a study section recently where someone lost about a point of score because one of the reviewers (it wasn't me, although I agree with the reviewer) complained about "cheating" by moving methods into the vertebrate animals section.

That was all back in March 2010. Here we are down the road and I have to say, DearReader, I am hearing a constant drum beat of irritation at people who cheat in just this way. My suggestion (a serious one) is to be very wary of putting what should be your research plan methods into the Vertebrate Animals section.

I am hearing and seeing situations in which reviewers pretty obviously are ticked and almost certainly are punishing the applications accordingly. Nobody likes a cheat. I have even heard of rare cases of people having their grants kicked back, unreviewed, because of this.

So be careful. Keep the Vertebrate Animals section on task and put your Methods where they belong.

8 responses so far

  • brian says:

    I'm finalizing a grant and ironically considered this today. My solution was to keep experimental details in the body, but charts I composed that would show the numbers of animals in each group (basically as an aid to reviewers) were moved to vertebrate animals. This seems fair because the main experimental thrust remains where it belongs, but animal usage in terms of numbers used in each group is in a place where it seems appropriate.

    Cheating?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Number of overall animals is expected. Once you say "groups" this sounds like experimental design. So tread carefully.

  • Ola says:

    I have dinged many grants in the past for burying critical scientific information, which impacts the data, In the VA section. Specifically, I'm talking about anesthetic agents. You'd be amazed the number of folks who study mitochondria, and just conveniently forget to mention pentobarbital (very toxic to mitos, esp. liver) in the methods. Once, I commented on this in the VA section of the review form, and was told by the SRO to move the comment to the approach, since it impacted the science.

  • pinus says:

    I saw a couple like this. I made a note that it was inappropriate.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Did it make your eyebrow twitch?

  • pinus says:

    in one case it was so extreme it irritated the fuck out of me. in other cases, it only bothered me a bit.

  • Grumble says:

    I got dinged for this - literally one methods-like sentence in the whole fricken' VA section, and the reviewer commented on it. But it didn't hurt my score all that much: I still got the grant.

  • Cynric says:

    I actually had a reviewer cheat like this on a referee report. Not content with using the available space to nit-pick on technical issues, they added a "continued in ethics section" note, and then carried on with their pedantic quibbling in the space reserved for comments on animal use.

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