Archive for the 'Ask DrugMonkey' category

More NIH Grant criterion score fun, writ small

As we were just discussing on the Sb blog, the Approach, Significance and Innovation criterion scores are the biggest drivers of Overall Impact Score. Approach remains the king. Or, at least the Approach score correlates best with the Overall Impact score voted for some 32 thousand research grant applications that made it to discussion for the 2010 Fiscal Year.

A good friend of the blog submits the following outcome of a recent grant review. The grant was triaged, thus no discussion and no overall score. However each of three reviewers issued a putatively non-triage score (2-3) for one of the three big criteria. (As per our aforementioned discussion, the Investigator and Environment criterion scores were 2s or better. I told you they matter very little to the outcome!) As you might anticipate, the reviewers also each bagged on (4-6s) the other two remaining important criterion scores.

But here's the funny part. The three reviewers each picked a different one of the Approach, Innovation and Significance criteria to laud.

So I should advise her to get Scarpa on the phone pronto to complain about the clearly erroneous review, right?

32 responses so far

On submitting a grant application from a University you plan to leave

A bit of confusion has arisen on the Twitts over who can serve as the PI of a grant application submitted to the NIH, who "owns" the award and what the implications are for moving the award to another University.

For a highly related topic I recommend you re-read my old post Routes to Independence: Beyond Ye Olde Skool Tenure Track Assistant Professorships (original).

To distill it to a few simple points for the current discussion:

  • The University (or Research Institution, company, etc) submits the grant to the NIH and receives the award from the NIH.
  • Anyone who the submitting institution deems to be a PI can serve as the PI. Job title or status is immaterial as far as the NIH is concerned.
  • Postdocs, Research Scientists, Staff Scientists, etc can be the listed PI on most broad NIH mechanisms (there may be the occasional special case like MD-required or something).
  • The submitting institutions, for the most part, permit anyone of tenure track professorial appointment to prepare NIH grants for them to submit but it gets highly variable (across institutions, across their respective non-professorial and/or non tenure track...and across time) after that.
  • The question of how study sections view applications submitted by those of other than tenure track professorial rank is a whole 'nother question, but you would be making a mistake to think there are hard and fast exclusive principles.

The second issue has to do with moving the award to another institution, given that a PI on an NIH award decides to go somewhere else. Although technically the University owns the award, in the vast majority of cases that institution will relinquish the award and permit it to travel with the PI. Likewise, in the vast majority of cases, the NIH will permit the move. In all cases I am aware of this move will occur at the anniversary of funding. That is because the award is in yearly increments (maximum of 5 unless you win a PECASE or MERIT extension* of the non-competing interval). Each progress report you submit? That's the "application" for the next year of funding. Noncompeting application, of course, because it does not go back to study section for review. At any rate it makes it less painful for all concerned to do the accounting if the move is at the anniversary.


Point being that if you are a postdoc or non tenure track scientist who wants to write and submit a grant, you need to start snooping around your local University about their policies. Sometimes they will only let you put in a R21 or R03 or some other nonrenewable mechanism. Sometimes they'll let you throw down the R01. Just depends. Most of the time it will require a letter of exception to be generated within the University- Chair or Dean level stuff. Which requires the approval of your current lab head or supervisor, generally. You need to start talking to all these people.

Since these types of deals are frequently case-by-case and the rules are unwritten, don't assume that everyone (i.e., your PI) knows about them. Snoop around on RePORTER for awards to your institution and see if anyone with non-TT professorial appointment has ever received an award from the NIH. Follow up on that rumour that Research Scientist Lee once had an award.

If you are really eager, be prepared to push the envelope and ask the Chair/Dean type person "Well why not? University of State1 and State University2 and IvyUni3 and Research Institute4 all permit it, why can't we?". This may require doing some background surveying of your best buddies spread around the country/world.

Final point:
Obviously I wouldn't be bringing up these theoretical possibilities if I hadn't seen it work, and with some frequency. As a reviewer on a study section I saw several applications come through from people who had the title of something below tenure track assistant professor. Instructor, Research Scientist and yes, even Postdoc. I myself submitted at least two R01 applications prior to being able to include the word "Professor" on my Biosketch. I have many peers that were in a similar circumstance at their early stage of grant writing/submitting and, yes, winning.

No, you will not be treated just like an Assistant Professor by the study sections. You will be beat up for Independence issues and with doubts about whether this is just the BigCheeze trying to evade perceptions of overfunding. You will have "helpful" reviewers busting on your appointment as evidence of a lack of institutional commitment that the reviewer really thinks will get the Dean or Chair to cough up a better title**.

In all of this however there is a chance. A chance that you will receive an award. This would have very good implications for your transition. (Assuming, of course, that you manage to get the grant written and submitted without too big of a hit to your scientific productivity, never forget that part.) And even if you do not manage to obtain a fundable score, I argue that you get valuable experience. In preparing and submitting a half-decent proposal. In getting some degree of study section feedback. In taking a shot across the bow of the study section that you have ideas and you plan to have them review them in the coming few years. In getting the PO familiar with your name. In wrangling local bureaucracy.

All of this without your own tenure clock running.
*there may be other extensions I am unaware of.

**One of the first questions I asked an experienced reviewer about after joining a study section. Sigh.

12 responses so far

Do you expose your trainees to the NIH Grant sausage making?

Jun 24 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, Mentoring

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. -Otto von Bismarck. (or maybe it was John Godfrey Saxe)

Our longtime commenter bsci recently asked:

DM, This brings up a suggestion for a potential future posts. What DO you do to train your mentees for academia? Do they get to read your grants? Comment? Write parts of an R01? I assume you have them submit NRSAs, but merely submitting isn't a training experience. Have you found ways to improve the educational utility of the process?

Let me answer this last question first. I have no idea if I am improving or impairing the "educational utility" of the training I provide. I just don't have the numbers. There are many differences in the motivations and desires of trainees, these motivations shift significantly from the beginning to the end of a typical training stint and if a job is the outcome measure, then we are all at the mercy of a varying job market.
The grant part, however, I can answer.

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19 responses so far

You don't get to define your job. Is that a problem for you?

Jun 23 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, Mentoring, Tribe of Science

You will probably have noticed by now, DearReader, that the NIH grant game is not exactly a distasteful part of my job. Don't get me wrong. I'd be much happier if I had landed in some hard-salary situation with exceptional institutional support, local funding sources procured by the philanthropy side of the institution and just generally had fewer concerns about actually funding my laboratory.
That didn't happen, however. I landed in a job which requires me to be at least minimally competent at acquiring major research funding. I was not particularly prepared for this.

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15 responses so far

Ask DrugMonkey: Has the revision strategy changed for NIH Grants in the A1 era?

May 27 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, Grant Review

Occasional commenter crystaldoc left a query on an early post.

Given recent changes in the NIH process (in particular only one chance for resubmission, and less information in the tea leaves of the new summary statements), when does it make sense to resubmit? When does it make more sense to change it up and put in a new submission? Any pragmatic advice or guidelines based on impact scores or percentiles? How often are A1's funded when the original submission was streamlined? Or at 40-50th percentile, or 30-40th percentile? Are these data available anywhere?

I offered up a prior post in which I posted some longitudinal data on the funding of NIH grants unrevised and at the A1 and A2 revision stages.
crystaldoc was not impressed.

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Apr 30 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Cannabis

I made the idle observation on Twitter yesterday that someone had found this blog by searching for the string "proof walt disney smoked pot". My initial read:

search words finding the blog: "proof walt disney smoked pot". Really people? Really?

Apparently some folks are amused by this concept.

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Your academic society is working for (or against?) you under the NIH Grant waterline

A recent blog entry from Pascale H. Lane discusses her reasons for belonging to academic societies. Our good blog friend Dr. Isis is frequently found to be going all fangrrl about the APS (no, not the real APS, these Physiological pretenders who are well down the GoogJuice list). Pascale touched on one Golden Thought about what academic societies can do that is, or should be, of general interest to my readership:

The society maintains several grant programs for research funding, and it leads advocacy efforts to maintain adequate federal funding for kidney disease research and treatment.

Grant $$$! Wooot!

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39 responses so far

Your Grant in Review: The outlier proves I need to appeal!!!!

Mar 10 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Grant Review, Grantsmanship, NIH

I've been meaning to pick up on a comment made by a reader over at writedit's epic thread on NIH paylines, scores and whatall. (If you want to swap war stories and score/IC payline grumbling, that is the hot place in town.) The guy was ticked off about a recent review he received and had a question:

I am an establishe investigator. I subnitted a competing renewal ... I got a score of 40 (37 percentile). I was very shocked and dissapointed to find out that my application had a preliminary score of 2.7 (which would have been fundable) but it seems one negative reviewer carried the day, and convinced others to pull down the score. I have not yet seen the comments, but if the comments have factual errors, especially from the negative errors, can I appeal the review and request a re-review?

Recently, as luck would have it, a loyal reader of the blog submitted the following scores, received on the review of her R01 grant proposal. Under the new scoring procedures in place since last June, these are scores which each reviewer suggests for criteria of Significance, Investigator, Innovation, Approach and Environment. I may have slightly re-ordered specific scores for concealment purposes but this is essentially the flavor.
rev#1: 2,1,1,1,1
rev#2: 2,2,3,3,1
rev#3: 3,2,5,4,2
It really is always Reviewer #3, isn't it?

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Ask DrugMonkey: Will you comment for attribution?

Mar 02 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Blogging, Science Communication

Every now and again I get a request to provide information to an individual who writes for a mainstream media print outlet. Sometimes ones that are focused on the scientific enterprise, sometimes ones that have a regional focus and sometimes the larger, more general national news organizations. The latest one was from Sharon Begley of Newsweek .
The typical request includes some stroking "I'm a big fan of your blog" (yeah, you and the spam commenters, bucko) and a request for a voice interview on some topic of interest that is obviously related to my blogging.
So far, so good.
Even if I do not really understand the fetish with the voice interview over the email exchange. (Oh, ok, yes I do*.)
Then, with various degrees of clumsiness, they work around to the question of my real identity and how they would like to cite that real identity in their article.
Of course, I refuse.

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Your Grant in Review: The impact of institutional affiliation

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, Grant Review, NIH

A comment on a recent post discussing the impersonality of perceived bias in the NIH grant game asks:

I would be interested to know your (and others) opinion(s) on the weight that is given to the institution, aka, environment. In other words, how important is your ZIP code?

My answer: Crucial, immaterial....meh. More after the jump.

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