"No matter how ridiculous the summary statement comment, it helps you to write better proposals in the future."
Archive for the 'Grantsmanship' category
This question is mostly for the more experienced of the PItariat in my audience. I'm curious as to whether you see your grant scores as being very similar over the long haul?
That is, do you believe that a given PI and research program is going to be mostly a "X %ile" grant proposer? Do your good ones always seem to be right around 15%ile? Or for that matter in the same relative position vis a vis the presumed payline at a given time?
Or do you move around? Sometimes getting 1-2%ile, sometimes midway to the payline, sometimes at the payline, etc?
This latter describes my funded grants better. A lot of relative score (i.e., percentile) diversity.
It strikes me today that this very experience may be what reinforces much of my belief about the random nature of grant review. Naturally, I think I put up more or less the same strength of proposal each time. And naturally, I think each and every one should be funded.
So I wonder how many people experience more similarity in their scores, particularly for their funded or near-miss applications. Are you *always* coming in right at the payline? Or are you *always* at X %ile?
In a way this goes to the question of whether certain types of grant applications are under greater stress when the paylines tighten. The hypothesis being that perhaps a certain type of proposal is never going to do better than about 15%ile. So in times past, no problem, these would be funded right along with the 1%ile AMAZING proposals. But in the current environment, a change in payline makes certain types of grants struggle more.
Apparently Potnia is going to do a series over at Mistress of the Animals blog. This statement is one of those mnemonic gems you should paste on your monitor edge.
Aims should be general enough to require a project (1-2 papers per aim), but specific enough that they are a project.
There's at least one early indicator of what is going to happen with the study section rounds that were cancelled because of the government shutdown.
It's not a rumor. Grants whose review was cancelled will now be reviewed in Feb 14 round. Will be a double round for reviewers.
— J. David Jentsch (@jdavidjentsch) October 17, 2013
This has all sorts of implications, one of which was brought up by Professor Jentsch in a subsequent tweet. It is related to the NOTice just issued which says that all October deadlines will be pushed forward into the "November timeframe".
Let's say your submitted a new proposal in June or perhaps a revised or competing renewal proposal in July. And like a busy little beaver you've continued to work on the project. Perhaps you have some excellent new data that further supports your awesome ideas and the killer experiments that you've proposed.
There is only one thing to do. Pull the grant from consideration and resubmit it, with the new data, once the NIH picks some November deadlines.
Every good grant application boils down to one or more of a couple of key statements.
- "The field is totally doing it WRONG!"
- "That which all those idiots think is true....ISN'T!"
- "These people are totally missing the boat by working on that instead of working on THIS!"
- "How can they possible have missed the implications of THIS amazing THING??!!??"
Good grant applications also have a single goal and conclusion.
- "....and I am here to FIX EVERYTHING!"
The trouble is that you can't say this in so many words. First, because you sound insane. Second, because some of those self-same people you are calling blind, stupid fools are the ones reviewing your grant. Third, because people reviewing your grant might have some respect for those other people you are calling fools. Fourth, because you may stray into calling your friendly Program Officers at the NIH fools for funding all that other stuff instead of you.
The most acceptable compromise seems to be to focus very heavily on the fact that you are here to "fix everything". To focus especially on the "everything" and less on the "fix" if I am being totally honest. This puts the focus more on the potential amazing outcome of what you intend to do and much less emphasis on why you need to do it. It has a more positive feel and avoids insulting too many of your reviewers. And avoids telling your PO that they are doing everything wrong themselves.
So I tend to do this in my grant applications.
This occasionally feels like I am battling with one hand tied behind my back since I am pulling my punches about how ridiculous it is to fund anything other than my current proposal. You can talk about gaps in the literature. You can go on about synthesis of approaches and your amazing discoveries ahead. And you should do so.
But ultimately there are an awful lot of scientists with big promises. And even more with highly refined skills and effective laboratory operations. And to my eye it is less effective to argue that my own proposals are just more-good-than-thou. It is essential to argue why I am proposing work that is much better. And for something to be substantially better, well, that sort of implies that the status quo is lacking in a significant way.
I hate having to make those arguments. I mean, don't get me wrong....it IS my native behavior. Which I am sure is no surprise to my readers.
It is just that I've worked hard to stamp that out of my grant writing due to my considered view that FWDAOSS is not a really useful strategy.
And now I have to reconsider the wisdom of this approach.
in a comment from Evelyn:
As a grant writer, who has to learn a whole new field every 2 weeks, a good review is a life-saver! It gives me an accurate, hopefully an up-to-date snapshot of the field, leads me to the original research that I can then pull, read, and cite. A bad review is a an awful waste of my time but at this point, I can tell a bad one by about third paragraph and I don't bother reading the rest of it. When I can't find a good review, my life gets a lot harder since I don't have the time to read all of the junk research on every topic before I get to the good stuff. At that point, I hate to say it, but I search through glam-journals and usually, those original papers will have enough background to lead me to the important papers in the field.
So I don't care if the review authors are in the field or are first-year grand students, as long as they do a good job. But in my experience, the ones that are in the field usually give a better overview of the topic.
I need a cold compress.
Apparently review articles make it easy for a professional grant writer, who has no prior knowledge of a field, to simulate the expertise of the PI. Who, in most cases, the study section members presume did most of the writing.
If this minor deception* works then some PIs can afford to hire a professional grant writer to, presumably, submit more grants to out-compete those of us who cannot afford such luxuries.
I do not have sources of money available in my professional budgets that can be used to hire grant writers to craft more applications than I can write myself.
This professional grant-writer thing does not hearten me.
* There is absolutely nothing in the NIH grant rules that says that the people listed as participating Investigator staff need have anything whatsoever to do with the writing/crafting of the application.
This is my query of the day to you, Dear Reader.
We've discussed the basics in the past but a quick overview.
1) Since the priority score and percentile rank of your grant application is all important (not exclusively so but HEAVILY so) it is critical that it be reviewed by the right panel of reviewers
2) You are allowed request in your cover letter that the CSR route your NIH grant application to a particular study section for review.
3) Standing study section descriptions are available at the CSR website as are the standing rosters and the rosters for the prior three rounds of review (i.e., including any ad hoc reviewers).
4) RePORTER allows you to search for grants by study section which gives you a pretty good idea of what they really, really like.
5) You can, therefore, use this information to slant your grant application towards the study section in which you hope it will be reviewed.
A couple of Twitts from @drIgg today raised the question of study section "fit". Presumably this is related to an applicant concluding that despite all the above, he or she has not managed to get many of his or her applications reviewed by the properly "fitting" panel of reviewers.
This was related to the observation that despite ones' request and despite hitting what seem to be the right keywords it is still possible that CSR will assign your grant to some other study section. It has happened to me a few times and it is very annoying. But does this mean these applications didn't get the right fit?
I don't know how one would tell.
As I've related on occasion, I've obtained the largest number of triages from a study section that has also handed me some fundable scores over the past *cough*cough*cough* years. This is usually by way of addressing people's conclusion after the first 1, 2 or maybe 3 submissions that "this study section HATES me!!!". In my case I really think this section is a good fit for a lot of my work, and therefore proposals, so the logic is inescapable. Send a given section a lot of apps and they are going to triage a lot of them. Even if the "fit" is top notch.
It is also the case that there can be a process of getting to know a study section. Of getting to know the subtleties of how they tend to feel about different aspects of the grant structure. Is it a section that is really swayed by Innovation and could give a fig about detailed Interpretations, Alternatives and Potential Pitfalls? Or is it an orthodox StockCritiqueSpewing type of section that prioritizes structure over the content? Do they like to see it chock full of ideas or do they wring their hands over feasibility? On the other side, I assert there is a certain sympathy vote that emerges after a section has reviewed a half dozen of your proposals and never found themselves able to give you a top score. Yeah, it happens. Deal. Less perniciously, I would say that you may actually convince the section of the importance of something that you are proposing through an arc of many proposal rounds*.
This leaves me rather confused as to how one would be able to draw strong conclusions about "fit" without a substantial number of summary statements in hand.
It also speaks to something that every applicant should keep in the back of his or her head. If you can never find what you think is a good fit with a section there are only a few options that I can think of.
1) You do this amazing cross-disciplinary shit that nobody really understands.
2) Your applications actually suck and nobody is going to review it well.
3) You are imagining some Rainbow Fairy Care-a-lot Study section that doesn't actually exist.
What do you think are the signs of a good or bad "fit" with a study section, Dear Reader? I'm curious.
*I have seen situations where a proposal was explicitly mentioned to have been on the fourth or fifth round (this was in the A2 days) in a section.
The attitude “I’m happy to debate” should be replaced with “I’m happy to explain”.
and there it is.
from a self described newProf at doc becca's digs.
Last week, the first NIH proposal I wrote with PI status was rejected... I knew things were bad, but it still hurts...Problem is, I don't know how to allocate my time between generating more preliminary data/pubs and applying for more grants. How many grants does the typical NIH- and/or NSF-funded (or wannabe-funded) TT prof write per year before getting funded?
It is not about what anyone else or the "typical" person has done.
It is about doing whatever you possibly can do until that Notice of Grant Award arrives.
My stock advice right now is that you need to have at least one proposal going in to the NIH for each standard receipt date. If you aren't hitting it at least that hard, before you have a major award, you aren't trying. If you think you can't get out one per round.... you don't really understand your job yet. Your job is to propose studies until someone decides to give your lab some support.
My other stock advice is take a look at the payline and assume those odds apply to you. Yes, special snoflake, you.
If the payline is 10%, then you need to expect that you will have to submit at least 10 apps to have a fighting chance. Apply the noob-discount and you are probably better off hitting twice that number. It is no guarantee and sure, the PI just down the hall struck it lucky with her first Asst Prof submission to the NIH. But these are the kinds of numbers you need to start with.
Once you get rolling, one new grant and one revised grant per round should be doable. They are a month apart and a revision should be way easier. After the first few, you can start taking advantage of cutting and pasting a lot of the grant text together to get a start on the next one.
Stop whining about preliminary data. Base it on feasibility and work from there. Most figures support at least a half dozen distinct grant applications. Maybe more.
I never know for sure how hard my colleagues are working when it comes to grant submissions. I know what I do...and it is a lot. I know what a subset of my other colleagues do and let me tell you, success is better correlated with effort (grants out the door) than it is with career rank. That has an effect, sure, but I know relatively older investigators who struggle to maintain stable funding and ones who enjoy multi-grant stability. They are distinguished to some extent by how many apps they get out the door. Same thing for junior colleagues. They are trying to launch their programs and all. I get this. They have to do a lot of setup, training and even spend time at the bench. But they also tend to have a very wait-and-see approach to grants. Put one in. Wait for the result. Sigh. "Well maybe I'll resubmit it next round". Don't do this, my noob friends. Turn that app around for the next possible date for submission.
You'll have another app to write for the following round, silly.
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.