Personally, my biggest takeaway is that I should have ignored all the doom and gloom about R21s last year and submitted a few of them.
Personally, my biggest takeaway is that I should have ignored all the doom and gloom about R21s last year and submitted a few of them.
A new post at Rock Talking has responded to queries raised by many, including YHN, about their prior depiction of applicant and application numbers. My skepticism was based on my own myopia, given the types of investigators that I am around and know the best.
This surprised many of us on the Twitters. I don't think I know of any active scientists who are submitting less than several NIH grant applications per year. If I did know of them I'd be kicking their butts!
This was in response to the following:
First, the total number of these applications has almost doubled—from 25,000 in 1998 to almost 50,000 in 2011 (see figure 3). The average number of applications per applicant has also risen slightly (from 1.3 to 1.5) and that contributes somewhat to the total increase in demand, depicted by the red portion of the bars in figure 3. However, the major contributor to the increased demand is a large growth in the number of applicants—from about 19,000 in 1998 to approximately 32,000 in 2011.
The prior way of looking at applicants merely asked how many submitted at least one application in a given year and was therefore insensitive to a change in rate. An investigator who submitted one grant in any 5 year interval was counted in the denominator only for the year of submission. So if she changed her rate to once every year, nothing was altered in the aggregate stats- it would still be one application per investigator per year. The new post at Rock Talking takes the more realistic step of asking how many investigators there are who have submitted within a 5 year rolling interval.
There were 55,750 applicant PIs in the 5 year interval ending in 2002 and 83,546 in the interval ending in 2012. A 50 percent increase in the number of mouths at the trough. This is a depiction of the change that I find much more realistic and believable. The post also gives a better look at the churn rate for applicant PIs
Applicants did apply more often, but the changes were rather small: the total number of applications per investigator in each 5-year period increased from about 2.7 to 3.1 (or from 0.54 applications per investigator per year to 0.62). The percentage applying in only one of the five years in each period decreased from 45% to 40% and the number of investigators applying in four or five of the years in each period increased from 12% to 18%.
I am still surprised, but this just indicates that my perceptions are swayed by being in contact with the most active seekers of funds from the NIH. The bigger labs. This dovetails with my moderate surprise that the vast majority of PIs hold only one or two grants and the plurality holds only one (over 70% of PIs). To belabor the point:
It appears the number of applicants has contributed more. Let’s do the thought experiment. If there had been no increase in applicants and only the observed higher application rate (from 0.54 to 0.62 applications/investigator/year), the number of RPG applications would have grown 16% from 148,878 applications in 1998-2002 to about 170,000 in 2008-2012 instead of the 258,802 that we actually saw. On the other hand, as noted at the beginning of this blog, the increase in applicants alone would produce an increase of about 50%, from 148,878 to almost 225,000.
So we are back to our understanding that the increased competition for funds (74% increase in RPG applications) reflects an increase in the number of applicants. This coincides with the ~50% increase in applicant institutions, seen from about 1998 to 2012 as well. There is one simple conclusion that is supported.
Too many mouths at the NIH trough.
In contrast, this new analysis from Rock Talk, combined with the prior grants-per-PI analysis, shows that *greedy fat cats and furiously-submitting soft-money **GrantHounds contribute much less to the current problems with low paylines and/or success rates.
Does the NIH support too many Principal Investigators?
Preparing our gunsights: What types of investigators exist in the NIH system?
Reconsidering the "too many mouths at the NIH Grant trough" hypothesis
The real problem with the NIH budget is the growth in the number of mouths at the trough
Anyone out there ever reviewed SBIR or STTR grants for the NIH? Any thoughts on what seems to be most important, common pitfalls and the like? Any thoughts on how the review discussion tends to differ from standard R01 review?
I have essentially zero experience with these mechanisms and some reader was asking.....
Harvard has decided not to seek to renew NIH support for their New England National Primate Research Center, established by Congress in 1962. The Center has operated with a so-called "base grant" from the National Institutes of Health underpinning the not-inconsiderable costs of housing thousands of nonhuman primates and the usual grab bag of investigators' independent sources of funding. The NENPRC site lists an impressive series of accomplishments.
First unambiguous evidence that AIDS is caused by a virus.
Discovery of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) and development of first animal model of AIDS.
Original demonstration that vaccine protection against AIDS is theoretically possible.
Discovery that a gene product of the AIDS virus activates lymphocytes necessary for disease progression.
Identification of therapeutic genes that can prevent infection of cells by the AIDS virus.
First demonstration that protective genes introduced into blood stem cells can block HIV or SIV infection.
Discovery of primitive blood stem cells lacking CD34 and their implications for bone marrow transplantation
Isolation of type-D retroviruses as major causes of illness and death in macaques.
Discovery of the oncogenic herpesvirus, Herpesvirus saimiri.
Discovery of a nonhuman primate virus closely related to the human Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus.
First nonhuman primate models of colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
Evidence leading to the use of hydroxyurea to treat sickle cell anemia.
Discovery of stunned myocardium and its role in myocardial ischemia.
Discovery of cellular organization and critical period for development of the visual cortex.
First unambiguous evidence for the addictive properties of nicotine.
Identification of major risk factors in self-injurious behavior.
First animal model for progressive neurodegeneration in Parkinson's disease.
Development of improved brain imaging techniques for early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
Development of novel cellular and pharmacological strategies for treatment of Parkinson's disease.
First survey of distribution of cocaine binding sites in primate brain.
Identification of the dopamine transporter as a principal target for cocaine in the brain.
First nonhuman primate model of drug relapse.
Development of novel drug classes to treat cocaine addiction and other brain dopamine disorders.
Most of the news reporting has focused on a series of lapses in the care of nonhuman primate subjects, leading to several deaths. I cannot comment on the degree to which this situation reflected lapses in the system, but clearly Harvard was undergoing major corrective measures. The news accounts describe situations which seem to me to be procedural lapses that have relatively straightforward fixes. Nothing appears to be systematically unfixable...again, going by the news accounts.
The Harvard Medical School press release is slightly more instructive, however.
The decision to conclude NEPRC operations follows a two-year period during which the Center leadership successfully addressed operating issues with input from the NIH and other governing agencies. The process resulted in new procedures that have significantly strengthened the Center’s day-to-day activities and that can serve as a model for other institutions throughout the country. Many of those changes carried additional costs, and HMS will continue to make investments in the Center to ensure ongoing compliance with all federal regulations.
Right? So the problems were fixable and they'd been investing in fixing them for two years. "Additional costs", eh? Well, no biggie if the investment is good.
But what has happened in the past several months, hmm? The sequester. The Continuing Resolution for FY2013. Obama's budget request for FY2014. None of this is good news. If you look at the NENPRC as effectively a small, soft-money research institute funded in large extent by federal grants (and let's face it, partnering with for-profits isn't going that well for academia right now either) then its prospects are pretty dim. Look at the situation through the lens of Return on Investment and everything becomes clear.
As they weighed whether to renew the base grant from the NIH, HMS leaders made a strategic decision based on a review of the long-term academic benefits and the financial cost of continuing to operate the NEPRC.
“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University,
Driving the decision was the fact that the external funding environment for scientific research has become increasingly challenging over the past decade. Recent funding pressures have added uncertainty to this already-challenging fiscal context. As Harvard Medical School leadership evaluated the long-term need to use its resources in the most effective manner across all of its missions, they came to the conclusion that winding down the operations of the NEPRC was more beneficial to the School than investing further resources in maintaining and renewing the NEPRC grant.
So yeah, this looks from the outside like a small, specialized research institute closing down due to the NIH funding situation to me.
Maybe I have NIH grant myopia but this is the way it looks.
I am reviewing some of the claims made about their listed accomplishments and going back to the original papers, where I can deduce them. In a few areas that I am familiar with....man. Straight up. These are valid claims, even if we recognize that no science breakthrough arrives entirely by itself. And more importantly, particularly when it came to the early days of AIDS, I am having trouble imagining how progress could have been made so rapidly without one of the National Primate Research Centers. They really do seem to serve a unique function in the NIH / US Federal extramural research enterprise and it would be a shame if this was merely the lead indicator in shuttering the whole program.
Disclaimer: I have professional acquaintances that work at NENPRC. I am disturbed that they are losing their jobs and I do hope that they get snapped up by some other University.
NIAID is one of the NIH ICs that actually publishes a payline. According to their website, as of April 19 the R01s from experienced investigators will have a payline of 8 percentile. The payline for new investigators will be 12 percentile. By way of comparison these were 10%ile and 14%ile in the prior two Fiscal Years for NIAID.
Mechanisms such as the R03, R21 and R15 will have to get a 20 overall impact score, or better, to fund but these are still listed as "interim" criteria.
So from a statistical basis, you need to have put in 13 proposals to NIAID this year in order to have a fighting chance to get one.
While we should all continue to explore and discuss questions about the scientific direction, it is important that our community be perceived as positive about the incredible opportunity represented in the President’s announcement. If we are perceived as unreasonably negative or critical about initial details, we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started.
This is the kind of thought enforcement that should send academics and scientists round the bend, and graduate student Justin Kiggins of UCSD has offered up an excellent rejoinder, which reads in part:
To summarize your request, you think that we should disagree only in “our scientific communications channels” while ensuring that, to the taxpayers who will be funding this initiative, “our community be perceived as positive” about it. Not only do I find it offensive and patronizing that you would ask us to be disingenuous to the very public which supports our efforts, but I think that your request is short-sighted and undermines the work of neuroscientists who seek to cultivate a public that is informed and literate in matters of the brain.
The debate has already begun in the public sphere, whether you like it or not. And the public is looking to neuroscientists to make sense of the vague official announcements that have happened thus far. Will we actually fix Alzheimer’s in five years? Will we record from every neuron in the human brain? Why do we want to do this? Without our informed input to the debate, “we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started” due to bad reporting. While you ask us to stick to “our” channels of scientific discourse, like the paywalled journals and exclusive conferences that the public cannot access, it was only 4 days after the New York Times story broke that this gem of fear-mongering claimed that the Brain Initiative would allow Barack Obama to read people’s minds. If we don’t talk about the Brain Initiative, bad reporters will. And if bad reporters talk about the Brain Initiative, we risk creating a public which is fearful of the very work that we do.
Now, I didn't read the part about official communications channels quite in the same way, although I don't know what Swanson intended when he wrote:
SfN encourages healthy debate and rigorous dialogue about the effort’s scientific directions. Testing of assumptions, methodological debate, and constructive competition are central to scientific progress. I urge you to bring all this to the table through our scientific communications channels and venues, including the SfN annual meeting in San Diego this fall and The Journal of Neuroscience.
I'm going to choose to read the "our" as "anything available to the membership" as opposed to "SfN's". And my blog is my primary venue for discussing matters of my professional life. So "Cheers", Executive Committee! Bravo for encouraging us, the membership of the Society for Neuroscience to engage in a healthy debate and rigorous dialog.
First up, what is the NIH's skin in this particular game? All the newsmedia reports this as a $100M effort. The NIH site on the BRAIN Initiative provides a partial clue.
In total, NIH intends to allocate $40 million in FY14. Given the cross-cutting nature of this project, the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research—an initiative spanning 14 NIH Institutes and Centers—will be the leading NIH contributor to its implementation in FY14.
There's some blah-blah there about DARPA and NSF so presumably some other outlay will be going in their direction (UPDATE: The infographic from Obama's Whitehouse says $50M to DARPA and $20M to NSF....so they need some math lessons). It remains unclear to me (perhaps a Reader knows?) if these agencies will be making up the rest of the $60M for FY2014, let's assume that for now.
$40M for the NIH Brain-related institutes to divvy up. To be administered by the Blueprint which has been in operation since 2004 and has produced this sort of outcome.
Blueprint Grand Challenges
- The Human Connectome Project
- The Grand Challenge on Pain
- The Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network
- Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse (NITRC)
- Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF)
- Blueprint Resources Antibodies Initiative for Neurodevelopment (BRAINdev)
- NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function
- Cre Driver Network
- Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT)
- Blueprint Non-Human Primate Brain Atlas
- Blueprint Training Programs
- Blueprint Science Education Awards
So you can see that the BRAIN Initiative is really only $40M for more of the same. Right? Back to the NIH site on the BRAIN Initiative.
Despite the many advances in neuroscience in recent years, the underlying causes of most of neurological and psychiatric conditions remain largely unknown, due to the vast complexity of the human brain. If we are ever to develop effective ways of helping people suffering from these devastating conditions, researchers will first need a more complete arsenal of tools and information for understanding how the brain functions both in health and disease.
"A more complete arsenal of tools and information" is the operating concept here. Just like has already been produced.....
We have witnessed the sequencing of the human genome, the development of new tools for mapping neuronal connections, the increasing resolution of imaging technologies, and the explosion of nanoscience. These discoveries have yielded unprecedented opportunities for integration across scientific fields. For instance, by combining advanced genetic and optical techniques, scientists can now use pulses of light in animal models to determine how specific cell activities within the brain affect behavior. What’s more, through the integration of neuroscience and physics, researchers can now use high-resolution imaging technologies to observe how the brain is structurally and functionally connected in living humans.
Very true. Some of it funded by the Roadmap, no doubt. But read this history of the development of optogenetics, one of the hottest tools going at the moment. It is a classic weaving together of scientific information and techniques developed by many labs over an extended period of time. Not, I will note, from labs that set out to make optogenetics work. Different parts of the puzzle came together, yes, in an interval of single focus. In laboratories that were very well funded in the absence of any particular grants to develop optogenetics. This particular story is merely the latest in a long line of major innovations that were cobbled together around the edges of existing (robust) funding. The common denominator is well funded laboratories that managed to use the NIH project based funding system to sustain what is in essence a de facto program based funding reality.
And this passage from the NIH site has a really embarrassing confession of the bait and switch of basic science's interaction with the people who control the purse strings, right? The TIME IS NOW! Yes, we've done all this AWESOME stuff with your money but it isn't ENOUGH! We need MORE money to develop more AWESOME TOOLS (a veritable arsenal) and then we promise we'll solve
Neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and traumatic brain injury, [which] exact a tremendous toll on individuals, families, and society.
Head of the NIH OER Sally Rockey posted another set of data on the extramural research population, this time focused on the applicant institution, aka, Universities, Med Schools, Research Institutions, etc.
my staff and I took a look at the number of institutions that submitted competing research project grant (RPG) applications each fiscal year, going back to 1995. In addition to looking at all RPGs, we also looked at data for R01s only.
At least with respect to RO1s it would seem to argue against the "a bunch of middling non-research intensive institutions jumped on the extramural bandwagon during the doubling" theory that's occasionally been floated here.
I don't agree that these data "argue against" at all. Not in the least. Unique Research Project Grant applicant* institutions went up 80%, if you limit the analysis only to R01s, 40%. This was the maximum effect of the doubling and numbers have subsequently subsided from the peak. Still, the most pertinent observation is that RPG seeking institutions remain 50% more numerous than they were in the late 1990s. As we've previously discussed, the unrelenting pace of inflation has resulted in an effective Un-doubling, putting the NIH budget back on the trendline established in decades prior to the doubling (and again, inflation means it never really doubled, 50% more purchasing power at best) interval. That un-doubling analysis is a bit old (2008) so we could be in quite a bit worse shape right now, following a few more years and the sequester.
Any way you look at it, seems a significant increase in competition from the *institutional* perspective to me.There are half again as many institutions fighting over what is very likely less than 150% of the purchasing power of the late 1990s budgets.
Is there anyone out there that believes that the pool of NIH-seeking institutions that existed in the late 1990s have shrunken the number of PIs that they each have applying?
*awardee RPG institutions went from 600 to 800 during the doubling. R01 *awardee* institutions went from about 450 to 55o. 33% increase versus 22% increase. Not much better than the applicant-institution numbers. I argue that the applicant institution number is more relevant to the low paylines, increased grant churning and overall dismality of the NIH situation at present.
Select your favorite ICs of interest in the Agency/Institute/Center field.
Enter %R56% in the Project Number field.
Click on various grants and hit the History tab
Grind teeth in impotent rage.
but with only 6 months left in the FY, this in fact translates into a 10% cut in their remaining appropriation. More than 80% of that appropriation is already committed to salaries, intramural research, and ongoing awards. This means that the small sliver left to make new awards takes the brunt of the cut.
I never like these types of analyses because they assume that the ICs aren't anticipating the coming events. As if they are spending willy-nilly assuming they will get as much or more appropriated funds as they did in the past year. Now, maybe this is true but we can't know for sure if their belt has or has not been tightened already in many areas. Maybe they have hiring freezes, we've heard some rumours about cutting back the travel budgets and maybe the Intramural labs are taking an early haircut. Certainly a smart manager would have been acting to assume the sequester, no? And for dang sure assuming a Continuing Resolution (CR) that held funding at the level of the past Fiscal Year where there was a budget.
One thing we can see is the IC by IC behavior from 1Dec to 31Mar in terms of rolling out new R01s and other mechanisms. I find that many ICs are indeed conservative under CRs with very few grants starting 1Dec (first possible start date for the Feb/Mar submissions) versus, say, what happens in the 1Jul (first possible start date for the Oct/Nov submissions) deadline. Instead, the 1Dec awards usually are held off (save for a trickle) until a new budget and/or (as now) a full year CR is passed.
One of my ICs of interest got out 20 new R01s in Jan, 10 in Feb and 7 in Mar, for example. None in Dec. They funded 173 new R01s in FY2012, 122 in FY2011 and 167 in FY2010.
Three (rounds) times 37 is 111. This value is ~90% of 123.
Now yes, of course, new R01s are only one part of the picture and it would not take very many shifts of Programmatic priorities to continuation grants, smaller or larger mechs, etc to throw off my example here. But let us, for arguments' sake, credit that this is representative of their thinking.
This particular IC is acting as if they expected the sequester to be the rule of the day for FY2013. Right? They are funding conservatively up to this point in the year by only funding about 90% of the lowest local nadir in new grants, i.e., the FY2011 number. From this perspective, they have not pushed off the sequester burden into the "remaining appropriation", i.e., the final 6 months. They have anticipated the whole year by their behavior in the first 6 months.
One can only hope that they have been similarly conservative with their other expenditures, of course. The one you would be seeing, DearReader, is the cuts applied across the board to the noncompeting renewals that have come due since December.
Are you hearing that budgets have been trimmed by 10% or that PIs are dancing in the streets with relief at getting their whole budget, unchanged from the proposal (or the cut they took last year, more realistically)?
I dunno, maybe I am just hoping that the sequester effects will be no worse than we already anticipated. Still, from the data that we can see, the ICs seem very committed to using budgetary reductions and conservative funding throughout the year to keep their behavior pretty steady and similar to what is predicted. It is very rare that one fails to see a small flurry of left-over money fly out the door for late pickups on Sept 30, from what I can recall. And I can't ever remember a whoopsie where the number of funded awards for the third start date cycle in the FY crashes significantly downward.
NIH ICs are conservative in my experience and at least in this case it works to quiet our direst fears about the rest of the year.
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.