On resubmitting unfunded A1 NIH grant applications

(by drugmonkey) Apr 08 2014

Well, well, well.

The NIH limited applicants to a single revision ("amendment", hence -01A1 version) of an unfunded "new" grant submission (the -01 version, sometimes called "A0") in 2009.

This followed the action in 1997 to limit revisions to two (see RockTalk chart), which hurt PIs like Croce and Perrin. (Six revision? Wow, that is some serious persistence guys, my hat is off.)

I wasn't really paying attention to such matters in 1997 but there was some screaming in 2009, let me tell you.
Delusional Biomedical Researchers Seek Repeal Of Arithmetic
More on the new NIH policy on grant application revisions

Initial outcome of limiting NIH apps to a single revision?


NIH re-evaluating ‘two strikes’ rule – Updated

Crocodile tears from experienced NIH investigators over the discontinued A2 revision

I don't know how many people actually got stuck in the filter for submitting a A0 that was too similar to their prior, unfunded A1. I heard of a few, so it did happen. On the flip side of that, I've sure as heck been putting in more than two versions of a proposal which is designed to fund the same area of interest in my laboratory. I have not yet been flagged for it. My initial reaction that any PI who has an ounce of creativity ought to be able to come up with a credible alternative take on their project is still my current take.

Nevertheless, rumor has it that changes are in the wind.

Pinko Punko made an interesting comment on the blog:

DM, I heard the craziest thing today- the possibility of removing the "substantial revision" criterion for new A0 related to previous A1. Supposedly announcement soon- I was kind of surprised.

This was news to me but I have heard things from about five independent sources in the past few days that tend to confirm that changes are being considered.

The most consistent rumor is that new grants will no longer be checked for similarity to prior unfunded proposals. They will be called new grants, but there is no apparent reason for this. In all ways I can see, this is going to be a return to the days prior to 1997 where you could just endlessly revise until the study section relented.

The supposed benefit of reduced "time to award from original proposal" is now going totally by the wayside. I mean, the NIH will still be able to lie and say "look it was an A0!" if they want to but this is even less credible.

More dangerously, the will of study sections to endlessly queue applications will be released from whatever tepid effect the A1 limit has produced.

This is a very BadThing.

__
whoa. I found three A7 projects. All three are competing continuations. I can't EVEN....five and six year apparent funding gaps for two of them. The other I can't work out why there is no apparent gap in funding.

31 responses so far

Amy March, Sister Bear, Lisa Simpson.....oh hell, just read

(by drugmonkey) Apr 07 2014

Over at Tenure, She Wrote today:

For although it is true that Amy is a bit of a conceited twit, I strongly object to the core messages in this little speech: don’t show off, even if that means no-one notices how awesome you are. It’s better to be overlooked than to be conceited.

Although I don’t remember Sister Bear being particularly braggy, a quick Google search turned up several hits for “Braggy Sister Bear,” including some actual pages of Berenstain Bear books.

As you may be aware, I have a nonzero number of mini-women in my household. As a parent who is around a fair number of both boys and girls in the elementary and secondary school ages I am constantly amazed. The level of organization, responsibility, on-task behavior....it is like they are different species. My wife or I remark to each other on at least a weekly basis "Why are men in charge again?"

The above mentioned blog entry may be relevant to the question so Go Read.

5 responses so far

The NIH Grant "Have" States Resist Sharing

(by drugmonkey) Apr 04 2014

From the Boston Globe (of course):

Two dozen rural states stretching from Maine to Mississippi and Montana are clamoring to increase their share of federal research dollars now disproportionately awarded to Boston-area institutions and scientists.

Whaddaya mean, "disproportionately"? WE DESERVE IT!!!

“There’s a battle between merit and egalitarianism,” said Dr. David Page, director of the Whitehead Institute, a prestigious research institution in Cambridge affiliated with MIT.

Yeah, pure merit versus affirmative action quotas for lame ass science from Universities we've never heard of maaaang. There couldn't possibly be any bias in grant review and award that puts a finger on the scale could there?

In one of the efforts, Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the Appropriations Committee, is proposing that funding for the special program to benefit rural states, formally called the NIH’s Institutional Development Award, be raised to $310 million, up from the current $273 million. The current amount equals just 1 percent of the institute’s research grants — a drop in the bucket compared with what Boston researchers win each year.

Last time I checked Massachusetts Congressional District 8 for NIH funding (probably a number of FY ago), Brigham and Women's Hospital was pulling in $253,333,482 in NIH grants. MIT? $172,184,305. Harvard Medical School? $168,648,847. The list goes on in this single Congressional district.

and while the Globe has this scare passage near the top:

The coalition of states that benefits from the NIH special program for rural states doubled the amount of money it spent on lobbying in the last decade, to $590,000 in 2013 from $300,000 in 2003. That number does not include direct lobbying by universities in those states.

this is going to barely manage to tread water against the combined might of the richest of "have" Universities and institutions:

Representative Michael Capuano, whose district encompassing the Boston-area research hospitals wins more NIH money than any other congressional district, said the Massachusetts delegation is playing defense right now.

“The system works reasonably well but it’s under attack in a serious way,” Capuano said.

Massachusetts is mobilizing. Hospital executives, university presidents, and Washington lobbyists make routine trips to the Capitol. Their not-so-subtle message: Boston is on top because its elite institutions offer the best chances of big scientific breakthroughs.

then there is classic misdirection and the usual conceit that the NIH award process is purely about merit, uncontaminated by self-reinforcing vicious cycles of the rich getting richer.

“There are people in Boston who deserve more than a million dollars in NIH money because that is the best use of those dollars,” said Dr. Barrett Rollins, chief scientific officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a top recipient of federal research funds. “Congress has a responsibility to spend taxpayer money in the best possible way, and to me, the most straightforward way to do that is to make sure the dollars are invested in the most meritorious work without regard to geographic distribution.”

Because the quality of science is not evenly distributed across the country, researchers should not expect federal dollars to be either, said Harry Orf, senior vice president for research at Massachusetts General Hospital, another top recipient of NIH grants.

“You have congressmen who can’t evaluate science sending money to places not rated for innovation,” Orf said. “As funds get more and more scarce, you want to make sure you’re betting on the best science.”

It is beyond asinine to pretend that the NIH grant money is distributed by geographic affirmative action to any extend that squeezes the elite coastal research institutions. The above numbers and any current search on RePORTER verifies that the kind of money that is being proposed to go into this geographical affirmative action is a drop in the bucket. One or two of the larger institutions funded by NIH (and keep in mind that a place such as "Harvard" is made up of multiple institutions which are named as independent awardees in the NIH records) account for the entire outlay in the the NIH’s Institutional Development Award program. Even if the increase to $310M goes through.

There is considerable debate about "the best science" and about the best way to hedge our scientific bets. The NIH works, haltingly, in a way by which the serendipity of chance discovery from a diversity of approaches is balanced against predictable brute-force progress from exceptionally well funded Universities, Medical Schools and research institutions. I find myself citing papers from the very biggest institutions, sure, but I have numerous critical findings that I cite in my work that have come from smaller research programs in smaller Universities and (gasp) Colleges. Don't you? If you do not, I question your scholarship. Seriously.

I suggest a purely self-interested goal, for those of you who are elite-coastal-University die hards. Every Congress Critter gets a more or less equal vote. The ones from Maine (Susan Collins, see above), from Alabama....

“It’s hard to compete against MIT or Harvard. . . . They’ve had their share. A lot of state colleges and universities all over the country, from Idaho to Maine, have some ideas too, and I think we should give these people from smaller schools in other states an opportunity,” said Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. “It’s time to fix that.”

from West Virginia...

“The program stipulates that not everything goes to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.

and from Oklahoma, among others.

Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s simply interested in supporting research that occurs “outside the normal corridors of power.”

Rep Cole seems to understand why geographical affirmative action is necessary, doesn't he?


“There is a network where you tend to reward peers and people you know, and I think the distribution of funds, not intentionally, is skewed a bit toward places like Boston,” Cole said. “We just want to make sure that the playing field is fair.”

We need all these Critters to be on board if we expect Congress to listen to our pleas on behalf of the NIH.

It is politically stupid to fail to understand this.

52 responses so far

High school email-an-expert projects: Respond or ignore?

(by drugmonkey) Apr 01 2014

I have been experiencing a sharp uptick in high school projects that are apparently titled: "Email questions to some random expert on the internet" lately.

Is anyone else getting these?

Do you respond? In what depth?

17 responses so far

Thought of the Day

(by drugmonkey) Mar 28 2014

One of the obvious desires and needs of the newly minted Assistant Professor is to rapidly establish his or her independent laboratory focus. To show the world, in both formal and informal ways, that all that brilliant work has indeed been driven forward by this new Principal Investigator.

As part of this it is necessary to take full credit for the work that has been done primarily by this young person's laboratory. It can be acceptable in some situations to take a bit of extra credit by inference when the work has been of a collaborative nature, particularly when only that Assistant Professor is under review.

It is dangerous, however, to fail to modulate these claims of credit for collaborative work when all of the participants in the collaboration are under simultaneous review. On the tactical level, you do not want your reviewers thinking that two, three or more labs are taking credit for the exact same thing. On a strategic level, you ARE going to piss off your collaborators. And this is the sort of thing that induces collaborators to stop collaborating with you and just to do it themselves.

When you are the more-junior partner in this scenario, the odds predict that the more-senior person is going to have more relative ability (funds and personnel) to cut you off and continue by other means.

As a related issue, one of the skillsets you need to develop as a scientist is a decent Spidey-sense for collaborators. Some are going to be selfish and some are going to bend over backward to let you take credit, to help your career along and to promote you. These latter are ESSENTIAL to your success. The former must often be tolerated and you do well to protect yourself from them. However, if you cannot discern the two different types relatively rapidly and act accordingly, you run the risk of really pissing off people* who would otherwise be your champion.

Don't do this.

__
*Remember that unless the person has "Emeritus" after their title, bending over backward to allow you to take credit is not necessarily immaterial to them. This is a reality. No matter how seemingly established a more-senior colleague is, they are worried about the future. There is always the next grant review. Doing a colleague a solid costs them something. The fact that they think this is the right thing to do, regardless, doesn't mean that they do not do so with a conscious nod to the costs involved.

15 responses so far

Guest Post: Manage your career, folks!

(by drugmonkey) Mar 27 2014

This is another guest post from @iGrrrl, a grant writing consultant.


A few comments I've seen around, on top of my experience working with applicants for K-flavored and other career development grants, make it clear that they think the required career development parts are just window dressing. I hear complaints that they have to write a mentoring plan, and then they never do anything that is on it.

Is it the mentor's fault? The people who signed letters to be on the mentoring committee? No. (I'm going to switch voice now and talk at you K99/R00 or other K and F applicants/awardees.) And whose fault is it?

The fault is YOURS. No one cares about your career as much as you do, and even if it went in as fiction on paper, it is YOUR responsibility to make it reality. Otherwise you'll never know if it would have made a difference to tap into the brains on your mentoring committee, to impress them with your initiative and willingness to learn. Making someone feel smart and important to you (while also getting good advice) is a good way to increase their sponsorship of you--inviting you present at meetings, to small subdisciplinary meetings, talking positively about you.

I think it's easy for young people to underestimate the impact of the positive regard of more senior faculty, or for you young folks to know how that plays out in reality. No, they're not gossiping about you; they have better things to do. But that 'dream team' remembers that they signed letters for you and then never heard from you again.

11 responses so far

Should K99 awardees continue the R00 phase at the current Institution?

(by drugmonkey) Mar 26 2014

The FOA for the K99/R00 says that a different institution is "encouraged (but not required)".

I will confess I thought this was somewhat stronger in tone but the original announcement was similar.

Applicants are encouraged to consider independent positions at departments and institutions different from where they conducted their mentored research. Should an awardee wish to activate the independent phase of the grant award at the same department or institution at which they conducted their mentored research, the individual must provide justification addressing the decision to remain at the same institution.

Still, I guess we can bench race what this would mean in our personal interpretation or recommendation. I would think this an exception for extreme circumstances... so more like 10%?

Well, a comment on a prior thread asserted that something around 25% of R00 awardees had remained at the same Institution in which they had been "training" under the K99 phase.

Naturally, I was interested in what my ICs of greatest interest have been up to. Of currently active R00 grants, one IC came in at 21% at the same institution as the K99 phase and another came in at either 29% or 35%. This latter one had a single award for which the K99 phase moved in the second year and then the R00 was continued in that new location.

Huh.

Huh.

Color me surprised.

I am no big fan of enforced academic nomadism. Were I the Boss of Science I may have omitted that little "encouraged but not required" clause, frankly. Maybe. But the clause is most assuredly in there and it gives an indication about intent. Nice to have exceptions for unusual circumstances, yes, but I would tend to interpret that statement as meaning rare.

At 25% of the awardees, clearly the NIH does not agree with me on this meaning.

Either that, or the reality of the (lack of) academic nomadism under the current system has essentially overcome the NIH's intent.

Here we have a fancy grant award that gives postdocs some negotiating room in where they would like to be. As we've been discussing, these are presumably some top-quality candidates, going by the usual academic seals of approval. And a quarter are disregarding the expectation of nomadic dispersal at the transition to faculty level independence.

To me this underlines the opinion I have on nomadism.

There is something seriously wrong with the expectation that academic scientists travel all over creation for their jobs, in the current era of dual-career families and "training" phases that extend well into the third decade of life.

Quite some time ago I started scrutinizing CVs of visiting speakers, grant applicants, etc to see their trajectories. I didn't formalize it but I came to the conclusion that a substantial (20-25% would probably have been my estimate prior to today's exercise) number had violated the "expectation". Yet it persists. Here we have fairly accomplished scientists (grant winners and invited speakers) violating the truthy truism of academic careers. Substantial numbers of them too. Yet the culture is to sneer at this as an intentional trajectory when it comes to advising junior scientists.

Shaking my head.

24 responses so far

The K99/R00 is not some sort of unfair distortion of the academic job market

(by drugmonkey) Mar 25 2014

This sentiment comes up, now and again, when we discuss the K99/R00 NIH grant mechanism.

This inevitably rings as critical to my ear. As if there is something suspect or underhanded about the K99/R00. At the very least as if there is something bad about it. I disagree.

The K99/R00 mechanism is the only true transition mechanism in the NIH stable. First announced in 2006, the Pathway to Independence award was designed to be won by pre-tenure-track academics (the K99 phase) who could then transition to Research funding (R00 phase) once they won a tenure track job.

Prior attempts to assist new investigators in winning research grant funding failed to cross the transition from trainee to faculty. There were postdoctoral fellowships and there were faculty level awards but nothing that you could apply for as a postdoc and carry forward into a faculty position.

You can whinge all you want about the growing reluctance of Universities to cough up research-focused tenure track Assistant Professorships with substantial startup packages. You can shout as loudly as you like about the way things should be. But that won't change reality at University of State.

Nor will it change the reality that many of us really work for the NIH.

It is in their interest to figure out how to get their future workforce into the shell "job" (aka, Assistant Professor at University of State) as rapidly as possible. If, that is, they are dismayed by the infamous analysis showing the gradual increase of age to first R01 and other dismal demographic statistics.

In my day, youngsters, there was only the Burroughs-Welcome Career award. They have cancelled this because of the K99/R00 but it used to be the only game in town. And it was quite a plum. But IIRC the University itself controlled who could apply as a postdoc. The numbers awarded were very small. It was a program that was out of reach for many types of science...basically it was all about GlamourMag science in the place I was at at the time I considered using this mechanism.

I saw the issuance of the K99/R00 program to be a hugely important step for the NIH. It was a recognition of reality and a way to get people, young people, hired into jobs now instead of in three more years' time. IMO.

It was democratic in the sense that all the ICs could play, meaning topic domains were not excluded by a University committee or Dean or local political power playing. It was democratic in the sense that there were quite obviously going to be more R00 PIs than there ever had been Burroughs-Welcome PIs. It was democratic in the sense that peer reviewers were going to be deciding who got the primary awards.

My fields of interest have seen many K99/R00s awarded and the awardees have transitioned into faculty positions. Which are going quite well in my estimation.

Are there people who missed out on K99s getting overlooked in faculty job searches? Undoubtedly. Is this some sort of epic and systematic tragedy?

No.

There has always been an element of career success that is driven by something other than a pure and idealistic assessment of talent. It might be due to the accidents that brought you to a particular training lab. Due to the accident of being highly successful in your graduate student or postdoctoral project. Due to the accident of who else happens to be on the job market when you are. Due to the accident of which University Departments happen to be hiring in your field and in which sub-area of concentration.

None of this is fair.

The processes that lead to a K99 award are not fair either, but they have many upsides. Some of which I've mentioned above.

The factor of peer review by people who sit on study sections should not be lightly dismissed. Sure, they are subject to many sorts of biases but they are much less subject to the vagaries of what Departments happen to be hiring in which topic area. They are much less subject to group think because, on the whole, the areas of scientific expertise, career type, geographic region, etc are diverse by construction.

They add another layer, another chance for a supplicant to win over a group of people. That's a good thing.

The successful K99/R00 Assistant Professor has to win over a search committee too, you know. These jobs are not automatic. And despite rumors on the Twitters, yes, Departments are indeed still hiring people without K99/R00 awards.

I really don't see why people are so antagonistic toward the program.

__

ps: Changes in the eligibility criteria aren't unfair either.

pps: The NIH had a sweet deal for Intramural postdocs in place for some time.

ppps: In disclosure, I personally think the NIH should shutter the F32 individual NRSA for postdocs and apply the money to the K99/R00 program. For real.

60 responses so far

Sharing (in science) with people you don't particularly like

(by drugmonkey) Mar 24 2014

The Twitt @tehbride raised an interesting mentoring question:

 

As you are likely aware Dear Reader, due to the accident and intent of where I tend to sit on the scientific spectrum, the scooping type of competition is not a huge part of my professional life. That is, I have managed to get by to this point by not being terribly afraid of people knowing what I am working on or what I plan to work on. Part of this has to do with playing at a level of publication that is not obsessed with the very first person to demonstrate something. Part of it is selecting research questions that are not densely populated with dozens or scores of other laboratories trying to scratch the same flea. Part of it is my overweening and misplaced self-confidence that we did it better, dammit, so who cares who published first.

 

Part of it is pure wrongheadedness on my part, no doubt.

When it comes to grants, specifically, I was always around people who were reflexively generous with sharing their applications when I was a late-postdoc and an early-career faculty member. As time has gone on and more people are asking me for my proposals than I feel the need to ask, I have given mine out to anyone who requests them. (Usually with a little lecture about how my "successful" apps are no more informative than my triaged ones, of course.)

So take that into account.

On a purely tactical level, it is possible for the postdoc in this situation to simply refuse. We can extend this to PIs who are asked for their successful grant applications. You can just say no.

It seems to me to be unwise to do so, particularly when it comes to an application that has been successful. Even if you cannot stand the person who is asking. It just seem churlish when the cost to you is so low.

Is it going to give this person ScienceEnemy little boost ahead? Sure. But remember, the odds of funding are still very steep. So it isn't like you are handing them an award. They still have to write a credible application. And get lucky. So why not*? It costs you essentially nothing to email over your application.

On a strategic level, this person could be your colleague in science for a long time. They could very well be in a position to review you and your work, particularly if they are in a related area of science. And even if they annoy you, it isn't necessarily the case that they have so much as noticed. Lots of annoying people are kind of unaware... So why make an enemy?

And there is one more thing to consider. If you act within a professional capacity on personal whim and dislike, what does this say about your behavior as an objective peer reviewer? Shouldn't you be able to set aside personal dislike to effectively review the scientific content of a paper or grant proposal? Yes, yes you should.

 

__

*Now, if you think the person is a data fraud or something...well that is entirely different.

13 responses so far

This doesn't belong in science. At all.

(by drugmonkey) Mar 21 2014

When I first started noticing the opportunity to submit a "Graphical Abstract" for my papers I was initially perplexed as to why I would bother. Then I realized that the Graphical Abstract (at Elsevier titles anyway) could be a way to get the primary data figure out in front of the paywall. So I thought maybe we should do that.

Some joker has apparently concluded that he should use the Graphical Abstract space for being a sexist jerk.

via Dr. Isis, via this article. Elsevier has promised to pull the image so it may not last at the journal link.

Hur, hur, dudes, hur, de-hur, de-hur.

As detailed by Dr. Zen, Pier Giorgio Righetti is an author on at least four articles with highly sexualized Graphical Abstracts. Professor Righetti apparently responded to a query about the wisdom of one of these images with:

I wonder if you have been trained in the Vatican. As you claim to be a professor of Physiology, let me alert you that this image is physiology at its best!

This sounds remarkably like Dario Mastripieri who famously lamented the lack of attractive "super-model type" women at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on his Facebook page. This sexualization of women in a professional scientific and/or academic context has to stop. This is harassment of women in science. It lets all women in this job sector know that these dudes, senior figures with some influence mind you, see them as nothing other than potential sexual conquests. It is unfair, it is rude, it is detrimental to science and it is utterly unacceptable.

Professor Righetti  is on the Editorial Board of several journals, including the offending Journal of Proteomics where he is listed as the expert under the heading of "Proteomics of Body Fluids and Proteomic Technologies". Eww.  And it gets better. @Drew_lab queried the Journal's EIC Juan Calvete and received a dispiriting response.

At least it wasn't a complete brush off such as Professor Righetti gave. But it isn't a whole lot better.

I hope to settle the case as soon as possible to devote to the lab, which is what should take me up most of the day.

...this translates in my ear to "this is some absolute triviality and sure, sure, we'll take down the images but really don't you people have better things to worry about?"

Not really, no. The EIC Calvete has himself identified why this is the case. All scientists would prefer to use their time and energy in ways that are devoted to lab business. Unfortunately, reality intervenes. And when male scientists are hitting on, slavering over, disrespecting, leering at, joking about and generally treating female scientists as property, this takes away from the energy the women (and indeed other men who have to witness this crap) have available to devote to science.

So what would really be great is if an EIC like Calvete identified this sort of inappropriate image (hint: it IS inappropriate, not "may be inappropriate") in advance and prevented it from being published in the first place. It would be great if authors such as Righetti avoiding submitting these things. It would be great if Professors like Mastripieri kept their nasty little observations locked up tight inside their own heads.

 

Now go read Isis' post. Reason #140 Why Sexist Bullshit in Academia is Not Okay

12 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »