You know how you are just going along, minding your own business, doing your thing and then all of a sudden you Notice Something? Something that might be called a meme in the blogosphere and a trend or fad in real life? Well I noticed one in NIH grant land recently and it is utterly annoying.
I've actually started noticing the trend over the past round or two of grant reviews but it is the most recent round where things came to a head. So by this point I have multiple exemplars in mind which have come through the study section on which I serve. Furthermore, I've had a few colleagues who serve on other study sections mention the same trend.
The trend is for the following argument, laid out subtly or in stark glaring relief:
"I really, really, really need this money or else I will have to Shut Down My Lab and the world as we know it will come to an End, OH NOES!!!!!11!!!"
Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating the emphasis at the end there. But I'm not exaggerating the explicit appeal that one of the critical factors which the PI thinks the reviewers should be considering is that they are running on grant fumes. That the reviewers should be assigning a superlative (read: fundable) score simply because the lab "needs" it rather than because, say, the NIH needs this particular bit of proposed science to be done.
I am not sympathetic.
Or, to be accurate, I am sympathetic to the situation of a PI facing 1) loss of job and/or denial of tenure or 2) a huge setback in a research program that has been laboriously built up over years. I am also sympathetic to the plight of any grad students or postdocs who will be losing their jobs and/or places to do work because of funding problems.
Generically. In the abstract.
What I am not sympathetic to is the supposition on the part of these applicants that their situation is unique or different in any way from the hundreds of other investigators across the country.
Many of my friends have had to downsize right in the middle of a humming program that took them years of work to build up. Ditching trainees and technicians and in some cases unbelievably valuable resources of one type or another.
So don't whine about your situation in your application. Don't plead that you are especially deserving. Because you are not. And it just comes across poorly that you fail to recognize this.
p.s. The person you should be whining to about how your lab is going to come crashing down is your Program Officer. She is the one that can take this special pleading and turn it into a pickup or a brief interval of Bridge R56 funding.
p.p.s. For some very odd reason in the examples where I run across sufficient detail, it is PIs who are apparently on hard money for their salary that are doing this. I am even less sympathetic when I consider those soft-money PIs who are facing the same dire straits and not trying to guilt the panel into funding them with this sort of nonsense.