More On Study Sections

Jul 30 2008 Published by under Grant Review

Regular DrugMonkey commenter Becca has some more questions about study sections:

O Wise and Wonderous DrugMonkey... thank you for another extremely useful post. Like always, that just means I have more questions 🙂

What am I, fucking chopped liver!?

How can you tell from a study section what type of application (funding mechanisms) they review? Obviously most are R01s, but some are fellowship specific, do fellowships end up in general ones if there isn't a targeted fellowship study section on a particular topic (or is there no point in writing a fellowship application if there is no study section that would apply)? Do they do all the kangaroo grants in batches, or do they get funded with the R01s?

Study sections residing in the Center for Scientific Review are organized by scientific subject matter and review almost exclusively R01s and R21s. Fellowships are reviewed together by special study sections that reside within the particular Institute to which a fellowship application has been assigned, and which review a much broader range of scientific subject matter in the fellowship applications than a CSR study section would.
In order to determine whether it is worth writing a fellowship application in a particular area, you need to talk to the training program staff at the Institute(s) you think would be most relevant to your area of research/training.
K99s are reviewed together in special study sections that reside within each of the Institutes that fund them.

How does someone end up as an appointed member (as PP might say- who do you direct your reach arounds to?)?

Scientific Review Officers have the power to appoint members to study sections.

Where does it tell me what Institute each study section corresponds to? Does it matter?

Study sections do not "correspond" to Institutes. The regular subject matter-based study sections reside in the Center for Scientific Review, which is an administrative entity within NIH that is independent of any Institute. Institutes also have internal study sections for review of mostly non-R01 grants.

Is there any way to find out what the history of scores and funding cutoffs look like for a particular study section?

There is no way that I am aware of to find out how study sections historically have scored grants. As far as "funding cutoffs", these are imposed not by the study section, but by the Institute that funds each grant. This means that one grant that was scored worse by the study section than another might end up funded, while the better one is not, depending on the paylines of the Institutes to which the two grants are assigned.

Oh! and while I'm thinking of it... On CRISP, I can look up an investigators R01 and it will tell me what Institutes/offices they are funded through... one of my favorite researchers is actually funded through the "office of the directorate" how does that work? Is it any easier/harder to write for an "office" (like ODR- http://ods.od.nih.gov/) that doesn't have it's own funds than for an "institute" that does?

Only special awards like Roadmap stuff and Directors Pioneer awards are funded through the Office of the Director. Applications for these awards are neither easier nor harder to write than ordinary grant/fellowship applications, but they are generally much more competitive.

Am I thinking about all this way too much for a graduate student?

Are you fucking kidding!?

12 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What am I, fucking chopped liver!?
    I think Becca was voting "the same person" in that poll....
    couple of additional points.
    CRISP also tells you in which study section a particular funded grant was reviewed. Not perfect because special emphasis panels are grouped under a less-than-informative single category and sometimes study sections change names. Still, a thing to notice when doing your CRISP searches. You can also use the study section as a gating criterion in the original search, handy if you want to see what has been getting fundable scores in the past few rounds.
    While CSR study sections do not correspond to a particular institute, it is not uncommon for a study section to review grants assigned to a select few ICs. We had a discussion before about 'captive study sections' so there are a rare few that indeed only review a single IC's applications.
    http://drugmonkey.wordpress.com/2007/12/05/nih-peer-review-advisory-committee-meeting-dec-2007/
    http://drugmonkey.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/ifcn-clustering-a-crisp-analysis/
    with respect to how members are appointed to panels, start here:
    http://cms.csr.nih.gov/PeerReviewMeetings/StudySectionReviewers/HowScientistsareSelected+orStudySectionService.htm
    I'll have more on this later.
    To answer Becca's question more directly: IME, one way is that by having multiple applications reviewed and finally getting a grant funded through a given study section. These people seem to get tapped pronto for ad hoc and thereafter for appointment. Current members may also recommend individuals and particularly their own 'replacement' in terms of expertise as they rotate off. Thirdly Program Officials can also put a buzz in an SRO's ear. Of course, your more-senior colleagues could always make inquiries as well.
    As PP said, there is no way to officially determine what is going on with a given study section. Even panel members are not really privy since they never know how the eventual voting went and when a grant gets funded whether it was on score or as a pick-up.
    So you are left with water cooler gossip with other people who have grants in a given study section. Of course, people are a bit loathe to discuss their scores, it's kinda a cultural taboo. like talking about how much money you make 🙂
    Does this all sound terribly inbred and OldBoyz/Girlz? 🙂

  • Becca says:

    PP- Of course you're not fucking chopped liver! That sounds squishy, anyway.
    Anyway, thanks! There was a lightbulb moment for me as far as the differences between R01s and fellowships. It also may explain a bit why I have a smidge of trouble explaining how I thought the fellowships work to my PI.
    DM- I definitely think of you and PP as non-interchangable. PP's potty mouth is a dead giveaway. Well that and his hobbitfeet.
    I'll have to play with some CRISP searches using study section as gating criteria to get some idea about funding lines.
    Regarding your old posts, they aren't quite as easy to understand. I'm left with the impression that not only is NIH funding a game, but it's a brutle game with odd terminology and bizarre rules that is boring to watch. It's like some twisted, full contact version of golf. *shudder*
    It never occured to me that easy to understand posts on NIH funding might be just as challenging to write as easy to understand posts on peer-reviewed science. They are both chock full of jargon. NIH might actually be worse.
    That said, I think you are probably meeting your demystification aim- it sounds a lot less "terribly inbred and old OldBoyz/Girlz" than before I read this post! Although, I still have no idea how to meet the right people.

  • I think there are two types of graduate mentors -- those who teach their students the ins and outs of the grant process and those who expect their students to focus on the science and think that learning the grant process will come in the postdoc period. Personally, I think the latter are doing their students a disservice, but I am not surprised when grad students are unclear about the granting process.

  • NeuroStudent says:

    I have the latter kind of mentor..which is why I read the blogs.. only recently when I've asked very specific questions about things has he given me any clue about the whole process (which he does actually have a clue about, I swear he is an ad hoc reviewer on more fucking study sections than anyone else I've ever met...), but I wouldn't have been able to ask the questions without this & other blogs--some of his willingness to answer the questions may be because I'm very close to finishing and am planning to pursue academic science as my career, so I need to learn about the process.
    Although, I'm not sure that it's all bad that I've been relatively protected from it during the majority of grad school..I know of people in other labs that had the former style mentor and it has pretty much driven them out of science because all their mentor ever talks about is "the game" (Becca, you're description is fantastic!) and they never talk about science, so the students come away from grad school with the idea that being in academia has absolutely nothing to do with science and everything to do with "the game"--surely there must be a balance.

  • JSinger says:

    I think there are two types of graduate mentors -- those who teach their students the ins and outs of the grant process and those who expect their students to focus on the science and think that learning the grant process will come in the postdoc period.
    At least in my experience, the former far outweigh the latter even for postdoc PIs, let alone grad student advisors.

  • Becca, I tried to answer this in yesterday's thread but it got lost somehow:
    How does someone end up as an appointed member (as PP might say- who do you direct your reach arounds to?)?
    To follow-up on PP's brief answer, NIH CSR scientific review officers (SROs) who adminster each study section invite panelists based upon their funding track record and appropriateness of expertise vs. the charter of the panel. Each session, however, there may be more grants than can be handled by sitting members and/or may require special expertise and other reviewers are invited on an ad hoc basis, most often at the suggestion of the panel chair or chartered panelists. This is how I got into this burdensome task excellent service opportunity by being invited while as an assistant professor for what my colleagues call "butt-sniffing." One gets a few grants to review and folks see how well you review and how you interact with the rest of the panel. You will then be invited back for repeated ad hoc service or ultimately as a sitting panelist with a three- or four-year term.
    As DM has pointed out in other posts, for true peer-review we really need to have more assistant professors appointed to study sections.

  • Now I saw DM's comment above and he/she/it covered some of what I said above.
    Just another general comment for those who get summary statements back and try to look on the study section roster to see which bastard(s) was/were the evil reviewer(s): it is surprising to me how often I review grants peripheral to my area of expertise (i.e., still in cancer but on drugs I don't work with) while others on the panel are assigned grants that I think I would be more appropriate to review. I think this is done sometimes to prevent competitor/conflicts of interest but I make this point to applicants that they might get pissed off at the wrong people when receiving a highly critical review.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I make this point to applicants that they might get pissed off at the wrong people when receiving a highly critical review
    And even worse, sometimes the people you'd swear are your worst enemies may get behind your proposal and your supposed friends hammer you. It is a fool's errand to assume you know for certain sure who the reviewer was. Maybe after multiple reviews in a single panel with different reviewers coming in and out over a few rounds you can start to ID someone.
    but yeah, I'm often surprised about what is assigned to me and what is not assigned to me. I think it is less about conflicts and more about the SRO struggling mightily to balance review load with types of expertise.
    You might even throw additional diversity-of-review factors into the mix. If it were me assigning reviewers, for example, I'd favor a combination of specific expertise with big picture- someone perhaps not as intimately connected to the sub-sub-sub-field.

  • PhysioProf says:

    It is always a fool's errand to try to figure our who a particular grant or manuscript reviewer is.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Becca @#2: Regarding your old posts, they aren't quite as easy to understand. I'm left with the impression that not only is NIH funding a game, but it's a brutle game with odd terminology and bizarre rules that is boring to watch.
    Actually, we were all struggling to understand wtf the NIH was talking about in some of that stuff with respect to 'captive study sections', 'clustering' and the like.
    I still have no idea how to meet the right people.
    Don't overthink it too much, I mean you are still a graduate student, no? So you have some time. Basic networking is the thing. This relies partly on decent mentoring, your PI introducing you to people, etc. You can of course introduce yourself, and should do so, but I recognize that this is not a natural talent for many scientists. (It isn't for me, I suspect the PP is a natural, though!)
    I think probably the two most active steps that are in your immediate control are first to attend meetings, ideally the most appropriate large meeting and one appropriate small meeting. Regularly. Second, to start talking with Program people that attend. Walk up to the booth, give them a That's what they are there for, to talk with their people. The evening socials that are for "What's new at the National Institute of Bunny Hopping" are good things to drop by now and again.

  • PhysioProf says:

    I suspect the PP is a natural[.]

    Yes, I am a natural networker. I love socializing in general and am very adept at it, and turning that skill towards my professional goals comes very naturally.

  • Arlenna says:

    One of the members of the department I got my job in had been on my K99 study section way before I even knew the job existed. It meant somebody there had already heard of my work and ideas, and was positive about my application to the hiring committee even though I'd never met him before. That's my example of how study section networking can help!

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