The NIH has finally realized what a total fucking boondoggle the R03 and R21 grant mechanisms are:
The NIH has found that the use of Small Grants (R03) and the NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grants (R21) has increased over the last few years6. However, recent analyses indicate that a smaller proportion of individuals with initial R21 or R03 grant support subsequently apply for and obtain R01-equivalent funding. In addition, the initial success rate for R21 applications often is lower than for R01 applications. Since R03 and R21 grants are limited in scope and period of support, they may not be the most effective way to launch an independent research career. Accordingly, the NIH encourages New Investigators, particularly ESIs, to apply for R01 grants when seeking first-time funding from the NIH.
For those that aren't already familiar, R03s are limited to two years and $100,000 total direct costs, R21s are limited to two years and $275,000 total direct costs, and neither allow for competitive renewal after the two years. This is in contrast to R01s, which are limited to five years and theoretically unlimited direct costs (although a maximal modular direct cost budget is $1,250,000), and which allow for unlimited numbers of competitive renewals. This is important, because competitive renewals have a *much* higher success rate than new applications.
Dumbfuck program officers have traditionally suggested that newly independent applicants "get their feet wet" with R03s and R21s, before applying for an R01. When I was starting my own lab, I called a relevant program officer, introduced myself, and asked for suggestions. The first words out of his motherfucking mouth were "R03 R21". That fucking god I had friends and colleagues to tell me how totally ridic that advice was. What a stupid fucking dipshit that program officer was.
Well, NIH has finally taken the explicit position that R03s and R21s are totally inappropriate for newly independent investigators, and that they are a TOTAL FUCKING DEAD END!!! They don't lead to R01 funding; they have the opposite effect, of preventing the investigator from achieving R01 funding.
Comrade PhysioProf takes the stronger position that R03s and R21s are totally fucking STUPID for *any* investigator to apply for. If you are going to the trouble to write a grant application, write a motherfucking R01! Think about this way: You're gonna write a ten page R03 or a 15 page R21, with the maximum payoff of 8% or 22% of a maximal modular R01 budget, respectively, and *no* future benefit of the *way* higher success rates for R01 competitive renewals, when you can just write a 25 page R01!?!? (Yeah, the page limits are going to change, but the point is the same.)
R21s and R03s--no matter how hard the dumbfuck SROs and study section chairs try to stop it--are *always* reviewed like "mini R01s". The NIH even explicitly recognizes that R21s have a *lower* success rate than R01s. You gotta have motherfucking rocks in your head to write an R21!
And one other thing: What the fuck is the deal with using the traditional study section peer review mechanism for piddly ass little chunks of change like R03s and R21s?? What a massive waste of reviewer and administrative time and effort to use study section panels to review these punky little turds. NIH program should make funding decisions on these things administratively using the same system as NSF uses for many of its grants. Two or three external written reviews, and program makes the decision whether to fund or not.