A piece published in Nature reviews the grant woes of two scientists who are facing the expiration of all of their research funding.
One PI pulled a 10.6%ile score but since it was assigned to notoriously payline-adherent NINDS (payline 10%ile) she may not get her award. Of course, there is always a chance that NINDS Council or even the Director may pull it up for funding, perhaps on the heels of the stimulus dollop.
The other PI complains about being in that middle career zone, too senior to catch new-investigator breaks and too junior to have established one of those records that commands good score regardless of crappy application writing. [okay, that was an embellishment but you get my point]
I hate these articles. I really do. They frequently point the finger in the wrong direction and convey bad mentoring advice. The Gestalt if this one isn't great. But it has a couple of good object lessons.
Kelley knows now that she should have kept a second supporting grant in place. "The NIH funding programme takes people like me who run small labs, and have only a single grant, and penalizes them basically," she says. "Because they are not playing the game. They are not playing this multi-grant game." But others say that researchers such as Kelley need to anticipate how the funding environment will change and adjust their strategy accordingly. "If the NIH is turning towards a more clinically focused and translational-medicine emphasis, then it is researchers' responsibility to figure out how their research can fit in," says Hudson.
With respect to the first issue, it isn't necessarily about big/small labs but more about being smart. She seems to have thought that she could just go on renewing her award. Well, the time of near-automatic renewals is over. The revision cycle means that the timing is really dodgy even if you can manage to renew the award. The only rational response is to do an overlap of different grants and/or just keep writing new ones. You don't have to have multiple awards all the time, you just have to do a little dance to keep the funding consistent.
The second bit need not focus on particular demands and touch on typical inflammatory buzzwords. It is always necessary to know what the funding agency is looking for. Good papers are not enough.
Part of the problem, Rafael-Fortney thinks, is that she occupies a difficult middle ground in her scientific career: not senior enough to have years of resources and networks to fall back on in hard times, nor 'young' enough -- ten years or closer to her PhD -- to profit from NIH programmes targeted at the newest scientists. "Mostly the superstars are getting funded," she says. One NIH administrator had told her: "Unfortunately you're not a giant in the field and you're not at Harvard."
hmm, why is this....?
Recently, she finished reviewing a stack of fellowship applications for the NIH and she says she was tempted to favour the 'safer' proposal, the one with all the preliminary data in hand. "It's really hard to not go for the one experiment that's almost done," she says. Her fear is that if she starts rejecting risky projects, as hers were rejected, then more researchers in her position will be shut out. "It's going to just wipe out the whole middle," she says. "Everyone between the ages of 35 and 50 are just going to be gone in science."
"I've seen the problem and it is us"????
The initial rounds of review really drive the engine on this one people. Get on study section. Speak up against the status quo with meaningful, well reasoned arguments. Go to bat for "risky" proposals if you really believe this is the best science. Resist being swayed by superstar reputations.