A recent post noted the decision by the NHLBI to adopt a payline policy that varied by grant revision status. The new R01 submissions would be subject to a 16% payline, the first revision to a 9% payline and any left-over grandfathered second revision A2 applications to a 7% payline.
In the course of discussion a reader proposed that what we really need is for the NIH to grade the payline based on how many grants a given PI already has. Commenter qaz said:
Maybe it would be enough to share the funding around better - make the first R01 easy to fund, the second harder, etc. If we made it possible for people to be funded at the 25% range (or even below that) if they didn't have any other grants, then maybe it wouldn't be a problem.
This idea was seconded by Principle Investigator.
Knowing a landmined topic when I see it, I had a few observations.
First off we need to point out that some people's job category is soft-money and all research. Meaning that, IMNSHO, one $250K / year full-modular R01 is not anywhere close to enough. Two is about the starting bid. I already hear the response from the hard-money crowd- nyah, nyah it's their own fault for taking that job category. Sure. But so what? Perhaps the NIH mission is best served by those who focus exclusively on research and don't have the headaches that come along with hard money (read: professin' responsibility) jobs. Perhaps the NIH (and therefore the taxpayer) get more out of soft-money PI's second R01 than they do out of the first R01 of hard-money Prof. So perhaps we should make the hurdle harder for the hard-money person.
Second, as we can now review for ourselves, one R01 award might be for $250K / yr /5 yrs...but another might be for $498K / yr / 5 yrs. And another might be for $175K for three years. I doubt it is much of a stretch to point out that the older and more established labs are more likely to have the bigger awards that are over the modular limit. This is certainly what I observe in grant review. Somehow I doubt that the commentariat is suggesting that n00b PI with a $175/yr/3yr starter R01 should face the same hurdle for grant #2 as they want Prof Bluehair with the $487K /yr/5yr in year 20 to face when applying for another R01.
Third, following on from that last comment, how are you going to deal with the timeline and practicalities of the grant cycle? It would not be uncommon for a very well-established lab to have a core R01 that has been continued repeatedly. Sometimes in year 15, 20... or 25. They might then have a random 3 or 5 yr R01 now and again. Suppose they happen to hold one of these more peripheral awards when the renewal comes up...should the hurdle be higher? Will this make some silly shenanigans happen like turning back an award's outyear 4 or 5? I could see a situation where you'd have one year left on the random award and a score for the (likely larger) renewal that sat between thresholds. Too high for the 2nd award but right in there for the 1st award (again, under the proposed sliding scale).
Fourth, what about alternate sources of funding? Should the investigator loaded up on DoD and NSF grants, or with HHMI moneybags, be treated the same for the first R01? the second? ...the, um, fifth? (Yeah, I know some HHMI dudes in this zone...)
Okay, that should be enough to think about*. May we have a defense of your proposal, qaz and Principle Investigator?
*although I feel certain my readers will come up with some new fun stuff to fight over