I can't apply for *that*...

Feb 22 2011 Published by under Careerism, Grantsmanship, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

Funding opportunity announcements from the NIH come on both vague and highly specific flavors. (For the latter, think "We invite applications examining Gertzin trafficking in the Tiddle cells of the Physio-Whimple nucleus during bunny hopping. Applications using the 100m to hedgerow model will be judged responsive.")

One of the things that I've slipped out from under far too slowly in my career is the naysayer voice "There's no frigging way I'm going to be competitive for that!"

And yet...circumstances have occasionally pushed me. To venture an application that in my heart of reviewer hearts I think is such a long stretch as to be nearly a waste of time.

Interestingly enough, I've gotten a grant that way on more than one occasion.

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Edited to add: It was Damn Good Techncian who pointed out "getting published in Science is like a threesome - if you don't ask, it won't ever happen.". This also applies to grant applications according to drisis.

21 responses so far

  • You'll never have a 3some if you don't propose the idea. How often have you tried this route before? And I imagine in this funding climate it can't hurt to try and stretch.

  • brooksphd says:

    Tiddle cell... LMAO He'd be flattered I'm sure...

  • anon says:

    I always contact the program officer for those announcements where I think my stuff could fit. The last response I got from the PO boiled down to "no fuckin way, fuck off". I guessed it saved me a lot of time. I wonder if these RFA's are designed with specific individuals in mind.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I get the strong impression that some RFAs are designed with specific labs in mind, yes. I have seen, however, cases in which a laboratory that I am certain sure was not the one in mind managed to do so well on review that it ended up with the award. I have also seen cases in which a group which was *probably* not on the POs list did not get the award from the original RFA but came back with a revision (or a new version) and acquired a fundable score from a regular study section.

    Obviously you need to take the PO seriously if s/he is telling you your ideas do not fit with the RFA goals. But this only goes so far. If your plans fit in very well with the RFA from what you can tell from the actual text, and the only reason you can see that the PO is discouraging you is that s/he has someone else in mind, it may be worth a shot. A fantastic score from the study section has a way of getting the PO's attention...

  • brooksphd says:

    I'll discuss the two RFAs with my colleagues. They'll be PI/Co-I (YHN is too fukken lowly to get rank and just all all the fukken work). If we can hammre out some decent Aims without getting too bogged down I'll call the POs and see what they think. Last time I did that the PO was awesome helpful.

  • GMP says:

    Interestingly enough, I’ve gotten a grant that way on more than one occasion.

    You are one lucky dude. Or a kick-ass grant writer. Or most likely both.

  • odyssey says:

    DM:
    I can hear the Proposal Sergeant reluctantly grunting approval.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You are one lucky dude. Or a kick-ass grant writer. Or most likely both.

    I do feel quite fortunate each and every time a study section hands out a fundable score and each and every time Program decides to make a pickup for obscure reasons.

    I do not think my proposals as written applications are anything particularly special, though.

    Keep in mind that I have also taken my lumps when I thought CLEARLY I should have been funded for my awesomely impactful, significant and exceptionally well-crafted proposal.

    What I conclude from the surprises is that you have to have a generally trusting attitude toward reviewers. Occasionally they will surprise you by "getting" it and by not killing you over irrelevant minutia. Occasionally. But if you never ask them to surprise you, then it is impossible for this to occur. If you just stick with your "safe" proposals, then who knows what you are missing out on.

    There is also the uncomfortable chance that you / we are too conservative on our views of what we "should" be proposing. Writing a proposal that seems like a stretch and having your peers say "hell yeah you should do this" in review is a good vote that we need to start thinking bigger.

  • My theory is that reviewers for RFAs get fucken sicke and tired of reading the same motherfucken shitte over and over and over, so if you give them something different, they have a decent chance of loving itte.

  • TeaHag says:

    A study section convened for the specific purpose of evaluating applications that are responding to a tightly-defined RFA often contains the folks that a newbie benefits from impressing... if that makes any sense at all.

    My first R01-scaled application was part of a program project-RFA response dealio. There was much tragedy associated with the overall attempt... So, one the one hand, best score EVAH (seriously, how sad is that to peak first time out?), on the other no money. However, I had marked the cards of some folks who remembered me - permitting the transition from "promising post-doc" to "independent investigator" -when I resubmitted as an independent application and I ended up being funded.

  • drugmonkey says:

    However, I had marked the cards of some folks who remembered me

    One thing that comes up pretty frequently for new investigators who have just received their 2nd or third triage from their most obvious study section is "They HATE me, they are BIASED and I just need to find a better study section".

    While I do advocate finding a couple of alternative go-to study sections, there is also value in gritting your teeth and trying to play the game with the most-obvious study section. There is some degree of getting-to-know-you going on even via the grant application process. This can be a long term deal. I have frequently stopped by posters or presentations from groups that would very likely not have drawn my eye other than the fact that I'd seen a proposal come through the study section I was on. In the early days (and not so early days) I've had interesting conversations with people at my posters or otherwise at meetings that, on reflection, were influenced pretty significantly by the fact that the person talking to me had recently reviewed my grant proposal.

    And, of course, one of the more enlightening aspects of finally *joining* a study section that had handed me quite a number of triages were all the people saying nice things along the lines of "hey, great! glad you finally got your grant" and even more specific comments about a given proposal. Makes it clear that you have *some* advocates in the room. So it is unlikely that they all "HATE" you or are biased against you and you might as well keep on letting them get to know your proposals and work a little bit better by keeping the submissions rolling.

  • While I do advocate finding a couple of alternative go-to study sections, there is also value in gritting your teeth and trying to play the game with the most-obvious study section.

    You are fuckeing uppe if you aren't doing both at the same time with different grant proposals.

  • crystaldoc says:

    Totally OT for this thread, but I have a sudden and urgent need to know what is the likelihood of success for arguing that a new NIH grant submission is *really* new when Division of Receipt and Referral has initially rejected it as a resubmission of a prior application. Has anybody else got one of these oh-so-frustrating letters? Seen anywhere in the blogosphere any stats on success of appeals, or even anecdotal data points? DM? Anybody?? I could have sworn this was a new application. Way more than 50% different IMO 🙁

  • drugmonkey says:

    Sorry to hear that, crystaldoc. No, I have very little knowledge of this so far. The reports of rejections are just starting to trickle in. I think PHLane referred to someone she knows receiving one.

    Do you have any insight as to what triggered the judgment? Did you change out all the Aims for example? When you say 50% different, do you mean the actual text, the ideas, the experiments...what?

  • crystaldoc says:

    The title was different. For the Aims, if you just read the bolded headings on the SA page, you would probably get the impression that aims 1 and 2 were the same but aim 3 was new. I imagine this is why it was flagged-- a cursory look, and it appears 67% unchanged. Overall, it is pursuing the role of the same macromolecule of interest in the same disease. But, the actual text is about 70% new.

    When you get down to details, the hypothesis AND approach of Aim 1 have changed A LOT-- instead of hypothesizing that molecule X promotes disease phenotype Y through interacting with A and triggering pathway B eventually leading to upregulation of Z which we will probe by RNAi knockdown of candidate genes C-K, we now hypothesize that molecule X promotes disease phenotype Y through acting on M (whole different class of molecule) and triggering process N eventually leading to upregulation of Z, and we will identify M and process N using sexy new omics approach. Overall, text of Aim 1 changed ~70% and experiments changed ~55%.

    For Aim 2, the overall goal of developing an inhibitor of molecule X remains the same, but the approach is totally different; instead of a library screening type of thing, we are doing something really different based on new structures and molecular modeling. The disease models used to evaluate the inhibitors are the same, though, so the experiments are only changed ~50%.

    Aim 3 is totally different from anything I have ever written or submitted before; a clinical biomarkers thingy with 3 new coinvestigators. 100% new text, 100% new experiments.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am imagining they never got past the Aims page then? My take from what litte has been said about the NIH ability to screen is that the Aims page *absolutely* is going to have to sound very different from the prior one....

  • brooksphd says:

    Urgh, CrystalDoc, that sucks. So sorry to hear.

  • For the Aims, if you just read the bolded headings on the SA page, you would probably get the impression that aims 1 and 2 were the same but aim 3 was new. I imagine this is why it was flagged– a cursory look, and it appears 67% unchanged.

    Well, duh. Why the fucken fucke didn't you change the motherfucken aims?????? It's the *specific aims* that define the scientific scope of a grant application. This should be obvious shitte.

  • Crystaldoc says:

    Well yeah, in retrospect it is totally obvious. In my mind the 2 grants were so different that it honestly didn't occur to me that it would look like a resubmission, and I wasn't looking at the old SA page or remembering it well when I wrote the new one. It was only yesterday I realized how similar they looked. I won't make that mistake again ...

  • DrugMonkey says:

    We're all going to have to get in the habit of running 2 Aims pages past our friends for similarity checks...

  • We’re all going to have to get in the habit of running 2 Aims pages past our friends for similarity checks…

    I have been presented with this situation once so far. I ran the new Specific Aims past the Program Officer who had the old application and who was going to take assignment of the new grant. She was extremely helpful in making sure the new grant would not be flagged as an illegitimate resubmission.

    She told me that POs sometimes serve temporary stints at CSR's Division of Receipt and Referral to learn how things are done there. Based on the detailed nature of her advice, I had the impression that she knew more about how the "illegitimate resubmission" decision is made than what is described in publicly available information from CSR.

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