PA! Huh. What's it good for? ....absolutely nothin! Say it again, PA!

A query to the blog is a very typical reaction of those new (and not so new) to the NIH Grant game. As you will see in my answer. First, the question:

I'm now confused about this whole Program Announcement thing. The PO said that my application would be judged normally, just as part of whatever else the study section was reviewing, and that there was no special money set aside for the PA. If that's the case, what's the point of the PA in the first place? I had been under the impression it would be judged with other grants responding to the PA, but apparently that's not true.


It is the RFA that generally routes applications into a dedicated, special emphasis panel type study section for review. For those Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) there is indeed a set aside pool of money and generally just a single receipt date. The PAS (Program Announcement with Set Aside Funds) also has dedicated funding, generally for the first round of submissions, then it converts to a regular old Program Announcement (PA) type FOA. Applications submitted for a PAR (Program Announcement with special receipt, referral and/or review considerations) is reviewed by a special panel, generally within an IC.

Regular old PAs are open for 3 years and generally use the standard receipt dates. In the ICs of my greatest experience they tend to be renewed and thus may represent essentially permanent PAs for much of your grant writing life. As per the reader query, the applications are reviewed in standard, CSR study sections with the appropriate domains of coverage and expertise. Alongside those applications that use the generic, mechanism based FOA. I would argue that you would only use the latter if you had to. Again, in the ICs of my greatest experience the PAs can be incredibly broad. Take "PA-10-268 Neuroscience Research on Drug Abuse (R01)" as an example. If your IC of interest has such broad topic might as well use them.

Now as the reader question intimates, there is no overtly special benefit to your chances of getting funded. And there may be no benefit at all. Hard to tell. Because of course this sort of business only matters* when Program is considering the grey zone pickup funding. Is there a slant or a formula for how many approximately equivalently scored grants they will select under one of their PAs versus the generic parent FOA? I would suspect so, else why have such things? But I can't say for sure. Maybe it is just make work for Program lay out their priorities. Or maybe it is a defensive excuse for those rare cases when they decide to stiff a grant that came in under the payline "Sorry PI Squirrel, it didn't fit any of our Programmatic Interests...don't you read the PAs?".

The bottom line here for those new to the system is not to get all that excited when language in a PA seems directed at your research program. It isn't *that* good of a bennie. But you might as well have some idea what is in the PAs and respond to them when you can. Because you just never know when it might help.
*assuming you have a modicum of sense and are not submitting stuff that is clearly not going to be of interest under the generic R01 parent FOA.

11 responses so far

  • The beauty of the PAR or RFA is that the study section is specially constituted to assess your application in relation to the goals of the PAR/RFA and will not be all like, "Well, Joe Fuckeloy already has three R01s and doesn't need another, while Suckoy Docunord has none are really needs one, so blah, blah, blah..." As far as PAs that go to regular stdut sections, my experience is that if you hammer that mtoherfucker over and over in the garnt, starting with the Specific Aims--"this is an application to PA-10-987.entitle 'Grants to Spark Doobies in the Glarnby Fuvckeyt of Translivcation Resarch'. We have devised a novel approiach to Dooi eSprakabe in Fuckenby Glarny as descrined in this Funding Opponbtuity Announcemtn, and this proposal is highly responvive blah lblah blah"--you can get a little extra tractoin.

  • So, just to clarify, regular PA's are not only relevant at the program level, but can shift the balance slightly at the study section level, if you make it very clear that you are applying for a particular PA, and hammer that fcken nail down.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That's a good point. And don't be afraid to read through their language on Research Objectives and specifically use and address their stated goals. I mean you don't want to just nakedly cut and paste but make sure you work those themes over hard in your application. all sections, not just the background/significance, if you can work it.

  • iGrrrl says:

    Why "Good God", Dr. Becca? I tend to use the phrase "punch the button" rather than "hammer that #$%^&! nail down", but the idea is the same. Given the increased numbers of tie scores with the new scoring system, there may be an edge to pointing out that your proposed project is right in line with an area of research important enough to the IC that they put out a PA. My impression is that it isn't easy to put one out. It has to be written (never fun) and vetted six ways from Sunday before it hits the streets. That's too much effort on program's part to spend on something that didn''t actually matter to them.

  • Dr Becca says:

    iGrrrl, the title of the post is referencing a song. Sometimes in the chorus, the singer throws in a "good god, y'all," but since DrugMonkey didn't put that part in his actual title, I threw it out there.

  • TreeFish says:

    Thanks, DM! I was just looking up the difference between the different announcements I get every week the other day...And word, CPP, on your follow up! Sage advice again. Bang!

    I think your idea to explicitly mention the PA in the Specific Aims (or even first page of Significance) is a great idea. I wish you would have posted this in late May!

    I think being responsive to a PA is a great way to earn a little (yes, little, but not none!) programmatic consideration mojo. I sent my R01 (first one ever; New and ESI) to my PO and to the person who issued the PA, letting them know also the Study Sections I was requesting.

    Funny (in the sad way) thing: the two study sections I requested got rejected, and they re-assigned it to a Study Section that has 3 (out of 198 active projects) R01s being administered by my IC (yikes). I then contacted the SRA and notified her/him that I was concerned about the 3/198 record, voiced my concern about the lack of expertise in my particular area...and got no response. Also, the temporary members were more of the same (very well-respected and accomplished roster, none of whom do work in the models I use).

    Not looking good for me-- maybe the programmatic consideration for being responsive to the PA (and my meeting/talking with the PO and Division Director at SFN) will help. Maybe the Study Section will be nice, and actually like my Aims! Maybe a drugged monkey will fly out of a physiologist's prolapsed rectum!

  • TreeFish says:

    Oof. Score/Percentile = 50/46.0. Might sell cars or insurance...

  • drugmonkey says:

    First time out of the gate and you got discussed? Not horrible, homes, not horrible.

  • iGrrrl says:

    /is embarrassed for missing the reference/

    I got the song, but didn't get the continuation in your comment, Dr. Becca. I'll go hang up my part-time musician hat, now.

  • becca says:

    For the record, it is generally invisible when I just read things, ponder them, and consider them as good advice and file it away for use if necessary. But this post was pithy and sound enough that I thought it warranted noting that it does happen occasionally.

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