When should new PIs submit their second major grant?

Dec 20 2011 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

This question arose on the Twitts and the person wanted to know if waiting for the first renewal was a good idea.

In short, no.

First off, the days of counting on the NIH renewal application being funded, even given great productivity, are over. Tactically you need to shoot for overlapping awards just to ensure continuity of a one-R01 sized lab.

Second, it is my continued view that it is really hard to make it as a single grant lab in the long term. You need diversity of projects because one might run into doldrums now and again for reasons outside of your control.

The third point addresses a followup concern- can newb profs handle the load of two major projects? I say yes. I can't think of a single scientist who struggled and/or failed because they had two R01 support in the early years. I'm sure they exist but I can't think of any examples from my experiences. I do know a few folks lucky to get two major awards early (first 2-3 years) and they did (and are doing) just fine.

OTOH I can think of several examples of folks who struggled with just one award and for whom I think things would have been vastly better with two grants.

18 responses so far

  • proflikesubstance says:

    What? Why would one wait for any reason to submit a second proposal? Because they don't want more resources? Because they don't need more people? Baffles the mind.

  • CoR says:

    Agreed. Relatively continual submissions is necessary, as are a diversity of panels/agencies to apply to.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Not everyone feels ready for growth. Some fear the rapid wedge driving them away from the bench and toward the managing/supervising task list.

  • saban_lab says:

    Regarding a jr faculty person (eg, asst prof), the issue of workload and whether that individual can manage multiple ro1 level projects is something that the study section may consider.

    Does anyone feel that this may be a significant consideration? if so, would it not be advantageous to wait until after 1st renewal is funded?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Does anyone feel that this may be a significant consideration? if so, would it not be advantageous to wait until after 1st renewal is funded?

    As with many other cultural memes, biases and expectations of study section cultures this is going to be variable. Sure, there is a theme of "don't get to big for your britches, young'un" that pops up now and again. But clearly, given the number of noobs who have managed to acquire 2 grants early on in their careers, it is not an absolute.

    It comes back to one of Joe Brady's most famous rules- don't turn down a job you haven't been offered yet. In grant terms it means don't be in such a defensive crouch that you don't ever give study sections a chance to surprise you.

  • I have participated in the review of many many junior faculty second R01s, and the question whether they could "handle" or "manage" a second R01-size project has never been raised.

    What I have seen raised is the question whether there has been a demonstration of at least some productivity with the first R01. This is exactly why you want to try to get your second R01 application submitted as soon as possible after the first: so that there hasn't elapsed enough time on the first R01 for the study section to even attempt to judge your productivity.

    You do need to be strategic about how you target two R01s as a junior PI, however. One effective strategy is to base one "wheelhouse" R01 on your post-doctoral experimental foundation that you target to the study section that is populated by the senior people in your field that you talk to at meetings and who know you from your post-doctoral work. Then the second R01 is based on something different from the wheelhouse R01--such as a novel tool development project or the exploration of a new experimental system--but sufficiently within your established skill set that you will be viewed as competent to carry it out, and that you target to a different study section from the first R01.

    I pursued this strategy, and ended up getting the non-wheelhouse R01 funded as an A0 about a year and a half before the wheelhouse R01 finally got funded as an A2.

  • saban_lab says:

    Great advice Comrade and DM

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Not everyone feels ready for growth. Some fear the rapid wedge driving them away from the bench and toward the managing/supervising task list.

    I'm not sure 2 R01 sized projects is so significantly different than one that it is going to completely change how one operates, no? And the alternative is to roll the dice on the renewal and risk a yearish gap?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'm not sure 2 R01 sized projects is so significantly different than one that it is going to completely change how one operates, no?

    as I said, "fear". I agree with you that the second R01 doesn't really change much, but it may not look that way to someone who finds their situation a tad bit overwhelming already.

  • saban_lab says:

    I'm not sure 2 R01 sized projects is so significantly different than one that it is going to completely change how one operates, no?

    Agree with DM. I am a noob who only recently received a fundable score on first r01, and "fear" is certainly a factor.

  • whimple says:

    Assistant Professor is a fundraising job. Why would you choose to stop doing your job?

  • Assistant Professor is a fundraising job. Why would you choose to stop doing your job?

    Srsly. If you want to sit at a bench, you shouldn't be a professor.

  • Joe says:

    I saw too 2 Assoc Profs struggle after having had 2 R01's as Asst Profs. Someone more senior than I suggested that those 2 guys had been pushed to have 2 full-scale projects too soon, and that they hadn't managed to produce as much as was expected for 2 R01's. Having not seen the pink sheets on the renewal applications, I have no idea if this is true. One guy ended up with a funding lapse from which he has never recovered. His lab is dark now. The other limped through with an R21 while he got both R01's renewed at the A2 stage. He now thinks he's a superstar. It is possible that the 2 R01's early contributed to their difficult times.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Meh. I'd want more detail because there are tons of things that pop up to derail new labs no matter what the funding/size.

  • Someone more senior than I suggested that those 2 guys had been pushed to have 2 full-scale projects too soon, and that they hadn't managed to produce as much as was expected for 2 R01's.

    (1) If you know what you are doing strategically in terms of designing appropriate synergistic relationships between multiple lines of research in your lab, and you know how to write a proper competing renewal application, then you don't need 2x "productivity"--i.e., publication output--to keep two R01s funded. You really only need about 1.5x productivity compared to a single R01.

    (2) If you can't achieve 1.5x productivity with 2x funding--and thus personnel--then you sure as shit weren't gonna achieve 1x productivity with 1x funding.

    (3) Point #1 is one of the key reasons you need more than one R01 to have a comfortably self-sustaining NIH-funded research operation.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Agree with DM. I am a noob who only recently received a fundable score on first r01, and "fear" is certainly a factor.

    Fear of what? Launching a successful lab? Keeping your people paid? Having resources? I'm not sure I get this.

  • The only fear I can think of is "ZOMFG! Now that I have one R01, I've really got to do my job and allow *other* people in my lab to do the actual experiments without my hands involved and if I had a second R01...HOLY FUCKE I won't be able to stand over everyone's shoulders and make sure they DO EVERYTHING RIGHT!!!"

  • saban_lab says:

    Yes, yes, and yes; and yes to everything Comrade highlighted as well.

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