Side thought on the NIH issuing project grants versus program grants

Apr 16 2014 Published by under NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

I asked a poorly worded question on the Twitts

in which what I was trying to ask was this. From the perspective of awarding NIH grants, does it matter that a given proposal fits into a larger whole? If a brand new investigator, do we assume that he or she is applying for the first grant among many? For the greybeard for whom this might be a last-award, do we recognize that it is the capstone to a lengthy program? For the mid-career investigator do we assume this is only one of the many parts that will eventually form a large body of work?

Or is it all good if this is a singleton? One grant, awarded for 5 years and that is all.

The interesting thing is that nobody on the Twitts thought that I meant this. The answers went to various places- funding from non-NIH sources, relatively inexpensive research that didn't actually require an R01 to be vibrant, the idea of a single R01 that was continued beyond a mere 5 year interval. Many people assumed that what I was really talking about was assessing the merits and qualities of the PI.

After I got done kicking myself for not asking the question properly, a simple thought struck me.

Perhaps the very fact that people assumed I meant just about anything other than a single 5 year award, period, for a given PI was my answer. We do tend to expect that a R01 award fits into a larger research program. It does not stand alone as a single project.

20 responses so far

  • I apologize for misunderstanding the question. Yes, it's my own view that any grant I view favorably is just a part of a larger program of research that I want to see get done. I don't see any grant as an end in and of itself or that it would be just as well if the grant ended after 5 years and didn't continue.

  • Odyssey says:

    Ahhhh, got it. In which case, no, a single stand alone R01 would not be viewed favorably.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I don't think I phrased it terribly well. And I *do* find that all y'all's assumptions probably do answer the question anyway.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Your "clarification" is still incomprehensible. If you are asking whether it is scientifically a good or bad thing for some R01s to be one-offs to an investigator who never renews it or otherwise gets another R01, I'd say it's bad. There are efficiencies with multiple or sequential R01s that include leveraging of equipment and supplies expenses, training of personnel in technical and conceptual approaches, and development and troubleshooting of new techniques. The one-and-done lab never applies that leverage, and its potential value in terms of NIH funding is lost.

  • jd says:

    Which is why major research universities/institutes often require that Asst. Profs. not only obtain an R01, but also renew it before getting tenure.

    Yeah - let's see how far they get with that one in this funding climate. The percentage of young PIs who actually achieve this goal has got to be in the single digits. But I' venture to say the tenure rate at such R1 schools is not.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Berg has some data coming up that will speak, to an extent, to the proportions of PIs who are continuously funded and the chances of a PI getting refunded after a funding gap. Better than single digits as aggregate data .

  • DrugMonkey says:

    CPP- sounds like you comprehended the question just fine.

  • eeke says:

    " The one-and-done lab never applies that leverage, and its potential value in terms of NIH funding is lost."
    This doesn't make sense at all. Are you saying that if a PI is applying for a new R01, they are not eligible if they don't already have some sort of renewal under their belt? WTF? This discussion stinks of elitism.

  • Grumble says:

    "Perhaps the very fact that people assumed I meant just about anything other than" what I actually asked is because it's really fucking hard to say anything meaningful at all in 140 characters.

    Not impossible, but very few people can do it well, and no one can do it consistently well. Which is why the very idea of paying attention to what people have to say on Twitter strikes me as an incredible waste of time. But I guess I'm in the minority.

  • dsks says:

    This sort of thing need only be determined on a case-by-case basis. Clearly, there are many situations in which funding a one-hitter would be an excellent idea. e.g. a PI realizing they have the equipment, expertise and perspective to tackle a specific problem in another field, despite their having no intention to forge a career path into that field.

    As it is, it's unlikely that these are really one shot R01s anyway in the objective sense. They might be one shot relative to the specific investigator, who may subsequently choose not to pursue the project. But in many cases, by opening that door a bunch of other R01 will come in from other investigators looking to pick up the ball and run with it. I don't think study sections should be concerning themselves with what a particular PI will be doing ten years from now; they should focus on the merits of the 5 yr proposal in hand.

  • becca says:

    Could I conceive of niche scientific topics where the trade-off in efficiency that CPP mentions is worth it? Sure. You could imagine an orphan disease where you find the gene responsible, identify that an existing FDA approved drug targets it, and persuade a company to pick up the work from there (maybe just because it's cost-neutral and great PR). Is it likely? No. I've never seen such a scenario in real life. But it's possible to imagine that the basic research phase of a specific question is so short and self-contained a one-and-done is adequate. It wouldn't be a bad use of NIH funds, even if there are more papers out of Yet Another Cancer Grant.

  • Davis Sharp says:

    Unequivocal answer: it depends.

    If the PI was regularly funded by NSF, CDC, or other agencies/foundations but only one project was within NIH's mission, then OK.
    If the PI provides core support as fee-for-service, but had one grant on, say a technique, then OK.
    If the PI is mainly a clinician who put together a one-time clinical research project, then OK.
    If the PI is in biotech and used the NIH grant to develop his "product" for bigger venture capital funding or takeover by another company, then OK.
    If the PI is an academic track, basic biomedical scientist at a research institution with no other sources of support, then probably not OK.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    So I need to now say that the NIH funding model is "Project within a Program", correct?

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    "So I need to now say that the NIH funding model is "Project within a Program", correct?"

    That is certainly how program staff view it. The last time I had one of my competing renewals go unfunded, the PO wrote me an e-mail telling me that while they were sorry not to be able to fund this particular grant just outside the payline, they were confident that my research program would continue to productively make an impact. So yes, they clearly view the NIH as funding research programs led by individual PIs.

  • drugmonkey says:

    they were confident that my research program would continue to productively make an impact.

    hahahaha, just the kind of comment that absolutely enrages a PI.

  • Hermitage says:

    Everyone knows CPP is an avid magic bean farmer.

  • "hahahaha, just the kind of comment that absolutely enrages a PI."

    By now I've developed a thick skin when it comes to NIH bureaucrat speak. What they really meant, of course, is: "You have other R01s, so you aren't going to starve." Which is true.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I find those kind of comments tied to a perception of a given PIs stability and productivity that has nothing to do with reality, nor how the PI in question feels about his or her stability over the next year to 18 mo.

  • I find those kind of comments tied to a perception of a given PIs stability and productivity that has nothing to do with reality, nor how the PI in question feels about his or her stability over the next year to 18 mo.

    They have to do with a specific aspect of reality, which is the fact that some of their PIs have multiple R01s, and some of their PIs have zero or one R01. I really don't fault the tremendous self-imposed emotional pressure that program staff almost certainly experience to keep as many PIs funded as possible, even thought from a rational standpoint, this can become counterproductive to the overall success of the NIH-funded scientific enterprise. It's a fucke of a lot easier for them to tell me one of my multiple R01s isn't going to be renewed than it is to tell some other PI in her fifth year as an assistant professor that her first R01 still isn't going to be funded and she is going to lose her job.

  • drugmonkey says:

    tru dat!

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