Your Grant in Review: When they aren't talking to you.

Aug 22 2014 Published by under Grant Review, Grantsmanship, NIH Careerism

It is always good to remember that sometimes comments in the written critique are not directed at the applicant.

Technically, of course these comments are directed at Program Staff in an advisory capacity. Not to help the applicant in any way whatsoever- assistance in revising is a side effect.

Still a comment that opposes a Stock Criticism is particularly likely to be there for the consumption of either Program or the other reviewers.

It is meant to preempt the Stock Criticism when the person making the comment lies the grant.

12 responses so far

  • Ola says:

    It means exactly what it says - Goldilocks. Whether that's good or bad depends what was written in the Investigator section.

    But to DM's point, when writing reviews I've never written for the SRO or PO, intended audience is always the grant author. Only people I've seen writing for the NIH folks are operators/climbers.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Then you are not doing the job you are set, Ola.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I bet Ola does just fine.

    I do agree that the statement in there about "appropriately ambitious" is definitely an advocacy statement trying to stake out a position relative to the other reviewers and make a stronger claim in backing whatever score is given. That is a strong review because the panel can't really average dichotomous statements of different reviewers. They tend to go one way or the other. Someone says "too ambitious" someone else says "no way". If those get discussed I think they usually get worked out. If it is not discussed you never get the benefit of weeding out some of the Stock Critiques. This of course is a huge benefit of being discussed.

    I try to write as minimal of a stock critique review as possible, but I point out places for obvious stock critiques as minor concerns that are easily alleviated, or are of subsidiary importance in relationship to the strengths. This gives the PI some feedback in terms of constructing a response that is more on top of those if they miss some, but also tries to paint less engaged reviewers into a corner. The panels I have been on I think are pretty strong about weeding out stock stuff, but it has to get to discussion- sometimes that stuff is in there on first pass. I actually think it is more in there from the sitting members than the ad hocs. Sometimes ad hocs seem nit-picky but it is a much more engaged nit-pickiness than a stock critique.

  • I'm confused about the original twitted question. Why would anyone think that "appropriately ambitious" means anything other than "neither too ambitious, nor too limited, scope"??? I've read a lot of seemingly obscure shitte in summary statements, but this is very clearly a statement that with regard to scope of the proposed studies, the PI has hit the sweet spot.

    And BTW, one thing I have notice both as an applicant and panel member, is that this fine parsing of scope only really happens to more junior applicants. Once you are established and have successfully converted a few R01s into quality publications, scope will only even be mentioned if you are way off the scale on one end or the other.

  • mh says:

    misunderstanding here... this phrase appears in the instructions to the reviewers for the grant. "Is the proposal appropriately ambitious?"

    So, does it mean "appropriate to ESI applicant's station" (n00b)

    Or, "appropriate to this fancy grant" (visionary, etc)

  • Well, that would depend on what sort of ESI grant program it is. If it's some sort of "starter grant" program designed to give limited funds to enable development of preliminary data sufficient for a regular R01, then it means the former. If it's some sort of Audacious Outlandish New Innovator program, then it means the latter.

  • drugmonkey says:


  • mh says:

    It is everything...and nothing. It should be audacious...but in a career stage dependent manner. It is both forward looking AND future-oriented...but also you've done it before. It is for audacious leaders in their field with long successful funding track records...but also for ESI's who and those who have never had funding from this agency, because they were added as a subcategory later. But the criteria are the same. But also different because of career stage. Different how? Good question. The answer is: appropriate to career stage. How will that be integrated into the review process? No one knows, because they will be reviewed under a totally new system using online discussion boards of a mix of new and past reviewers instead of established panels.

    This is why interpreting the language relative to career stage feels important.

  • I think you are probably overestimating the extent to which the language in the RFA will actually influence how the reviewers behave.

  • mh says:

    For sure, but I've got nothing else to go on but that and some goat entrails.

  • You're much better off going on the large quantities of general grantsmanship advice available here and other places. But even more importantly, do you know anyone who has served on the study section that reviews grants for this RFA? While you obviously can't discuss anything specific about your intended application with them, you can ask members general questions about the behavior of the study section and what they tend to expect.

  • This grant is totally new, and the funding agency is totally changing its review system. No one knows what's going to happen or as any experience.

    (I am not "mh".)

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