Your Grant in Review: Credible

Jan 30 2015 Published by under NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding, Peer Review

I am motivated to once again point something out.

In ALL of my advice to submit grant applications to the NIH frequently and on a diversity of topic angles, there is one fundamental assumption.

That you always, always, always send in a credible application.

That is all.

17 responses so far

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Now you tell us. Jeez.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    Rinse. And repeat.

    I am with you on this. While it is difficult as a new PI, putting all your eggs in one research basket is risky. Luckily, I was able to use the same experimental systems for a different project that has led to a R03 that scored below the payline. So, if it can be done, do it, but don't waste your time if it isn't credible.

  • meshugena313 says:

    Dude, as you said - I think everything is credible and a homerun 3 hrs before submission.

    Converse - if everyone submitted a credible grant, the scoring would be even more random. There have to be some suckers to easily triage, no?

  • becca says:

    From a story at lunch today "his pink slips basically said they weren't sure he wasn't drunk when he wrote it".
    Also: our dept head tells the best stories.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is still frustrating to realize that one of these turkeys will get one or more reviewers thinking they are okay meshugena.

  • MoBio says:

    "That you always, always, always send in a credible application."

    Amen to that brother.

  • Mytchondria says:

    that's just crazy talk Ted.

  • qaz says:

    But credible does not mean perfect.

    So many of my local colleagues don't submit their PGGs (pretty-good-grants) [which are definitely credible - I know because we do internal mock study sections on them] because they are not perfect.

  • Philapodia says:

    @Qaz "we do internal mock study sections"

    How common is this? I've suggested this a few times to my department, but I usually get the greybeards/greyhairs looking at me like I'm an idiot. Seems to me that this is a great idea, and departments/colleges should be looking for any way they can to improve proposal scores. I've talked to people at an Uni that sends grants out for pre-review (they pay the reviewers), and they usually end up getting pretty good scores and are pretty well funded.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @Philapodia: Although only for new PIs, my institution also provides mock study sections for R01s and Ks. We get the written review and get to watch a video of the review. For seasoned PIs, there are some other mechanisms. It has been helpful. Keep pushing for it!

  • MoBio says:


    If you cannot get this done formally ask someone you respect (who has a good track record grantwise) to look it over a few weeks before you send it in--not the day before it is due.

  • Philapodia says:

    @MoBio & Emaderton3

    Oh, I already badger mentors and trusted colleagues, even though I'm no longer a new investigator. I figure having a fresh set of eyes on it will help point out things I no longer see and tell me when my writing isn't clear, which happens to everyone. I think that having these types of reviews for young(ish) investigators is extremely important, and pre-review could benefit oldsters too if they let go of their egos enough to take advantage of it (and where it's available).

  • imager says:

    Pre-review is a good thing, also we do it too rarely at our institution. However, for me the mantra that never ever send out a grant that was not prepared in due time before the deadline. I have heard and seen too many grants that were artfully crafted - and were not discussed while the grant that just made it into NIH at the last minute got a 2 percentile... review is so random these days that I think the idea needs to be good and you need to have luck, thats 90% of the deal right there. If you can send a grant in that could be made still better by pre-reviews and editing yet another mont sure, do it if you got the time. If not don't waste a cycle but send it in.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Of course. Never let perfect be the enemy of hitting the grant submission deadline also applies.

  • new PI says:

    Okay, I have to ask: Could you describe the major factors determining credibility?

    My imposter syndrome is pretty bad, so little I write feels credible to me. I force myself to send it out anyway.

    I applied for two big grants last year, one NIH and one private. I finished the NIH one hours before the deadline. I was generating data to the last minute. Only one person, a scientist friend who's not a PI, had given me feedback on it. (If it makes you feel better, I knew that not getting more feedback was Very Bad, that not finishing it sooner was Very Bad, and that I was a Very Bad PI for not planning everything better.) It got a near-perfect score and was funded. For the next grant, I got feedback from two senior PIs. One said, "This needs a ton of work before it can go in. It's not there." He told me this after the deadline, which he had forgotten. That proposal got funded too.

    Maybe neither should've been funded. Neither seems credible to me. Maybe I appear more credible than I am, or maybe I don't, and I just got lucky. I would like to understand better what affects credibility.

  • qaz says:

    If it got funded then it was credible. "Credible" in this context has nothing to do with whether it's good science or whether it should have gotten funded. "Credible" means that it has a shot at getting funded. (Say could be reasonably expected to belong in the top 75% of grant applications.)

    What DM is pointing out is that submitting random strings of letters generated by a random number generator is not submitting a credible grant. So it doesn't count as submitting every cycle if one is submitting a random-generated grant every cycle.

    Yes, you got lucky. Congratulations. Welcome to the Pros. Now go do some good science with it.

    Your senior PI is playing the old game. This is the problem lots of my colleagues have. They grew up in a time when a great grant got funded close to 100% of the time. That meant it was worth making sure that you put in a great grant. That's not true anymore. Since a great grant might get funded 40% of the time and a pretty good grant 30% of the time, turning in a few pretty good grants is a better tactic than working up a great grant. I HATE when my senior colleagues tell my junior colleagues not to turn in the grant because "it's not there". If you don't submit it, you don't get funded. End of story.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What DM is pointing out is that submitting random strings of letters generated by a random number generator is not submitting a credible grant. So it doesn't count as submitting every cycle if one is submitting a random-generated grant every cycle.

    Yes, and the app must be one that more or less meets study section (read, subfield) expectations for a half decent grant.

    Not too many typos. Aims that look like Aims. At least a sniff of a hypothesis. Experimental methods described somewhat. Preliminary data as appropriate. Significance and Innovation. All the "other stuff" like Personnel Justification and Vertebrate Animals completed seriously. Some sign of an Innovation section, some discussion of how you will interpret the results and what they mean. Scope of work that matches the budget/mechanism. Investigator/Environment attributes that are minimally qualified.

    I am sure my grants vary in attention to detail, how can they not? But don't get too caught up in individual study section comments either. I've had lots of "this exquisitely written/prepared proposal" types of comments. I get the occasional comment along the lines of "what a disappointing, typo ridden disgrace from this guy" too. But those have come on grants where there were literally *two* typos in the entire thing. And on apps where I am really hard pressed to determine where I fell down more than my usual on the detail work. And I can't remember a single time when all three reviewers said it was a crappy excuse of a document. So really I think that I have submitted 100% credible apps* and that the variance is just reviewer opinion of the gestalt proposal. On both positive and negative sides.

    * there have been many where the *science* was not viewed as credible but this is a different thing.

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