Thoughts on NIH grant strategy from Associate Professor H. Solo

We spend a fair amount of time talking about grant strategy on this blog. Presumably, this is a reflection of an internal process many of us go through trying to decide how to distribute our grant writing effort so as to maximize our chances of getting funded. After all we have better things to do than to write grants.

So we scrutinize success rates for various ICs, various mechanisms, FOAs, etc as best we are able. We flog RePORTER for evidence of which study sections will be most sympathetic to our proposals and how to cast our applications so as to be attractive. We worry about how to construct our Biosketch and who to include as consultants or collaborators. We obsess over how much preliminary data is enough (and too much*).

This is all well and good and maybe, maybe....perhaps....it helps.

But at some level, you have to follow your gut, too. Even when the odds seem overwhelmingly bad, there are going to be times when dang it, you just feel like this is the right thing to do.

Submitting an R01 on very thin preliminary data because it just doesn't work as an R21 perhaps.

Proposing an R03 scope project even if the relevant study section has only one** of them funded on the RePORTER books.

Submitting your proposal when the PO who will likely be handling it has already told you she hates your Aims***.

Revising that application that has been triaged twice**** and sending it back in as a A2asA0 proposal.

I would just advise that you take a balanced approach. Make your riskier attempts, sure, but balance those with some less risky applications too.

I view it as....experimenting.

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*Just got a question about presenting too much preliminary data the other day.

**of course you want to make sure there is not a structural issue at work, such as the section stopped reviewing this mechanism two years ago.

***1-2%ile scores have a way of softening the stony cold heart of a Program Officer. Within-payline skips are very, very rare beasts.

****one of my least strategic behaviors may be in revising grants that have been triaged. Not sure I've ever had one funded after initial triage and yet I persist. Less so now than I used to but.....I have a tendency. Hard headed and stupid, maybe.

13 responses so far

  • imager says:

    I had grants funded after they were triaged once or twice. Sine it is often the luck of the draw and some comments were just idiotic I felt compelled to retry it after revising. Worked so far eventually.

  • boehninglab says:

    I'm with imager. My current R01 went from triage to 9th %ile.

  • Apologies if I can't find the post, but I haven't seen you address in-person interviews for NIH grants. I have one coming up, and I can't find very much online about how to approach it. Any advice?

  • physioprof says:

    in-person interviews for NIH grants

    Never heard of such a thing, unless you are talking about a site visit. Please clarify the grant mechanism, etc.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    "Presumably, this is a reflection of an eternal process many of us go through..."

    ftfy.

  • SidVic says:

    DM- I have a tendency. Hard headed and stupid, maybe.

    Well if your head isn't hard you will not make it in this biz. Also cultivate the attitude that they(reviewers) are all mediocre hacks and idiots. Otherwise the constant criticism will get you low.

  • physioprof says:

    Also cultivate the attitude that they(reviewers) are all mediocre hacks and idiots. Otherwise the constant criticism will get you low.

    This is a really fucked up and counterproductive attitude for writing effective grant applications. The appropriate attitude to cultivate is that reviewers are engaged scientists who are devoting a lot of time and effort to fair and effective peer review of grant applications with little reward, but who have a lot of grants to review and whose job reviewing my grants it is up to *me* to make as easy for them as possible.

    And note that it is problematic that you can't see any alternative interpretations of "constant criticisms" beyond "I am a mediocre hack and idiot" or "reviewers are all mediocre hacks and idiots".

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Well who else makes ERRoRZ of FAcTS, PP?

  • in-person interviews for NIH grants

    I assume they mean either a site visit or reverse site visit.

  • MF says:

    >The appropriate attitude to cultivate is that reviewers are engaged scientists who are devoting a lot of time and effort to fair and effective peer review of grant applications with little reward, but who have a lot of grants to review and whose job reviewing my grants it is up to *me* to make as easy for them as possible.<

    Yes, I find that it is a lot easier to deal constructively with the criticisms if I assume that *I* must have done something to make it difficult for the reviewers to get how *awesome* my science really is.

    I have to say that reviewing grants (and, especially, reading grants written by graduate students) makes me much more sympathetic to the difficult job that the reviewers have to do.

  • Selerax says:

    "Well who else makes ERRoRZ of FAcTS, PP?"

    Congress, that's who.

    Also, wondering if being frozen in carbonite is a valid excuse for stopping the tenure clock.

  • Doc Ack says:

    My current R01 went from triaged to funded. Meanwhile other initially scored grants never got over the bar. The process seems sadly rather random/noisy.

  • Adam says:

    My lab just had two grants in a row go from not discussed to funded. I've seen it happen at least four times.

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