Grumble of the Day

Jul 06 2015 Published by under NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

I still get irritated every time a PO gives me some grant advice or guidance that is discordant with my best understanding of the process. It's not so much that I take it seriously for my own strategy...I've been around this block once or twice. 

What kills me is thinking that there are poor newcomer applicants who get this advice and may think it is Gospel. This would then lead them into making suboptimal strategic or tactical decisions.

Related Reading:
POs do not understand...

28 responses so far

  • As we have discussed before, POs have many strengths and can give applicants good advice about many things, but what they are pretty much useless for (at least nowadays) is in helping applicants navigate peer review by CSR study sections. The main reason for this is that POs never show up to study section and sit there all day, and thus don't hear the discussion of the full range of grants under review. Being on the phone listening to the discussion of just the grant(s) they are assigned adds zero value to just reading the summary of discussion (assuming a minimally competent SRO).

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Such as? Would be appreciated by young turks to have such advice repeated and refuted. Might also cause PO(s) to correct/update their advice.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This one is a little too fresh to discuss directly JW.....and it is a topic that has appeared on the blog in the past anyway.

  • drugmonkey says:

    CPP- I think it goes deeper. Even when POs would sit in meetings for hours listening to discussions I would notice similar weird disconnects. I think it has to do with being a reviewer that has to critique apps and being one that has decide on a vote score after discussion. Somehow this internal process is not obvious to the outside.

  • physioprof says:

    Of course that's true, but the deeper subtlety doesn't matter anymore, because no POs sit there all day.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I wish you would have posted this about 6 months ago! I just went through this with a grant. My work is very interdisciplinary (engineering and cell/molecular biology), so I tried 2 rounds with one study section then switched to another after conversations with my PO on parts of my proposal being overlooked. Went from a scored and discussed grant to not discussed.

  • Newbie PI says:

    My PO asked me whether I wanted my close-to-the-payline ESI R01 to be considered for select pay OR an R56 bridge award. I didn't understand why it couldn't be considered for select pay and if it didn't get that, then be considered for an R56. My department chair told me that what the PO said was bullsh*t, but that there was really no recourse so I should just choose. I still don't know if what either one of them told me was correct.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Emaderton3- not sure that one is evidence of much of anything. I also recommend trying different study sections but N=1 is never proof of anything. Still true that my best scores and highest number of triages have come from the same study section.

    NewbiePI- so I hope you opted for the select pay option? 🙂

  • Spike Lee says:

    For the noobz: If they aren't sitting in on the discussions all day, then what are they doing? What else would be taking up all their time?

  • Newbie PI says:

    I opted for R56. The PO told me that I had a much better chance of getting that as opposed to select pay which only goes to 2 or 3 grants per round of council review. I assumed I would get the R01 on the next submission. However, my score got significantly worse upon resubmission and now there is no way that I won't have a funding gap. So yeah, I probably made a bad choice.

  • Newbie PI says:

    The other catch for select pay (at least at my institute) is that you only get a 4-year R01 as opposed to 5.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The PO told me that I had a much better chance of getting that as opposed to select pay which only goes to 2 or 3 grants per round of council review.

    Yeah, this was a Hobson's choice. The PO should, IMO, be telling you straight out whether or not their Division will be fighting for your grant as select pay or not. and what the odds are. Not *asking you* which you would prefer.

    It is true that ICs differ tremendously in "select pay" strategy. The Kienholz/Berg book outlines strategies for several ICs and shows some of the ones that are very select about their above-payline pickups and ones that have a more generous policy. So this can give you a way to back check whether the PO is telling you the truth or whether s/he is really saying "we're just not planning to fight very hard for your application"


    SOURCE

  • jmz4gtu says:

    What's up with that NIA bump? Alzheimer's projects?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I don't know for sure but often times these bumps are the ICs' ESI policies at work.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Where POs (at least in non NIH land) shuffle the deck is choosing reviewers, which means it pays to talk to them BEFORE submitting and telling them in elevator talk what you are proposing, why it is important and unique and who you are.

  • drugmonkey says:

    In NIHlandia, POs do not determine reviewers. That is the job of the SRO. There is supposed to be a firewall in place between these two roles. I do know that SROs take offense when POs attempt to stick their noses into the business of the review of any specific application.

  • physioprof says:

    I always feel vindicated by these graphs, as I have always contended that NINDS has a real payLINE compared to other ICs, and DoucheMonkey has (at least in the past) contended that no IC really has a payLINE. Looks like NIDDK is similar. The rhetoric at NINDS is "we leave funding decisions to the peer reviewers".

    And yeah, the bimodal bumps at almost all ICs is ESI apps.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    Why don't some ICs do select pay (for example, NIBIB)? What do they do to balance the books later on?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I believe my position about the NINDS claims to a strict payline was intense skepticism but I always said I was open to the actual evidence proving you correct. Berg found the evidence so sure, I'm convinced.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Also for the noobs--if the POs are not in a position to help us parse what happened in the study sections, is there anyone who can?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Your best bets are your Associate Professor department peers and subfield peers that have recent study section service. But my position is to advise you to listen to everyone and integrate it together to get a more complete picture. Apply dashes of salt for the distance from current study section service.

    (And of course read everything I and PP have said on this blog- when we conflict, remember that I'm right and he is wrong)

  • Ola says:

    @Salty Scientist.
    You didn't hear it from me, but if you were to call up a colleague, or close associate of a colleague, who was on study section, and ask them what flies or not at that particular section, you would not be the first person in the history of grant reviewing to have done so. Nobody will out-and-out tell you to do this, or admit that they do it, but it happens. Don't ask me how I know.

  • NewbiePO says:

    "If they aren't sitting in on the discussions all day, then what are they doing? What else would be taking up all their time?"

    From what I understand, the application to PO ratio has increased dramatically over the last few years (more applications being submitted + vacant PO positions not being refilled). Study sections are splitting too, and review meetings are scattered around the District and Baltimore (plus Chicago and California). And since review meetings are spread out over a few months, other IC business can't consistently be scheduled around study sections. Even as a newbie with a modest portfolio, I've run into conflicting schedules multiple times, so I 'm guessing the problem is much bigger for the veterans in the business. All told, it is certainly more convenient, and sometimes cheaper, to attend the meetings over the phone. But even so, you'd expect to see POs attend at least their main study sections in person, and as far as I can see, that's not happening any more. However, the POs I'm familiar with do listen in on meetings, if not all day, at least for a few hours.

    "Your best bets are your Associate Professor department peers and subfield peers that have recent study section service. But my position is to advise you to listen to everyone and integrate it together to get a more complete picture. Apply dashes of salt for the distance from current study section service."

    This. Plus your PO, and if possible get a second opinion from another PO too. I know sometimes it doesn't seem that way, but from what I've observed, most POs take their portfolios very seriously, but there is tremendous noise all through the system.

  • drugmonkey says:

    My "everyone" is inclusive of POs and SROs. Absolutely.

  • physioprof says:

    "You didn't hear it from me, but if you were to call up a colleague, or close associate of a colleague, who was on study section, and ask them what flies or not at that particular section, you would not be the first person in the history of grant reviewing to have done so."

    You make it sound like there's something wrong with this, but there isn't, so long as the discussion is limited to general patterns of behavior of the study section and no particular grant review is raised.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    I very much appreciate the advice, and I'm really glad for this forum. I have been trying to integrate the advice of POs and colleagues, though of course the challenge as a new PI is separating the good advice from the the less than good. On the NIH PO front, it would be nice if they had a read on what actually is happening in the room during review, though it sounds like this is not the case. My experience recently with an NSF PO was very good in that regard. The PO had been at the panel and was able to give me a better idea about which parts of my reviews seemed to hold more weight during discussion. Must remember to still apply dashes of salt...

  • physioprof says:

    Oh, and some of the bimodal bump is old fuckers being saved from shutting down their labs.

  • Susan says:

    " With the older dudes, it's a brick wall of "well I wasn't there, but looking at notes, you should revise accordingly and resubmit".

    I have two older dude POs and ... this.

Leave a Reply