Thought of the Day

Oct 16 2015 Published by under Grant Review, Grantsmanship, NIH, NIH Careerism

I know this NIH grant game sucks.

I do.

And I feel really pained each time I get email or Twitter messages from one of my Readers (and there are many of you, so this isn't as personal as it may seem to any given Reader) who are desperate to find the sekrit button that will make the grant dollars fall out of the hopper.

I spend soooooo much of my discussion on this blog trying to explain that NOBODY CAN TELL YOU WHERE THE SEKRIT BUTTON IS BECAUSE IT DOESN'T EXIST!!!!!!!!!!!!

Really. I believe this down to the core of my professional being.

Sometimes I think that the problem here is the just-world fallacy at work. It is just so dang difficult to give up on the notion that if you just do your job, the world will be fair. If you do good work, you will eventually get the grant funding to support it. That's what all the people you trained around seemed to experience and you are at least as good as them, better in many cases, so obviously the world owes you the same sort of outcome.

I mean yeah, we all recognize things are terrible with the budget and we expect it to be harder but.....maybe not quite this hard?

I feel it too.

Believing in a just-world is really hard to shed.

69 responses so far

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I am really struggling with a recently expired K award and just a R03 to hang my hat on. And, I am a PhD in a medical school on tenure-track. I still don't have my own space or a private office. I have had discussed and scored R01s that were just not close enough, and even a large money, non-federal grant get top scores and approved for funding, yet they didn't have the money to actually fund it. I am seeing PhDs and post-docs left and right leaving for non-academic positions. My salary has barely budged in several years. I can't do all the things I want to do because I don't have the money or people. Heck, I can't even do some things I need to do to move my science forward and make my grants better because I don't have the money for specific equipment that either doesn't exist at my university or is in labs which have no interest in collaborating (or have failed to follow through--"don't worry, will get to those measurements"--3 years pass by). I constantly get told that I am "so close" and to keep going. So I trudge on . . .

  • boehninglab says:

    One of my best friends shut down his lab, and he is so happy that he is now rewarded for hard work. So sad.

  • baltogirl says:

    As an old-timer who remembers when the world was indeed just (i.e. there was a reasonable correlation between the merit and the score of an application) instead of random. What is hardest for me to accept is the amount of TIME I now spend writing grant applications- 5-6 each year (I submit every cycle). It's like throwing rings at the carnival- you never know when you might get the stuffed animal, so you just keep tossing and tossing so you can break into the single digits from the teens.
    In my view the review system is profoundly broken- starting from the use of only 3 digits to score most discussed grants (2, 3 and 4), to a complete lack of expertise on some panels which results in specious reviews...well, I could go on, but I have another grant to write. I am not going to stop trying until they carry me out of here - I just want to do science.

  • drugmonkey says:

    baltogirl- I don't think there is any "review system" that is significantly better at dealing with the problem of too many mouths and not enough slop.

  • physioprof says:

    "In my view the review system is profoundly broken- starting from the use of only 3 digits to score most discussed grants (2, 3 and 4)"

    This is not a problem with the system. This is a problem with SROs and chairs not properly instructing their reviewers to use the entire scoring range for discussed grants. We do this in my study section, and use 1-7 for discussed grants. A fifty in our study section is about 30th percentile.

  • PepProf says:

    dm - Maybe not. But the current and enduring crisis has brought into stark relief the woeful inadequacies of the current review system. Perhaps not replace, but definitely reform. I have personally sat on study sections that are horribly mismanaged by SROs and chairs that seem to have no clue of how to parse the merits of a proposal (and to avoid the 3-4 score range pileup that leads to random funding decisions).

  • drugmonkey says:

    So maybe if the IC Directors visited each study section they could straighten out all this bad review and everything would be awesome?

  • Physician Scientist says:

    I just got off study section yesterday. Every SS member is doing their best (as is the SRO). Its just such a tight funding environment with such high quality investigators that it takes finding three reviewers who simultaneously score the grant application well.

    If I like a grant, but another doesn't, the grant doesn't get funded. If I don't like it but another does, the grant doesn't get funded. It stinks, but we are all doing our best on SS, and my own grants go through the same process (with high triage/poor score rates and the occasional breakthrough).

  • L Kiswa says:

    "complete lack of expertise on some panels which results in specious review"

    I feel you. Yesterday, I spoke with a PO about a submission going in next cycle. S/he mentioned, in addition to requesting specific study section on the cover letter, to request reviewers with expertise in X, Y, and Z (no more than three areas, s/he said). While I've been requesting specific SS, I'd never thought of requesting specific expertise. Is this a common approach?

    Just saw summary statement on latest reviewed proposal. I'd known about the unfundable score a week ago so I've had a bit of time to wallow and start working on the next one, but the crap comments are hard to stomach. Bah, that'll teach me to look for the summary statement on a Friday night!

  • L Kiswa says:

    It gets "better" :\ .... NSF proposal declined as well. It's getting tougher, but must. stay. positive.

  • Susan says:

    I'm still chewing on my summary statement from my most recently triaged grant. It was that gd reviewer 3. Other two reviewers gave me 3s across the board, third reviewer really really liked my problem or how I stated it but apparently hated approach. And of course it wasn't pulled up for discussion, because who does that at 9pm?

  • Philapodia says:

    "Believing in a just-world is really hard to shed."

    Well you're a ray of sunshine, aren't you...

  • Grumble says:

    Once you realize that you are no more than a monkey throwing shit at the wall until something sticks, you easily shed the illusion of a just world.

    It makes it sooooooooo much easier to take the constant rejection if you fully embrace the idea that the process is essentially random. I don't get worked up about a lottery ticket not hitting the jackpot, so why get upset when my grant isn't discussed? Psychologically, I'm not sure how I could function if I took rejection personally - and indeed, I've seen it eat away at certain colleagues until they leave science entirely.

    Ray of sunshine? You need to find hope where it lies, not where you think it ought to be.

  • Newbie PI says:

    One thing that makes this whole process worse is that constantly submitting grants and being rejected makes it almost impossible to commit fully to writing the next proposal. Each successive grant I submit gets worse, yet the scores stay about the same, and the comments remain mostly useless. I now spend about a week writing an R01 instead of 2 solid months. I'm publishing as much as I can, and waiting til the study section gets sick of seeing my name, or decides it's my turn, or I get friends as reviewers.

    I'm really curious to see what it's like my first time on study section next month. The five grants I was assigned are each so expertly grantsmithed and packed with fake collaboration letters to address any possible shortcoming, that finding faults is like splitting hairs. Yet, the SRO tells us that if we haven't given scores of 5 or worse to at least half of our grants, then we should go back and re-evaluate.

  • jmz4 says:

    On a somewhat related topic, I sat in on a meeting over donors for our ILAF the other day, where they were discussing the topic of the likely upcoming NIH budget increases (and roundly patting themselves on the back for their role in engineering it). So the people in the know think it really will happen, as long as the public support keeps up and no Tea Partiers go rogue and try to sink it (the closest thing they have to leaders are on board for a 2 billion/year for 5 year increase).

    My question is this. If you were charge of the NIH, who would you prioritize with the increased funds, in terms of which investigators at which stages? The group I mentioned seemed to be very much in favor of increasing the ESI pool (the 42 year old R01 stat was brought up, though to this crowd, 42 probably seems quite young)
    Also, would you rather they increase the number of RPGs, or the funding level (e.g make a new ceiling of 275k and actually fund grants at that level)?

  • Philapodia says:

    "I don't get worked up about a lottery ticket not hitting the jackpot, so why get upset when my grant isn't discussed?"

    Because a lottery ticket takes one minute or less to buy for a dollar, whereas a grant takes a month or two of your life to develop and submit. Also, no one in their right mind expects to support themselves and potentially their family by winning the lottery. Bit of a difference here.

    Now I do agree that getting upset about it isn't productive (though we all do, let's be honest) and that you need to develop a VERY thick skin to play this game. But if it is truly random then why do we spend so much time polishing our grants? Random implies that any dog turd may get funded if you're lucky and that reviewers are essentially just pulling names out of a hat, but we know this isn't the case. Understanding that you're selling to the reviewer is what seems to be critical to success. We're salespersons, not scientists, and approaching it like that will help win over reviewers and get you funded.

  • SM says:

    I agree, the system is not perfect, and funding is tight, but it is not a lottery. If someone is thinking of their grants that way, they are probably not putting in enough focused effort to get the proposal to the top of the pile.

    Chances are not 50/50 of getting a proposal triaged. I've spoken to a lot of people about their grant submissions and some people get a lot of their proposals triaged, while others do not. Sure, some people get a leg up based on reputation, but some people just write nice, logical, rational proposals. You can tell when someone put in real effort and it's irritating to read crap proposals. My goal is to write a proposal that gets discussed, not to throw crap at the wall and hope that some sticks.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Sorry SM but I beg to differ. Every single time I have ever been on study section there are two things that happen. Without fail.

    1) really well prepared applications get triaged

    2) crap proposals get discussed on the strength of who the PI is, apparently.

    It is not about "effort" vs "crap".

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @SM: I don't know...I've had a proposal go from triaged on the A1 to funded on the A2, and the difference between the two versions wasn't that profound. That's one data point in favor of the "mostly random" theory.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Oops. That's A0 and A1, not A1 and A2.

  • SM says:

    @ AcademicLurker-one datum does not a data set make. You mention the grant was changed, so there were differences. Maybe manuscripts published between submissions? It really depends on the criticisms of the A0. In some study sections, grants are triaged with a score in the 3 range. If you had few criticisms, just a couple of changes could make a big difference.

    I've submitted 11 grants and never had one triaged (my day is coming, I know). But it shows that the chances of triage being random are slim.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    SM- the anecdote of you proves very little about allegedly objective grant "quality".

  • drugmonkey says:

    Over the course of the past 15 yrs or so, it has definitely moved from where the reasonably anointed (right age, Uni, pedigree) with at least a pulse, scientifically, were never triaged to where they were. From where the BSDs never even had to revise to where they might get triaged.

    So if those 11 grants were in the past two years, this differs from if they were spread over two decades. If anyone pulled this off in the past 2 years, it sure as heck isn't how well they *write*.

  • Baltogirl says:

    For sure, grant application quality has increased over the years. But I still maintain review quality has profoundly decreased. My old panel (I served two terms), which reviews grants on a wide variety of tissues, diseases, and techniques, is now reliably half ad hocs- for the last three sessions, at least. Only a minority (3 of 12 last time) return after skipping a cycle so they can re-review the same grants. New reviewers have different biases. These are the types of problems which cause many of us to believe that even if your grant is well-crafted, your chances of receiving a fundable score are essentially random.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Right but perhaps that is not because of deficits in review but because there are no meaningful distinctions to be made from the payline deep into triage.

  • Baltogirl says:

    Well we can agree to disagree, but when there are 1) more reviewers (the total number actually dropped- probably because the panel is receiving fewer grants); 2) more expert and experienced reviewers; 3) fewer ad hocs; 4) a scoring system which has a better ability to discriminate between the top grants; 5) thoughtful, detailed reviews rather than generic bullet points:
    then I submit that scores will be based more on merit and less on chance regardless of the total amount of money there is.
    And this is how it used to be. Perhaps you are too young to remember, DM, or the panels you receive reviews from/have served on are different. Certainly some of these comments pertain only to a subset of panels. Unfortunately, the one that used to be my review home.
    I am now targeting other panels, which has worked out well at least twice, though not always.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How is any scoring system supposed to do #4? I spent time with the old system and that didn't do it. At best it created specious and meaningless quantitative differences that still failed to keep scores from stacking up around the perceived payline.

  • Zuska says:

    Hands up if you still believe in a just-world!
    Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

  • SM says:

    DM- No, it's not as simple as effort vs. crap. I've seen terrible grants by BSDs get discussed too (though not funded). What I said was that it isn't black and white. Getting discussed is not random and in general, better grants get discussed.

    I agree with Baltogirl that review quality is an issue. Some people don't put in the time to read the grants and give quality reviews. The last grant I submitted, a reviewer criticized that I didn't put a certain set of experiments in the proposal...which were actually the title of an aim. I get it, things are not all fair. But if you treat it like it's random, you are less likely to get your grants to the top of the pile and you create a reputation for putting in crap.

  • Early Career Reviewer says:

    Here's a question for you from an Early Career Reviewer who will be serving on study section for the first time in a couple weeks...

    Let's say there is a senior person working on exactly the same topic you are, and this person has been brought in as an ad hoc reviewer every time you've submitted an R01 (n=4!). They've given you good scores, but not fundable scores. Now the tables are turned and you're invited to review their R01. It will be 100% obvious to this person that you were brought in to review their grant, and since you're an early career reviewer, that you're reviewer 3, thereby completely eliminating any anonymity in the review process. Would you give them the bad score that they deserve or try to avoid making an enemy?

  • dsks says:

    'I once asked a Jesuit priest what was the best short prayer he knew. He said "Fuck it". As in, "Fuck it, it's in Gods hands."'

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @SM: Maybe I was misreading your comment, but I took you to be saying that"serious" applications don't get triaged.

    The point of my anecdote was that the A1 was funded, and while it was indeed changed and (hopefully) improved relative to the A0, no way were the differences so great that one could justifiably call the A1 "serious" and the A0 "unserious".

  • Dave says:

    I am really struggling with a recently expired K award and just a R03 to hang my hat on

    I feel you! I'm mid K and it's squeaky bum time.

  • Grumble says:

    @Philapodia:

    " if it is truly random then why do we spend so much time polishing our grants?"

    Because it's not truly random. The probability of funding within the pool of grants with problems that could have been easily avoided with hard work and preparation is near zero. Whereas the probability of funding within the pool of well-written, well-supported grants is essentially random (as several comments after mine suggest).

    I agree that a lottery ticket and a grant application require different amounts of work. Now that I've said that, I'm going to forget it again so I don't go insane.

  • Dave says:

    ....you are less likely to get your grants to the top of the pile and you create a reputation for putting in crap.

    But do people actually get reputations for putting in 'crap' if they throw in a bunch of shite apps? I've often wondered this, but I guess the SS folk will have to chime in.

  • Dave says:

    This is a problem with SROs and chairs not properly instructing their reviewers to use the entire scoring range for discussed grants. We do this in my study section, and use 1-7 for discussed grants. A fifty in our study section is about 30th percentile

    I just got a 50th %ile score LOL!!

    Rather than proper score spreading, I'm thinking it was a rescue attempt (presumably, 50% are discussed, 50% not discussed). Summary statement should be interesting.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Baltogirl, Is it really true that more ad-hocs means worse reviews? This sounds more like a riff raff argument. Disclosure, I serve as ad-hoc reviewer.

  • Susan says:

    Having been ad hoc, I would agree that without the context of previous sessions, I was not as good, confident, precise, within the values, as a reviewer.

  • profduder says:

    I wouldn't say an adhoc leads to worse reviews, just not as consistent. Applicants get PISSED OFF when the study section emphasizes one thing one time, then another thing another time.

  • drugmonkey says:

    ECR- we all have to make our choices. I'd say be honest but be as scrupulous as you can be to have clear reasons for your scoring. Do remember that the applicants do not see your pre- or post-discussion overall impact score, just the criterion scores. And there is no formula that obliges you to match your Overall Impact score with the criterion scores. Obviously if they are hugely disparate other reviewers may ask but you can always beg off on "I'm new and am leaning to calibrate scores". You are also allowed, even encouraged, to edit your review after the meeting- not sure if that includes criterion scores but presumably it does.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Ad hoc reviewers are sometimes more experienced in the specific topic or techniques of an application. Doesn't this help?

  • BB says:

    Just submitted my first R01 last June, just got it triaged. I wait for my summary statement. I hope that it is helpful and doesn't just make me angrier. I spent months on it, and just submitted an R21 and another grant last week. I don't have pedigree, and I work on a little known (but obviously important, no doubt) organism. I wonder if I'll ever be anointed.

  • Joe says:

    Dave - It often happens that the 50% line falls on a group of 5 or six applications that have the same score. So the SS has to decide to discuss all of those or none of those (or to say you are going to do none of those but encourage people to bring up some for discussion). So it is quite common for the SS to discuss slightly more than 50% of applications.

  • Baltogirl says:

    Juan, my point was that the ad hocs will not be there upon re- review. Every new reviewer is a new point of view..with different criticisms.

  • Dave says:

    Dave - It often happens that the 50% line falls on a group of 5 or six applications that have the same score.

    Ah, makes sense. Bit hard to understand why one would even bother discussing a 50%ile grant though. Surely lots of eye rolling when these apps come up for discussion.

  • Baltogirl says:

    We triaged at about 3.0 at the last study section. These are VERY good grants. In fact having not served for 5 years I was surprised at how grant quality has risen overall during this time.
    Also I do not want to disparage ad hocs. Having an ad hoc in your field is usually a very good thing, because they like your field!
    A study section with half ad hoc members is dysfunctional though, as they will often be required to review grants out of their expertise, and many will not return for the revisions.

  • Morgan Price says:

    This thread is the strongest argument I've ever seen for limiting the supply of grants. What a wasteful process...

  • Philapodia says:

    "This thread is the strongest argument I've ever seen for limiting the supply of grants. "

    The supply of grants is already limited, hence the angst. Limiting grants even more will just cause more angst and increase the rate of the cull, causing more people to lose their jobs and livelihoods. Is that what you're talking about?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Dave- there is also a rule that triage is not supposed to fall disproportionally on ESI apps or the smaller mechanisms. So occasionally this requirement means discussion of applications that would not have been discussed if they were experienced PIs or R01s.

  • drugmonkey says:

    . A fifty in our study section is about 30th percentile

    I have heard persistent rumor of an IC director who "ignores percentile and goes by score" when it comes to the exception pay. So a section such as yours would be guaranteeing no pickups.

    Wheeee, isn't this fun?

  • Established PI says:

    DM - Are you arguing in favor of score compression to raise funding chances for score-focused ICs?

  • drugmonkey says:

    not really. just complaining.

  • Susan says:

    Surely lots of eye rolling when these apps come up for discussion.
    No. Everyone on a SS knows how hard the game is, how serious it is for every grant in the pile, and every last one empathizes with the applicant, and everyone is cringing inside at knowing how few will actually be funded. No eyes roll even at the 50% percentile. perhaps a bit less discussion or scrutiny, as they know it's futile, but eye-rolling? No.

  • Morgan Price says:

    Philopodia -- I mean, reduce the supply of grant proposals and perhaps of PIs as well, and yes, that would probably mean reducing the number of jobs for PIs. Although this may be happening anyway (slowly).

  • Pinko Punko says:

    DM- what section head? Had ESI colleague on 18-19%ile recommended as a no by Institute head so Council did not fund. It was A1, and last application allowed for his ESI status, so it was massive disappointment and could make difference for survival.

  • lurker says:

    Here's my anectdata that the NIH grant game is all lottery for the riffraff like us:

    ~5 years ago, I was only buying 2 tickets per year, and they would all be triaged. I was severely hampered at time not knowing how to conjure up new shitte quickly because of the Virtual A2 ban. CSR actually administratively triaged one of my A0's by citing it a "virtual A2".

    When the virtual A2 ban was lifted, and my eyes were opened to DM and Datahound's blogs here on Scientopia, I learned how to churn my shitte into endless flavors, submitting 6 tickets per year (2 per cycle), all over to different SS' and IC's. Had two applications both get ~30'sh%tiles on A0, ~20'sh%tiles on A1. Paylines at <15% though still meant no money for me.

    So I tweak these scored grants into new A0's to same SS's, and each app now also has a good publication from my lab supporting the work proposed in original A0's and A1's. Both of these A0-new apps are then triaged. Different SS composition, different other grants in the pile. No A2 paper trail to link the progression in productivity from A0's and A1's to these A0-new's. As science and grantsmithing got better, results regressed.

    Only poetry and zen have become my consolation: Do the churn, or else get burned. If not dead yet, more tickets till your luck doth turns.

  • Dave says:

    Dave- there is also a rule that triage is not supposed to fall disproportionally on ESI apps or the smaller mechanisms. So occasionally this requirement means discussion of applications that would not have been discussed if they were experienced PIs or R01s.

    Roger that. This was an R01 but, yes, ESI.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Best way to improve this is to limit all PIs to two submissions per year to all study sections put together. That reduces the number of grants to be looked at by a factor of 3.

  • Philapodia says:

    "Best way to improve this is to limit all PIs to two submissions per year to all study sections put together. That reduces the number of grants to be looked at by a factor of 3."

    This will also increase the number of academic labs that close and academic scientists that lose their jobs, since the business model in many academic institutions relies on faculty bringing in grants to keep their labs open and a good chunk of their own salaries paid. We can start saving cardboard from boxes and hoarding sharpies so those unfunded scientists can have a head start panhandling on the street corner (cue Sarah Mclaughlin's "Arms of the Angel" and ASPCA-like shots of scientists begging on the streets) .

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "since the business model in many academic institutions relies on faculty bringing in grants to keep their labs open and a good chunk of their own salaries paid."
    -Which is at the heart of the foolishness of this system.

  • Philapodia says:

    @jmz4gtu "-Which is at the heart of the foolishness of this system."

    Yup.

    Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure. In other words, don't hate the playa; hate the game. (Urban Dictionary 2015)

  • CD0 says:

    The increasing quality of the proposals and decreasing funding paylines have made very challenging for reviewers to spread scores. However, to get a grant funded, it is clear that you need to submit an outstanding proposal. Period.
    You may not be funded with an awesome grant, but you will never, ever, be funded with a suboptimal application these days. Throwing darts without giving your best effort is useless.
    Every reviewer knows that from the 9-10 grants in his/her pack, only 1-2 will be funded. You are not supposed to make funding decisions, but in practice you take a winner to advocate for. The advocate is the second thing that you need to be funded, besides an awesome product.
    And to get that, in my experience you now need a “wow factor”. Not merely propose, as it used to be, the next logical step in your research, but something perceived as transformational, illuminating and certainly exciting for at least one reviewer.
    The third one is, as previously commented, lack of opposition from any of the other two primary reviewers. And going wild, in order to get that “wow factor”, can get you in trouble with them. You may be perceived as artificially pursuing what is cool in the street, or not having a solid rationale.
    That’s where the system gets random, but any flaw in previous productivity, the absence of well crafted, novel and potentially impactful ideas, cutting-edge approaches, a well written document and clarity throughout the proposal will systematically bring you to the “unscored” pile.
    Finally, to understand how it works and keep sharp, you need to serve in study sections.
    If you are not willing to do it, do not dare to criticize the system.

  • Philapodia says:

    "Every reviewer knows that from the 9-10 grants in his/her pack, only 1-2 will be funded."
    At the study section I've served on, we're hoping 4-5 out of the whole list (sometimes up to 100 applications) will be funded. I've been through several times where none in my (very good) pile were at the top and 7 out of 9 were triaged. Needless to say I didn't have a lot to do during those study sections except dream of the coffee and donuts we weren't provided...

    "Finally, to understand how it works and keep sharp, you need to serve in study sections.
    If you are not willing to do it, do not dare to criticize the system."

    Yes, but service on study sections is by SRO invitation-only and is geared towards Assoc. and full Professors. The youngun's can apply to be in the ESI reviewer program, but otherwise the only way they get to be reviewers is to actually get a grant in the first place and be known by the SROs. This makes for a very weird situation where you have to have to be successful to learn how to succeed, and many ESI applicant's careers depend on being successful in a black-box system they don't necessarily understand. Therefore I see why many are angsty and there is the perception of unfairness.

  • Dave says:

    you now need a “wow factor”

    Puke

  • Philapodia says:

    "And to get that, in my experience you now need a “wow factor”. Not merely propose, as it used to be, the next logical step in your research, but something perceived as transformational, illuminating and certainly exciting for at least one reviewer."

    The unfortunate new way of doing science, chasing vertically ascending glittering objects rather than doing the hard work of actually figuring out how things really work. What this leaves in it's wake is a bunch of incomplete stories that are superficial explanations of natural processes. How is this a good thing?

  • CD0 says:

    "How is this a good thing?"

    Where did I say that this is a good thing?

    "Puke"

    I am sorry if I transmitted an optimistic view. That's not what I think.

    I just reflected the new reality that I have seen in 13 consecutive study section meetings.

    You may bring a different interpretation of the current reality, but that's what I have seen.

    I like it as much as you appear to do.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Nuts, with a one or two proposal limit, the same number of $$ is in play, the same number of grants are awarded BUT

    1. People only put their best ideas forward
    2. They spend a lot more time doing research
    3. Because they spend a lot less time writing grants
    4. And reviewing grants
    5. It limits the multiple award labs that you always whine about.

    Labs will close in any case in this environment, but no one is better off writing a proposal per month.

    BTW, NSF does this in many programs and bio limits applicants to a pre-proposal and from that limits the number of full proposals.

  • francia says:

    As an outsider in a well-funded insider's lab, I have realized the following after my PI won 2 new R01s since 500 US research labs dropped out of the competition between 2012-2013 (to add to >2 he already had):

    Part of the academic "rich getting richer" reflects the fact that, in times of limited funding, there are certain PIs who are safe investments because they WILL push the science forward. I'm not talking about the factory laboratories, and I'm not talking about the PIs who only publish in Science. I'm talking about PIs who a) are brilliant to begin with, b) are inherently lucky (luck HAS to play a role because...goddamn....), c) produce solid, high-quality research that may not be properly appreciated for 5 years by their peers, and d) have big lab families to feed and necessarily large direct costs due to the nature of the research. In this way, I totally understand why ICs end up feeding these "big fish" grant money. You want bang for your buck? Give it to the scientist who produced 30 papers in the past 5 years, none of which are fluff. He also never turns down a study section invitation.

    Relatedly, the R35 mechanism being rolled out by some ICs may be aimed at getting these bigger fish out of the pond to free up money for us plebs.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This is a circular argument. "Those with huge amounts of resources produce more science so we should give them more resources."

    Of course that is true.

    The question is whether it is wise for a large funding body to shortsightedly continue on such a narrow strategy or if it needs a broader view.

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