On removing grant deadlines

Apr 20 2016 Published by under NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

Eric Hand reported in Science that one NSF pilot program found that allowing for any-time submission reduced applications numbers.

Assistant Director for Geosciences Roger Wakimoto revealed the preliminary results from a pilot program that got rid of grant proposal deadlines in favor of an anytime submission. The numbers were staggering. Across four grant programs, proposals dropped by 59% after deadlines were eliminated.

I have been bombarded with links to this article/finding and queries as to what I think.

Pretty much nothing.

I do know that NIH has been increasingly liberal with allowing past-deadline submissions from PIs who have served on study section. So there is probably a data source to draw upon inside CSR if they care to examine it.

I do not know if this would do anything similar if applied to the NIH.

The NSF pilot was for

geobiology and low-temperature geochemistry, geomorphology and land-use dynamics, hydrological sciences, and sedimentary geology and paleobiology.

According to the article these are fields in which

"many scientists do field work, having no deadline makes it easier for collaborators to schedule time when they can work on a proposal".

This field work bit is not generally true of the NIH extramural community. I think it obvious that continual-submission helps to schedule time but I would note that it also eliminates a stick for the more proactive members of a collaboration to beat the slaggards into line. As a guy who hits his deadlines for grant submission, it's probably in my interest to further lower the encouragements the lower-energy folks require.

According to a geologist familiar with reviewing these grants

The switch is “going to filter for the most highly motivated people, and the ideas for which you feel the most passion,” he predicts. When he sits on merit review panels, he finds that he can usually reject half of the proposals right away as being hasty or ill-considered. “My hope is that this has taken off the bottom 50%,” he says. “Those are the ones you read and say, ‘Did they have their heart in this?’”

Personally I see very few NIH grant proposals that appear to me to be "hasty or ill-considered" or cause me to doubt the PI has her heart in it. And you know how I feel about the proposition that the RealProblem with NIH grant success hinges on whether or not PIs refine and hone and polish their applications into some shining gem of a document. Applications are down so therefore success rates go up is the only thing we need to take away from this pilot, if you ask me. Any method by which you could decrease NIH applications would likewise seem to improve success rates.

Would it work for NIH types? I tend to doubt it. That program at NSF started with only two submission rounds per year. NIH has three rounds for funding per year, but this results from a multitude of deadlines including new R01, new R21/R03, two more for the revised apps, special ones for AIDS-related, RFAs and assorted other mechanisms. As I mentioned above, if you review for the NIH (including Advisory Council service) you get an extra extension to submit for a given decision round.

The pressure for most of us to hit any specific NIH deadline during the year is, I would argue, much lower at baseline. So if the theory is that NSF types were pressured to submit junky applications because their next opportunity was so far away....this doesn't apply to NIH folks.

6 responses so far

  • rs says:

    I believe it will also have a positive impact at NIH. I have heard from one study section member that theoretically he can submit anytime, but practically having no-deadline only leads to submitting fewer proposals as other things takes over his time.

  • Microscientist says:

    Does this mean that the reviews of the grants are done on a rolling basis? Or is it still the case that to be included in the pile for June review, your grant must be in by March 1? Because if the review dates are still the same then nothing has changed.

  • drugmonkey says:

    April 15, for current version of reviewer continuous submission privilege.

  • becca says:

    Funny, I assumed it mostly had to do with the psychology of applications. Deadlines drive production.

    Put it this way... would you consider teaching a class with no enrollment start, no enrollment end, and no exam/paper deadlines (i.e. a set amount of material that students work through at their own pace, with feedback from you when they submit something)? How would you predict student performance in such a class to go?

  • drugmonkey says:


  • qaz says:

    @Becca - I would think it would depend on the student. There are schools like this. They work very well for a small subset of self-driven students.

    This is the point of tenure. It selects for the subset of people who work their a** off even without tying direct monetary reward to performance.

    As someone who is going to personally do just fine without deadlines, I think it's a great idea. It will help cull other people. 😉

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