What if it were about deserve?

Oct 26 2016 Published by under Fixing the NIH

Imagine that the New Investigator status (no prior service as PI of major NIH grant) required an extra timeline document? This would be a chronology of the PI's program to date with emphasis on funding (startup, institutional grants, foundation), how publications were generated, and the PI's scrambling. Another part would focus on grants submitted, score outcomes, revisions, how preliminary data was generated, etc.

Would this improve the way the NIH awards grants?

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(Keep in mind the NIH has wrung its hands about the dismal fate of the not-yet-funded for many decades and created numerous "fixes" over the years.)

32 responses so far

  • Dave says:

    No. To easy to fudge that type of info and there is a lot of subjectivity in how things like this are evaluated. What I might consider a fantastic set-up/opportunity might in reality be much more tricky than it appears on paper. Also, where do you draw the line? What info is relevant, what is not? Personal info? Kids? Divorce? House flooded?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Not personal info, no. That already goes in Biosketch Personal statement.

  • Dr Becca says:

    What do you mean by "improve?" More equal distribution, ensuring labs don't close, etc?

  • potnia theron says:

    I have seen some of this type of info "inferred" at SS. What kind of institution, resources, etc, and what the NI has done with those.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Of course. So why not make it very explicit?

  • drugmonkey says:

    "Improve" in your view.

  • Newbie(ish) PI says:

    Please don't give the NIH any ideas for yet another document to add to our grants!! Especially for new investigators! The people who are doing really well would not be helped by this, and the people who are slow to start will be hurt even more.

    On the other hand, I do think that the amount of startup funds should be listed somewhere and taken into consideration by study sections. It's unreasonable in my opinion that new PI at Small State U is directly compared to new PI at Rockefeller U without information on how vastly their startup packages and other institutional funds differed. Leaving the startup and institutional funds off of the biosketch clearly seems like a policy designed by elites to help them stay elite.

  • Dave says:

    I have seen some of this type of info "inferred" at SS. What kind of institution, resources, etc, and what the NI has done with those

    I guess that's the problem right there. Should this be "inferred" at all without evidence? Also, this kind of subjective assessment most likely will favor some over others when that might be totally unfair.

  • Dave says:

    I do think that the amount of startup funds should be listed somewhere and taken into consideration by study sections

    Great. Mine is $0.

    ......Oh, wait, now I get fucked for "lack of institutional support", "lack of independence" and reviewers destroying me because it might "help me negotiate a better deal with my chair".

  • Newbie(ish) PI says:

    PS - I've been a reader and commenter on this blog for years, dating back to when I first started writing grants as a postdoc. I just recently got my NOGA for my first R01 (just in time for my tenure decision!). The content and comments here have been invaluable to me.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Newbie(ish) PI

    Wouldn't reviewers look at an applicant with a larger startup as indication of "greater" institutional support? If you got two similar applications, but Asst Prof X from small town public college X only got a startup of $100,000 and Asst Prof Y from top notch world-renowned university had a startup of $2,000,000, do you think there would be any bias towards Prof Y?

    I was once asked by a PO about boosting the perception of myself for a resubmission. He asked how much startup money I had, and after I told him, he quickly said not to put the actual dollar amount in my biosketch because it would not be viewed as favorable.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Newbie(ish) PI

    Congrats!

    Out of curiosity, do you have other funding? Does having one R01 secure your tenure? Are you at an academic institution?

  • Newbie(ish) PI says:

    Emaderton: I do not currently have other funding. One R01 should secure my tenure. I had a career award and an R21 before this on the same topic. So it should be viewed as a continued program that has been NIH funded. I am at an R1 academic institution.

    Emaderton again: If the person with 2,000,000 in startup had 6 publications and the person with 100,000 had 5, I know who I would look favorably upon.

  • zb says:

    "I do think that the amount of startup funds should be listed somewhere and taken into consideration by study sections"

    If NIH can leverage Rockefeller's funds to get the science done, why should weight the scale to the underfunded (and thus lower performing) PI?

    I think the argument is something along the lines of "I've done this much with nothing, I could do a lot more with something" -- kind of like colleges want to do to evaluate their incoming students. But, the colleges that take that approach are in the business of providing education and opportunity (and not just producing the most product, whatever that might be).

    Is NIH's role to support scientists (in a broad array of institutions, in a broad array of fields, . . .) or to produce the most science?

  • Dave says:

    If the person with 2,000,000 in startup had 6 publications and the person with 100,000 had 5, I know who I would look favorably upon

    Agreed, but it's more complicated than that when it comes to NIH reviews. See my comments above about how I think this can open up other stock critiques that easily can kill an app dead. And, of course, the person who got 2,000,000 is likely at an Ivy R1, so that's always better......right?

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Newbie(ish) PI

    May I ask what you do for the rest of your support? I am always curious about this topic. I am at a medical center that is part of a R1 institution. However, since I am on the clinical side and not involved with teaching undergraduates, I am expected to provide the bulk of my salary (>90%) which is evaluated at tenure decision time. So unfortunately, one R01 does not cut it. I have repeatedly thought about the pros and cons of being on the medical center versus university side, but I typically come to the conclusion that they both have their positives and negatives.

  • Dave says:

    So unfortunately, one R01 does not cut it

    I'm in the same boat and typically one R01 is enough to gain additional salary support. They're not in the habit of letting people leave with R01s in hand.

  • Newbie(ish) PI says:

    Emaderton: I am required to pay 60% of my salary. The R01 will cover 30% (this was the most I felt I could reasonably request with the modular budget I was shooting for). The fact of the matter is that very few people here meet the 60% requirement, even full professors. The university generally picks up the slack as long as we're productive and have some amount of funding. I know of some instances of very long funding gaps where salaries have been cut, but those are extreme cases. I did a recent search of NIH grants at my university and there were ZERO assistant professors with more than one NIH grant, and yet people are still getting tenure.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Way to go Newbie(ish)!! Congrats!

  • Dr Becca says:

    "Improve" in your view.

    Well, then I am all for this, as it would certainly keep my lab from going under. The cognitive dissonance of hearing I "deserve" an R01 based on all I have accomplished but continuing not to get one after 10 cycles of trying is exhausting.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Dave

    Unfortunately, my institution lets people go all the time that have funding in hand (and that may be for a multitude of reasons). I even know of one person that had 2 R01s that was let go (I have no idea what the circumstances were regarding that decision).

    @ Newbie(ish) PI

    I have actually been putting 50% effort on all of my large grants for the last few years (private and NIH), and I have not been dinged for it so far.

  • Grumble says:

    Congrats, Newbie, but re: "this was the most I felt I could reasonably request with the modular budget I was shooting for"

    That's one reason why you should never submit a modular grant.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Grumble

    Really? I have been advised on multiple fronts to go modular as a New Investigator.

  • Ass(ociate) Prof says:

    "Is NIH's role to support scientists (in a broad array of institutions, in a broad array of fields, . . .) or to produce the most science?"

    I know that this heavily references Datahound and other sources, but it makes a good argument against the $2M startup PI being favored over the small town grocer.

    http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201610/Essay/

    I think that the additional information would simply be used to make whatever argument a reviewer or PO wanted to make.

  • XCSR says:

    I am not sure the idea of a timeline on NI grants would have much effect. Some reviewers would look positively on things like startups, and others would have the reverse reaction. Also, its not likely reviewers would spend much time perusing the details of the timeline, which as Dave said is easily gamed. NIs are advised to focus on the grant quality and get lots of mentor advice.

    I don't know if the ECR (Early Career Reviewer) program has been discussed here. All unfunded investigators should look into this.

  • Another Assistant Prof says:

    "I don't know if the ECR (Early Career Reviewer) program has been discussed here. All unfunded investigators should look into this."

    I have been on the ECR waiting list for more than two years. More than two years! After a recent round of grant review, I spoke directly with the CSO and was invited ad hoc, which was invaluable. However, I know many early stage investigators sitting on that waiting list, and I actually don't know anyone who got formally pulled in by waiting their time on the ECR list - it was always through some behind the scenes nudging.

  • drugmonkey says:

    To easy to fudge that type of info and there is a lot of subjectivity in how things like this are evaluated.
    I am unclear on why being dishonest or fudging any aspect of an application is any more or less likely than any other? Particularly by way of comparison to the narrative structure of the New Biosketch? also see Resources and Facilities.

    I think that the additional information would simply be used to make whatever argument a reviewer or PO wanted to make.
    Precisely.

    Some reviewers would look positively on things like startups, and others would have the reverse reaction.
    As with each and every part of an application, no? opinions vary.

    Also, its not likely reviewers would spend much time perusing the details of the timeline
    Or the narrative of the New Biosketch, but here we are.

    NIs are advised to focus on the grant quality
    ummhmm. What is "grant quality"?

    I don't know if the ECR (Early Career Reviewer) program has been discussed here.
    Oh, it's come up once or twice.

    All unfunded investigators should look into this.
    Absolutely.

  • Dave says:

    That's one reason why you should never submit a modular grant.

    Not sure about that if you're trying to get your foot in the door. Also, even in non-modular, asking for >50% salary support is dicey according to most people I've talked to.

  • The Other Dave says:

    No. The reason that young PIs are disadvantaged has been discussed here. NIH doesn't give funding for the proposed work. It gives funding as a prize based on how much reviewers like your work and ideas.

    If you want funding, make sure that reviewers like you and your ideas.

  • JL says:

    Listing the startup amount is still far from evening the field as expenses vary enormously from place to place, not just fields. I have seen this in close friends. One got more than double the startup than the other. However, the first one pays 90% of his salary in an expensive west coast city. Students are expensive there too. The other person gets two grad students supported by the department and "only" covers summer months.

  • Kh says:

    At my institution, tenure requires not only getting an R01, but also renewing it or getting a 2nd R01.
    Startup varies a lot, and if you get a lot it is because they expect you to spend a lot. You might be expected to spend in order to start 2 major projects at once and not just one (see above), and/or you might be expected to pay 100% of your own salary, as well as postdocs and students without access to departmental training grant funds. Sometimes you might be to use your higher start up to pay more of the salary of departmental old-timers such as older (expensive) shared technicians/permanent postdocs.
    No matter how much data you cram into an R01 application, the reviewers will always want more and they won't be satisfied with less just because you didn't have the funds.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Kh

    My institution has historically been like that as well (renewal plus a 2nd), but they are supposedly coming around that such expectations are not feasible in the current funding era.

    I think one key that DM has emphasized in the past is being able to rework the same preliminary data toward a different hypothesis. I recently did that with my last R01 submission.

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