Archive for the 'NIH' category

End of year pickups

Sep 29 2015 Published by under NIH, NIH funding

It's one of those times of years to go a-RePORTERing, my friends. Select 9/1 or 9/15 in the Project Start Date field and put your favorite IC in the field for that.

As the NIH reaches the end of the federal fiscal year, they have to balance their budget. Meaning that in many cases they will pick up out-of-order grants to satisfy some goal or other. No doubt sometimes it is just making the dollars and cents add up by slotting in a few more R03 or R21 grants.

Maybe it is a chance for them to trigger on priorities that they have been letting simmer on the back burner or maybe it is a class of grants that has to wait until the end of the year for some reason. BigMechs seem to be funded during September in several of my favorite ICs.

I seem to notice SBIR/STTR grants (R41, R42, R43, R44 mechs) rolling out, which makes sense. The overall NIH has a certain percentage it has to meet in terms of SBIR awards and I assume this rolls downhill to the IC level. So this is part of the balancing of books for the final accounting.

The thing I was noticing this year is that the list of grant awards from my favorite ICs seems...interesting. To me anyway. And given when I tend to find interesting (i.e., the unusual) it would be no surprise if this was as feature not a bug. I.e, real.

Look at it this way. The unusual has the potential to be treated somewhat poorly by study sections or it wouldn't be an unusual application. If you subscribe to a view that study sections suffer from a certain conservatism (and I do subscribe) than it makes sense that the end of year pickups might be interesting due to them being unusual. Perhaps there are POs who likewise look at the list of near-misses and are attracted to the grant application that offers a little breath of fresh air. Perhaps it is because there are the odd RFA extras that can be squeezed under the budget line.

...or maybe I am extrapolating too far from very limited data.

13 responses so far

Recruiting faculty

Professors L. Vosshall, C. Bargmann and N. Tronson were discussing the representation of women in the pools of applicants for faculty jobs the other day.

I surmised from the Twittscussion that they find that too few women are applying in their respective searches. These three are very well known neuroscientists so it isn't like they don't have the usual connections, either.

So what would you suggest?

How can a faculty member on a search committee work to get more underrepresented* individuals into the mix for a new hire?

*we can broaden this beyond just sex disparity

58 responses so far

Glam cost

Sep 24 2015 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Academics, Careerism, Fixing the NIH

How much do you think it costs to generate the manuscript that is accepted for publication at your average Glam journal?

How do you align this with your views on fair distribution of research funding?

52 responses so far

Poll of the day

Sep 16 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

Do you now, or have you ever, thought that a "Co-PI" was an official designation on an NIH grant?

Where did you come by this notion, if you have?

How recently have you had colleagues describe this as a real thing (and not as a confusion for the Multi-PI)?

Are there other major or minor funding agencies you are aware of that use "Co-PI" in some formal way?

Is it the same as NIH's Multi-PI or more like the "co-I, but better" implied by the old, inaccurate use with respect to NIH grants? 

33 responses so far

Thought of the day

Sep 15 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism, Uncategorized

If you are not the (or a) PI on a grant, you can be cut off of it at any time. 
Where do people get the idea they have rights independent of the PI's plans? 

32 responses so far

NIDDK tries to help its K-awardees succeed

Sep 11 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics, NIH Careerism

NIDDK announced a Limited Competition: Small Grant Program for NIDDK K01/K08/K23 Recipients (R03)

The stated goal is clearly one of helping their new generation of hand-picked (ok, study section picked) scientists succeed.

Through the use of this mechanism, the NIDDK is seeking to enhance the capability of its K01, K08, and K23 award recipients to conduct research as they complete their transition to fully independent investigator status. .... The R03 is, therefore, intended to support research projects that can be carried out in a short period of time with limited resources and that may provide preliminary data to support a subsequent R01, or equivalent, application.

$50k direct for two years is what the R03 gets you. Not all that much for a launch to full independence but better than nothing. What does NIDDK think they will accomplish for the awardee?

Increased fiscal independence for the award recipient as a precursor to complete independence.

An opportunity for the recipient to generate additional publications and data to support a subsequent R01 application.

An opportunity for the awardee to demonstrate additional success in the peer review process during the course of their career development award.

Ok, the third one is easy- accomplished by definition and a benefit not to be sneezed at. Valid.

Increased fiscal independence? Well.....maybe. If the poor K-awardee is hooked up with jerk mentors, this may not be enough. If the PI is not a jerk, the K-awardee probably already controls this much budget from the surrounding projects. But sure, every bit of independent PI-status R-mech funding helps. Valid.

The middle one though. Helps to get a publication? Maybe. For some people. And depending on the other available funds, sure this will permit preliminary data to be generated. I'm giving this goal partial marks. analysis says this is basically well intentioned and will slightly help the awardees to move up the career arc. It isn't anywhere enough, in my view. I'd rather see something R01ish for this purpose. If NIDDK really wants a hard launch, that would be smarter and more successful.

9 responses so far

NIH reminds conference organizers to watch the bias against women, etc

Sep 09 2015 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Careerism

We were just talking about a site which tracks conferences in the neurosciences to determine how well their speaker list reflects the sex distribution of subfield neuroscientists.

The fact that there is a need for, and a lot of applause for, such a site is interesting in view of this recent notice from the NIH.

NOT-OD-15-152 includes this comment:

NIH-Supported Conferences and Scientific Meetings
The NIH recognizes the value of supporting high quality scientific conferences and meetings relevant to its mission and to public health.   These conferences are enhanced when they welcome participants and presenters from all backgrounds, and when barriers to participation are eliminated.  Therefore, a critical component of the application for NIH conference support is documentation of representation of women, racial/ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and other individuals who are underrepresented in science in the planning and implementation of, and participation in the proposed conference. See, Guidelines for Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in NIH-Supported Conference Grants Policy, NOT-OD-03-066

Consistent with Federal civil rights laws, it is expected that organizers of NIH-supported conferences and scientific meetings take steps to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all attendees by providing an environment free from discrimination and harassment, sexual or otherwise. 

4 responses so far

A medium sized laboratory

How many staff members (mix of techs, undergrads, graduate students, postdocs, staff sci, PI) constitute a "medium sized laboratory" in your opinion? 

36 responses so far

Grantsmack: The logic of hypothesis testing

Aug 26 2015 Published by under Grant Review, NIH, NIH Careerism

NIH grant review obsesses over testing hypotheses. Everyone knows this.

If there is a Stock Critique that is a more reliable way to kill a grant's chances than "There is no discernible hypothesis under investigation in this fishing expedition", I'd like to know what it is.

The trouble, of course, is that once you've been lured into committing to a hypothesis then your grant can be attacked for whether your hypothesis is likely to be valid or not.

A special case of this is when some aspect of the preliminary data that you have included even dares to suggest that perhaps your hypothesis is wrong.

Here's what bothers me. It is one thing if you have Preliminary Data suggesting some major methodological approach won't work. That is, that your planned experiment cannot result in anything like interpretable data that bears on the ability to falsify the hypothesis. This I would agree is a serious problem for funding a grant.

But any decent research plan will have experiments that converge to provide different levels and aspects of testing for the hypothesis. It shouldn't rest on one single experiment or it is a prediction, not a real hypothesis. Some data may tend to support and some other data may tend to falsify the hypothesis. Generally speaking, in science you are not going to get really clean answers every time for every single experiment. If you do.....well, let's just say those Golden Scientist types have a disproportionate rate of being busted for faking data.


If you have one little bit of Preliminary Data in your NIH Grant application that maybe, perhaps is tending to reject your hypothesis, why is this of any different value than if it had happened to support your hypothesis?

What influence should this have on whether it is a good idea to do the experiments to fully test the hypothesis that has been advanced?

Because that is what grant review should be deciding, correct? Whether it is a good idea to do the experiments. Not whether or not the outcome is likely to be A or B. Because we cannot predict that.

If we could, it wouldn't be science.

45 responses so far

Grantsmack: Overambitious

Aug 25 2015 Published by under Grant Review, NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

If we are entering a period of enthusiasm for "person, not project" style review of NIH grants, then it is time to retire the criticism of "the research plan is overambitious".

There was a comment on the Twitters to the effect that this Stock Critique of "overambitious" is a lazy dismissal of an application. This can use some breakdown because to simply dismiss stock criticisms as "lazy" review will fail to address the real problem at hand.

First, it is always better to think of Stock Critique statements as shorthand rather than lazy.

Using the term "lazy" seems to imply that the applicant thinks that his or her grant application deserves a full and meticulous point-by-point review no matter if the reviewer is inclined to award it a clearly-triagable or a clearly-borderline or clearly-fundable score. Not so.

The primary job of the NIH Grant panel reviewer is most emphatically not to help the PI to funding nor to improve the science. The reviewer's job is to assist the Program staff of the I or C which has been assigned for potential funding decide whether or not to fund this particular application. Consequently if the reviewer is able to succinctly communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the application to the other reviewers, and eventually Program staff, this is efficiency, not laziness.

The applicant is not owed a meticulous review.

With this understood, we move on to my second point. The use of a Stock Criticism is an efficient communicative tool when the majority of the review panel agrees that the substance underlying this review consideration is valid. That is, that the notion of a grant application being overambitious is relevant and, most typically, a deficiency in the application. This is, to my understanding, a point of substantial agreement on NIH review panels.

Note: This is entirely orthogonal to whether or not "overambitious" is being applied fairly to a given application. So you need to be clear about what you see as the real problem at hand that needs to be addressed.

Is it the notion of over-ambition being any sort of demerit? Or is your complaint about the idea that your specific plan is in fact over-ambitious?

Or are you concerned that it is unfair if the exact same plan is considered "over-ambitious" for you and "amazingly comprehensive vertically ascending and exciting" when someone else's name is in the PI slot?

Relatedly, are you concerned that this Stock Critique is being applied unjustifiably to certain suspect classes of PI?

Personally, I think "over-ambitious" is a valid critique, given my pronounced affection for the NIH system as project-based, not person-based. In this I am less concerned about whether everything the applicant has been poured into this application will actually get done. I trust PIs (and more importantly, I trust the contingencies at work upon a PI) of any stage/age to do interesting science and publish some results. If you like all of it, and would give a favorable score to a subset that does not trigger the Stock Critique, who cares that only a subset will be accomplished*?

The concerning issue is that a reviewer cannot easily tell what is going to get done. And, circling back to the project-based idea, if you cannot determine what will be done as a subset of the overambitious plan, you can't really determine what the project is about. And in my experience, for any given application, there are going to usually be parts that really enthuse you as a reviewer and parts that leave you cold.

So what does that mean in terms of my review being influenced by these considerations? Well, I suppose the more a plan creates an impression of priority and choice points, the less concern I will have. If I am excited by the vast majority of the experiments, the less concern I will have-if only 50% of this is actually going to happen, odds are good if I am fired up about 90% of what has been described.

*Now, what about those grants where the whole thing needs to be accomplished or the entire point is lost? Yes, I recognize those exist. Human patient studies where you need to get enough subjects in all the groups to have any shot at any result would be one example. If you just can't collect and run that many subjects within the scope of time/$$ requested, well.....sorry. But these are only a small subset of the applications that trigger the "overambitious" criticism.

42 responses so far

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