Search Results for "Your Grant in Review"

Jan 07 2015

Your Grant In Review: Thought of the Day

I've said it repeatedly on this blog and it is true, true, true people.

In NIH grant review, the worm turns very rapidly.

The pool of individual PIs who are appropriate to apply for, and review, NIH grants in a narrow subfield is a lot smaller than most people seem to think. Or maybe this is just my field.

My guiding belief is that the reviewer of a given grant is going to have one of her own grants reviewed by the PI of the proposal she just reviewed  in very short order. Or maybe it takes a half a decade, even more. But it will happen.

And PIs do not take kindly to jackholish reviews of their proposals.

As we all know, in this day and age it takes very little in the way of reviewer behavior to totally torpedo a grant's chances. You don't even have to be obvious about it*.

This is why I try as hard as I possibly can to ground my grant reviewing in concrete reasons for criticism.

Because I want the reviewers of my proposals to do the same. And it is the right thing to do.

We have a system of grant review that is at all times precariously balanced on a knife's edge that could slide off into Mutually Assured Destruction cycles of retaliation** at any time. And I am sure it happens in some study sections and amongst some reviewers.

Mutual Professional Respect is better. It is supported one review at a time by engaging our firmest professionalism to override the biases that we cannot help but have.


illustration from here.


*This is very likely the second hardest decision I have to make about registering a Conflict of Interest in reviewing grants. I have reviewed a lot of grants of PIs who have been on the study section panels reviewing my grants. I am pretty confident this is the case for just about anyone who has served a full term appointed on a study section and probably anyone who has reviewed with full loads in over about 3 panels as ad hoc. This in and of itself cannot be a reason to recuse yourself or they would never get anything reviewed. And as my Readers know, I am very firm in my belief that it is a fool's errand to try to game out which reviewers were on your proposals and which ones were...critical.

**And, gods above, pre-emptive counter-striking.


2 responses so far

Oct 27 2014

Your Grant in Review: Follow the Reviewers' Style Guide

The NIH grant application has a tremendous amount of room for stylistic choice. No, I'm not talking about Georgia font again, nor your points-leaving choice to cite your references with numbers instead of author-date.

Within the dictated structure of Aims, Significance, Innovation, etc, there is a lot of freedom.

Where do I put the Preliminary Data now that there is no defined section? What comes first in the Approach- Aim 1? The Timeline? A bunch of additional rationale/background? Do you start every Aim with a brief Rationale and then list a bunch of Experiments? Which methods are "general" enough to put them at the end of Aim 3?

Do I include Future Directions?

What about discussion of Possible Pitfalls and Alternate Considerations and all that jazz?

Is the "Interpretation" for each Aim supposed to be an extensive tretise on results that you don't even have yet?

In all of this there is one certainty.

Ideally you are submitting multiple applications to a single study section over time. If not that, then you are likely submitting a revised version of an application that was not funded to the same study section that reviewed it in the first place. Study sections tend to have an evolved and transmissible culture that changes only slowly. There is a tendency for review to focus (overfocus, but there you have it) on certain structural expectations, in part as a way to be fair* to all the applications. There is a tendency for the study section to be the most comfortable with certain of these optional, stylistic features of a grant application included in juuuust the way that they expect.

So, and here is the certainty, if a summary statement suggests your application is deficient in one of these stylistic manners just suck it up and change your applications to that particular study section accordingly.

Is a Timeline silly when you've laid out a very simple and time-estimated set of experiments in a linear organization throughout the Aims? Perhaps. Is it idiotic to talk about alternatives when you conduct rapid, vertically ascending eleventy science and everything you propose right now is obsolete by the time Year 2 funds? Likely. Why do you need to lead the reviewers by the hand when your Rationale and experimental descriptions make it clear how the hypothesis will be tested and what it would mean? Because.

So when your summary statement suggests a stylistic variant that you wouldn't otherwise prefer...just do it.
Additional Your Grant in Review posts.

*If the section has beaten up several apps because they did not appropriately discuss the Possible Pitfalls, or include Future Directions, well, they have to do it for all the apps. So the tendency goes anyway.

61 responses so far

Sep 22 2014

Your Grant in Review: Longitudinal Human Studies


Reviewing a competing continuation of a longitudinal human subjects study always has a little bit of a whiff of extortion to it. I'm not saying this is intentional but......


The sunk cost fallacy is a monster.

3 responses so far

Aug 22 2014

Your Grant in Review: When they aren't talking to you.

It is always good to remember that sometimes comments in the written critique are not directed at the applicant.

Technically, of course these comments are directed at Program Staff in an advisory capacity. Not to help the applicant in any way whatsoever- assistance in revising is a side effect.

Still a comment that opposes a Stock Criticism is particularly likely to be there for the consumption of either Program or the other reviewers.

It is meant to preempt the Stock Criticism when the person making the comment lies the grant.

12 responses so far

Aug 22 2014

Your Grant in Review Reminder: Research Study Sections First

One key to determining the right study section to request is to look on RePORTER for funded grants reviewed in your study sections of interest.

Sometimes this is much more informative than the boilerplate description of the study section listed at CSR.

8 responses so far

Jul 15 2014

Your Grant in Review: The Ideal Personnel Lineup

Excellent comment from eeke:

My last NIH grant application was criticized for not including a post-doc at 100% effort. I had listed two techs, instead. Are reviewers under pressure to ding PI's for not having post-docs or some sort of trainee? WTF?

My answer:

I think it is mostly because reviewers think that a postdoc will provide more intellectual horsepower than a tech and especially when you have two techs, you could have one of each.

I fully embrace this bias, I have to admit. I think a one-tech, one-PD full modular R01 is about the standardest of standard lineups. Anchors the team. Best impact for the money and all that.

A divergence from this expectation would require special circumstances to be explained (and of course there are many projects imaginable where two-tech, no-postdoc *would* be best, you just have to explain it)

What do you think, folks? What arrangement of personnel do you expect to see on a grant proposal in your field, for your agencies of closest interest? Are you a blank slate until you see what the applicant has proposed or do you have....expectations?

22 responses so far

May 30 2014

Your Grant in Review: The F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship Application

We've previously discussed the NIH F32 Fellowship designed to support postdoctoral trainees. Some of the structural limitations to a system designed on its fact to provide necessary support for necessary (additional) training overlap considerably with the problems of the F31 program designed to support graduate students.

Nevertheless, winning an individual NRSA training fellowship (graduate or postdoctoral) has all kinds of career benefits to the trainee and primary mentor so they remain an attractive option.

A question arose on the Twitts today about whether it was worth it for a postdoc in a new lab to submit an application.

In my limited experience reviewing NRSA proposals in a fellowship-dedicated panel for the NIH, there is one issue that looms large in these situations.

Reviewer #1, #2 and #3: "There is no evidence in the application that sufficient research funds will be available to complete the work described during the proposed interval of funding."

NRSA fellowships, as you are aware, do not come with money to pay for the actual research. The fellowship applications require a good deal of discussion of the research the trainee plans to complete for the proposed interval of training. In most cases that research plan involves a fair amount of work that require a decent amount of research funding to complete.

The reviewers, nearly all of them in my experience, will be looking for signs of feasibility. That the PI is actually funded, funded to do something vaguely related* to the topic of the fellowship proposal and funded for the duration over which the fellowship will be active.

When the PI is not obviously funded through that interval, eyebrows are raised. Criticism is leveled.

So, what is a postdoc in a newer lab to do? What is the PI of a newish lab, without substantial funding to do?

One popular option is to find a co-mentor for the award. A co-mentor that is involved. Meaning the research plan needs to be written as a collaborative project between laboratories. Obviously, this co-mentor should have the grant support that the primary PI is lacking. It needs to be made clear that there will be some sort of research funds to draw upon to support the fellow doing some actual research.

The inclusion of "mentoring committees" and "letters of support from the Chair" are not sufficient. Those are needed, don't get me wrong, but they address other concerns** that people have about untried PIs supervising a postdoctoral fellow.

It is essential that you anticipate the above referenced Stock Critique and do your best*** to head it off.

*I have seen several highly regarded NRSA apps for which the research plan looks to me to be of R01-quality writing and design.

**We're in stock-critique land here. Stop raging about how you are more qualified than Professor AirMiles to actually mentor a postdoc.

***Obviously the application needs to present the primary mentor's funding in as positive a light as possible. Talk about startup funds, refer to local pilot grants, drop promising R01 scores if need be. You don't want to blow smoke, or draw too much attention to deficits, but a credible plan for acquiring funding goes a lot farther than ignoring the issue.

29 responses so far

Apr 21 2014

Your Grant in Review: The Biosketch Research Support Section

A question came up on the twitts about the Research Support section of the NIH Biosketch.

The answer is that no, you do not. I will note that I am not entirely sure if this changed over the years or if my understanding of this rule was incomplete at the start. However, the instructions on the Sample Biosketch [PDF] provided by the NIH are clear.

D. Research Support
List both selected ongoing and completed research projects for the past three years (Federal or non-Federally-supported). Begin with the projects that are most relevant to the research proposed in the application. Briefly indicate the overall goals of the projects and responsibilities of the key person identified on the Biographical Sketch. Do not include number of person months or direct costs.

The last bit is the key bit for Dr24Hour's question but I include the full description for a reason.

dr24Hours also asked:

and there was a followup to my initial negative response

Together, these questions seem to indicate a misunderstanding of what this section is for, and what it is trying to communicate.

Note the use of the term "selected" and "most relevant" in the above passage.

The Biosketch is, in total, devoted to convincing the reviewers that the PI and other Investigative staff have the chops to pull off the project under review. It is about bragging on how accomplished they all are. Technically, it is not even a full recitation of all the support one has secured in the past three years. This is similar to how the Peer-reviewed Publications section is limited to 15 items, regardless of how many total publications that you have.

Inclusion of items in the Research Support section is to show that the Investigators have run projects of similar scope with acceptable success. Yes, the definition of acceptable success is variable, but this concept is clear. The goal is to show off the Investigator's accomplishments to the best possible advantage.

The Research Support is not about demonstrating that the PI is successful at winning grants. It is not about demonstrating how big and well-funded the lab has been (no direct costs). It is not even about the reviewers trying to decide if the PI is spread too thinly (no listing of effort). This is not the point*.

In theory, one would just put forward a subset of the best elements on one's CV. The most relevant and most successful grant awards. If space is an issue (the Biosketch is limited to 4 pages) then the PI might have to make some selections. Obviously you'd want to start with NIH R01s (or equivalent) if the application is an R01. Presumably you would want to supply the reviewer with what you think are your most successful projects- in terms of papers, scientific advance, pizzaz of findings or whatever floats your boat.

You might also want to "selectively" omit any of your less-successful awards or even ones that seem like they have too much overlap with the present proposal.

Don't do this.

If it is an NIH award, you can be assured at least one of the reviewers will have looked you up on RePORTER and will notice the omission. If it is a non-NIH award, perhaps the odds are lower but you just never know. If the reviewer thinks you are hiding something...this is not good. If your award has been active in the past three years and is listed somewhere Internet-accessible, particularly on your University or lab website, then list it on the Biosketch.

Obviously this latter advice only applies to people who have a lot of different sources of support. The more of them you have, the tighter the space. Clearly, you are going to have to make some choices if your lab operates on a lot of different sources of support. Prioritize by what makes sense to you, sure, but make sure you pay attention to the communication you are trying to accomplish when making your selections. And beware of being viewed with a suspicion that you are trying to conceal something.
*Yes, in theory. I grasp that there will be reviewers using this information to argue that the PI is spread too thinly or has "too much" grant support.

10 responses so far

Mar 14 2014

Your Grant in Review: I Can't Work With This

Reminder. You are going to have advocates and detractor reviewing your grant proposals. Your goal is to give the advocate what she needs to promote your proposal.

No matter how much the advocate might love the essential ideas in your application, nothing good is going to happen if you violate every rule of basic grantsmithing.

At the least you should be able to put together a proposal that gets it mostly right. Credible. Serious. Without huge gaping holes or obvious piles of StockCritique bait lying around everywhere.

It should not be hard to give the advocating reviewer something they can work with.

17 responses so far

Jun 27 2013

Your Grant in Review: How do you know when a study section is a good or bad "fit"?

This is my query of the day to you, Dear Reader.

We've discussed the basics in the past but a quick overview.

1) Since the priority score and percentile rank of your grant application is all important (not exclusively so but HEAVILY so) it is critical that it be reviewed by the right panel of reviewers

2) You are allowed request in your cover letter that the CSR route your NIH grant application to a particular study section for review.

3) Standing study section descriptions are available at the CSR website as are the standing rosters and the rosters for the prior three rounds of review (i.e., including any ad hoc reviewers).

4) RePORTER allows you to search for grants by study section which gives you a pretty good idea of what they really, really like.

5) You can, therefore, use this information to slant your grant application towards the study section in which you hope it will be reviewed.

A couple of Twitts from @drIgg today raised the question of study section "fit". Presumably this is related to an applicant concluding that despite all the above, he or she has not managed to get many of his or her applications reviewed by the properly "fitting" panel of reviewers.

This was related to the observation that despite ones' request and despite hitting what seem to be the right keywords it is still possible that CSR will assign your grant to some other study section. It has happened to me a few times and it is very annoying. But does this mean these applications didn't get the right fit?

I don't know how one would tell.

As I've related on occasion, I've obtained the largest number of triages from a study section that has also handed me some fundable scores over the past *cough*cough*cough* years. This is usually by way of addressing people's conclusion after the first 1, 2 or maybe 3 submissions that "this study section HATES me!!!". In my case I really think this section is a good fit for a lot of my work, and therefore proposals, so the logic is inescapable. Send a given section a lot of apps and they are going to triage a lot of them. Even if the "fit" is top notch.

It is also the case that there can be a process of getting to know a study section. Of getting to know the subtleties of how they tend to feel about different aspects of the grant structure. Is it a section that is really swayed by Innovation and could give a fig about detailed Interpretations, Alternatives and Potential Pitfalls? Or is it an orthodox StockCritiqueSpewing type of section that prioritizes structure over the content? Do they like to see it chock full of ideas or do they wring their hands over feasibility? On the other side, I assert there is a certain sympathy vote that emerges after a section has reviewed a half dozen of your proposals and never found themselves able to give you a top score. Yeah, it happens. Deal. Less perniciously, I would say that you may actually convince the section of the importance of something that you are proposing through an arc of many proposal rounds*.

This leaves me rather confused as to how one would be able to draw strong conclusions about "fit" without a substantial number of summary statements in hand.

It also speaks to something that every applicant should keep in the back of his or her head. If you can never find what you think is a good fit with a section there are only a few options that I can think of.
1) You do this amazing cross-disciplinary shit that nobody really understands.
2) Your applications actually suck and nobody is going to review it well.
3) You are imagining some Rainbow Fairy Care-a-lot Study section that doesn't actually exist.

What do you think are the signs of a good or bad "fit" with a study section, Dear Reader? I'm curious.
*I have seen situations where a proposal was explicitly mentioned to have been on the fourth or fifth round (this was in the A2 days) in a section.

Additional Reading:
Study Section: Act I
Study Section: Act II

39 responses so far

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