The proper number of Specific Aims for your NIH Grant

May 10 2016 Published by under NIH funding

The Aims shall be Three, and Three shall be the number of Aims.

Four shalt there not be, nor Two except as they precede the Third Aim.

Five is right out.

21 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals...

    What about R21s and R03s?

  • PI who until recently submitted to NIH says:

    Aim 1: Find a shrubbery.
    Aim 2: Find...another shrubbery!
    Aim 3: Revise and resubmit to USDA because this is a botany proposal.

  • R21s and R03s should almost always have two aims.

  • odyssey says:

    No, no.

    Aim 3: Cut down the mightiest tree in the forest—with a herring!

    I have a one aim R03 pending. It'll be interesting to see how that fares.

  • Ass(ociate) Prof says:

    Amen! I was counseled that two is not enough work and four is too much.

  • SM says:

    In my field, most R01s now have 2 aims.

  • Grumble says:

    I'm going for the elusive zero-aim R01.

  • Philapodia says:

    Only losers 'Aim', which implies that they could miss. Instead of a "Specific Aims" page, winners use a "Revelation of Truth" page.

  • jmz4 says:

    "I'm going for the elusive zero-aim R01."
    -Yup, eliminate all bias. Very Zen.

  • I think this goes for NSF as well.

  • Jane says:

    From my experience as a NIH reviewer, RO1s have 3 aims mostly. I have seen 2 or 4 Aims too but rarely. I find reviewing 4 aims R01s exhausting while 2 aims Ro12 usually have many sub aims. R21s and Ro3s mostly have 2 aims as 3 aims will likely be viewed as ambitious or lack of focus. For my own Ro1 grants, I always include 3 aims.

  • odyssey says:

    It applies to NSF to some extent. The grants there tend to be a bit shorter and have much lower budgets than the average R01. Three aims is the most common, but grants with two are also seen fairly regularly (at least in BIO:MCB). My last two funded NSF proposals each only had two aims.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Pages they are limited, explanations verbose, thus three

  • Another Assistant Prof says:

    The fewer the aims, the less the reviewers have to complain about. I'm going with 2 strong aims for my June R01 submission.

  • physioprof says:

    The fewer the aims, the less the reviewers have to complain about. I'm going with 2 strong aims for my June R01 submission.

    Likely big mistake.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Look. People expect to see three aims. It isn't that hard to work within the expected structure. Why violate expectations? It's leaving easy points on the only do it if you have a good reason.

  • Grumble says:

    "Likely big mistake."

    My last R01 had just two aims, and it was funded on the first submission. Neener, neener, neener.

    "Why violate expectations?"

    Because a 2 or 4 aim grant doesn't automatically result in reviewers saying to themselves, "what is this weirdness? this grant must be nutso." If you have a good reason for 2 or 4, then do it. In my case, the 2 aims each described lengthy, difficult experiments. 3 aims like that would have pushed the timeline well over 5 years.

    It's all about scaling the work to the time - if you do that, reviewers are unlikely to give a crap about how many aims you have.

  • Philapodia says:

    "The fewer the aims, the less the reviewers have to complain about."

    This makes no sense. Stuffing 3 aims of experiments into two just results in two bloated aims. If anything it makes the two aims seem overambitious, whereas the same amount of work split into three aims would seem more reasonable.

  • Bob Dorough says:

    Three _is_ the magic number, after all.
    Seriously, is the structure of a multimillion dollar scientific proposal really so dependent on a societal (species?) preference for sets of three things?

  • Geo says:

    Most successful R01 proposals I recently reviewed had two Specific Aims.

  • […] is Too Damn Big is if you can't figure out how to reduce it from 5 aims to 3. There is a lot of information/thought/chatter  on how many Aims is the Right Number of Aims. Make sure to read the comments, there is some very […]

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