Ouch! (UPDATED)

Busy, busy, busy, am I. We’re done moving the lab to the new digs and its looking great. We’re organized and running experiments again. This is a GoodThing.

On the other hand, we got three scores and/or grant reviews back this week. No good news on that front. My first grant submission to come back with a score got funded, 1 for 1. Now we’re down to 1 for 4. Well, what can you expect, funding is tight and we’re still hitting .250. There was one little thing that sort of irked me though

I don’t have a summary statement for one of the NIH grants yet. That one was unscored but it was for one of these new mechanisms so I’m sure they got 1,000 apps and funded 3 (but they say all grants will get a summary statement). What can you do. Another was a summary statement for another NIH grant that I submitted a long time ago. Not much to say about that one. Again, it was for a new mechanism and that got flooded with apps. Apparently they liked the idea but I wasn’t in the fundable range. Fine, we can spin that one into a traditional mechanism and get some more chances. We’ve got more data now too and that project will be just fine.

The one that got to me was from an in-state funding agency. The review was really fantastic. All the words you hope for, interesting, novel, innovative, likely to have clinical impact, etc… There was no score though (something about a quintile) and no hint of how the review panel actually reviewed the peer review comments. I can go back with this app again but I have no idea how to fight to get into the fundable range. Really, not a single sign of criticism in the review. This is frustrating because the apps end up in front of a panel with their reviews attached and some mysterious process ensues that funds a few grants and puts the others into catagories that no one understands. Everyone I know that sent one of these is in the same quintile. How can that be?

Having said all that, I do not envy the jobs of the people on that review panel in the least. A small group of people are tasked with choosing the best grants from fields in which they mostly have no direct experience. On top of that they have to deal with state budgets that fluctuate much more wildly than NIH or any other granting agency I am aware of. Rumor is that they had less than half the money of the previous year. To add to that difficulty, they are supposed to rotate the focus areas in a manner that is somewhat secretive. How that decision is made I have no idea but I can guess it comes from state reps who are beholden to special interests in their constituencies. While I wish I knew something about the decision process, perhaps its better that I don’t.

Oh well, at least the review was good, and this bodes well for another grant that is at NIH on the same topic. Fingers crossed, that one gets reviewed very soon and its a traditional mechanism so I have a shot to go back after getting some more thorough feedback.

Now that I’ve written all this I am wondering, why do I keep going after these new mechanisms that turn into lotteries due to the flood of apps? Maybe I should be concentrating more of my efforts on more traditional mechanisms with set, regular deadlines and definite chances for resubmission.

UPDATE:
Well, we got the summary statements back for the other NIH grant today (not sure who’s working at NIH on Sunday but apparently someone is). They didn’t think it was a perfect fit for the specific funding mechanism (which has limited funding and a strict mandate apparently from Congress). This is a tad disappointing because apparently the reviewers were a bit torn on whether it fit or not. On the other hand, the reviews of the science were among the best I have ever gotten. The reviewers clearly got it and thought it was innovative and high impact (scientifically and clinically). This is very exciting for me because this app was a new direction for me and it is one that I am very excited about. They were also not put off by my lack of experience with some of the techniques as they thought it was reasonable and that I had demonstrated sufficient productivity to justify taking such a new direction. Would have loved to get the money but color me excited. This one will be going in via another mechanism soon!!

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13 responses to “Ouch! (UPDATED)

  1. Unless you have some numbers available from somewhere, you can’t really assume the “flood” is changing your odds. Suppose you sent in an unsolicited R01…how do you assess what the denominator is? Your funding IC as a whole? The pool of apps that is relevant to the same IC subdivision?

    I dunno, seems a fools’ errand to worry about that sort of thing. If some new mechanism pops up and you have a relevant idea, go for it.

  2. Dude, I have submitted and had scored 5 R01s and 1 R21.

    Two of the R01s have been funded, one as an A0 and one as an A2. One R01 was triaged and I let it die–this one I submitted between taking the offer for my tenure-track position and actually opening my lab. One is sitting moribund after the A1 submission got around a 17 %ile. One was a EUREKA app that was unscored–only ~20% of those even got scored, according to program.

    The R21 was the one I was complaining about here before, on a screen for novel pain treatments. Dead as an A2.

    The basic project of the EUREKA grant I just submitted this week as a regular R01.

    If you want good funding, you gotta just keep firing those fuckers out there!!!!!

  3. Unless you have some numbers available from somewhere, you can’t really assume the “flood” is changing your odds

    One of them was most certainly a flood. More than 2000 apps, 20 something funded ~ 1%. I spoke to several people about that one and they got more apps than they ever dreamed possible.

    I dunno, seems a fools’ errand to worry about that sort of thing. If some new mechanism pops up and you have a relevant idea, go for it.

    If you want good funding, you gotta just keep firing those fuckers out there!!!!!

    Don’t worry, I’m gonna keep firing off apps at every opportunity. We’ve got 3 more going out in the next 3 months.

  4. Ouch indeed! But as they say, just keep firing them out there, and given the state of funding don’t take it too personally.

    The state one does seem odd though. Is there a program officer or something you could check with for more details?

    Still, three more grants in the next three months. I guess that despite everything, I should enjoy this postdoc time. I actually get to do experiments!

  5. Ah.. So sorry!!!. Really… you are doing the right thing getting over it and moving on. I have a colleague- a highly pedigreed colleague at a super institution- who turned in 27 grants and got 2. If I told you who the pedigree was, and how bright this fellow is you would be shocked. DrMrA submitted in the neighborhood of 20 federal grants and got 2 (all traditional mechanism, only 1 to a special RFA, I think).

    Traditional or non-traditional mechanism- right now it doesn’t matter- its a crap shoot either way.

  6. Still, three more grants in the next three months. I guess that despite everything, I should enjoy this postdoc time. I actually get to do experiments!

    Yep. Enjoy it while you can!

    Still, while JP may not be quite there yet, you do start getting to take advantage of prior work. Keep that in mind when we PI type are whining about the rate of grant submissions! Grant revisions take relatively less time than first-submissions. I’d say one can easily do most routine revision in 1/3 or 1/4 of the time required for a new app. Also, much of the boilerplate can be re-used from app to app in a given subarea of your lab. and (shhh) people have been known to essentially do search-and-replace proposals now and again :-)

    ultimately this means that after a few grants under the belt, pumping out 1-2 apps per round isn’t as hard as it might sound.

    with that said, I do go through burnout cycles. My first big burnout only lasted through a round, after which I put in as many in 3 mo interval as I ever have. two new, including an area almost completely novel to me, one pilot, two revisions… which resulted in another interval of burnout. grant writing and scientific, actually. I think I’ve only done two very minimally revised submissions in the following 12 months. And yet, I find my motivation returning (finally) with at least three new ideas for proposals really firing me up.

    All is cyclical.

  7. Another way to exert leverage is to use the same preliminary data in support of multiple different applications with, of course, different specific aims.

  8. drdrA’s comment reminded me of this post, for some reason.

    http://drugmonkey.wordpress.com/2007/10/17/open-access-grantsmanship/

    I was summarizing my grant submitting stats a bit.

    If I told you who the pedigree was, and how bright this fellow is you would be shocked.

    Not necessarily. Sometimes these types feel like they are too cool to understand how the process works and how to make it work for them. If you don’t bother to learn, you are going to put your brilliance at a disadvantage, funding-wise.

    I will fully admit that I learned many grant writing lessons the hard way. Lessons that I didn’t fully understand until I sat on a few rounds of study section in some cases. And even with my current understanding, there is no guarantee that I can actually put all those hard-won lessons into practice when writing new grants. I get better but am far from perfect (and I’ve seen some really kickass examples of excellent grant writing while on study section so I know just how far away my writing is!)

  9. Another way to exert leverage is to use the same preliminary data in support of multiple different applications with, of course, different specific aims.

    We’re doing that. A couple of nice experiments can give you some serious run in the prelim data section.

  10. Another way to exert leverage is to use the same preliminary data in support of multiple different applications with, of course, different specific aims.

    This is one reason why pursuing technology development projects–if this is the kind of science you enjoy–can be a great strategy. Once you have preliminary data demonstrating that a new technology works, you can churn out multiple applications with specific aims pursuing the use of the technology in different areas. I love tool development, so this is something we focus on in my lab.

  11. Echoing the comments of others I am reminded of the lottery analogy: you can’t win if you don’t play.

    As for those state things, you are on the right track in interpreting your good scientific review. Stakeholder pet areas and programmatic priorities carry much more weight in these situations than at NIH. Still, if those apps are pretty short, keep firing them in when you can.

  12. Picking yourself up and applying again is one of the things I’ve found hard to learn as a faculty member. Maybe it’s partly my field – there are limited mechanisms for funding, most have very infrequent rounds (one a year in several cases), and until recently resubmission was forbidden – even if you were one or two projects off funding, you couldn’t resubmit the same project. Fortunately that’s changed – but you still can’t resubmit immediately.

    I’ve just started being on the ‘other side’ – sitting on a selection panel myself – and it has been a very interesting experience…

  13. I often worry that

    Picking yourself up and applying again is one of the things I’ve found hard to learn

    identifies a source of tilt or pressure toward what I might describe as male-typical combative responses to critique.

    I have little in the way of hard evidence. A few anecdotes would suggest that men respond outwardly with “I’ll show those !%$^$@#^@” whereas women (again, anecdotal!) might respond with more self-doubt.

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