What do you do in this situation?

I got my summary statement for my triaged grant. Frankly, I am surprised that it got triaged (and so were the others that read it — both the grant and the summary statement). The comments were quite enthusiastic and I basically got hit for not enough preliminary data. One reviewer wanted to see preliminary data on just about everything but still managed to make some highly enthusiastic comments on significance and novelty. The other asked for some key things that we were already moving on but that are going to take a few months to wrap up. Overall the comments were very useful and immediately doable. Our plan is in place and I think we see a light at the end of this tunnel.

There are two problems though:
1) One criticism was a tad off kilter, me thinks. I was criticized for never having run an R01 program. Hello, I have new investigator status (clearly stated on the facepage of the grant and the summary statement). Moreover, it was suggested that maybe I should go for an R21 to get more data. Hello again, isn’t NIH explicitly urging new investigators to go for R01s. Why does this continue to happen? I’m thinking that I should respond with a link to the new investigator initiative webpage from NIH. Sound reasonable?

2) Since the R01 went in we’ve started another project that is starting to show revolutionary potential. I hate to toot my own horn in such a manner but it really does appear to be a truly paradigm shifting finding (at least for my area but I can think of a few others where it would be a major splash). Obviously we’ve got a long-way to go but everyone is very excited about it. In the meantime, we’ve got some related but not so groundshaking things to do to revise the R01. Because we’ve got limited resources (and because I’m not worried about scoopage) we can really only do one thing at a time. I know what the right answer is, go for the money because it will facilitate everything else. We can get this R01 funded with some hard work between now and July, but it kills me to think that we’ve got to put the other project on the backburner for awhile. On the other hand, it would quite literally kill everything if we don’t bring in some funding and I have every reason to think that we will if we focus on revising the R01 right now.

Well, I suppose I answered my own question on point 2. Such is the life of an early stage investigator: Focus!

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12 responses to “What do you do in this situation?

  1. The next competition’s a year off, but if you have something paradigm-shifting, there’s an NIH roadmap opportunity: http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator/. R01 funding rates have to be higher than that program, but the reviewers /should/ be prepped for low-preliminary-data, revolutionary ideas.

    Hang in there JP!

  2. I’m thinking that I should respond with a link to the new investigator initiative webpage from NIH. Sound reasonable?

    No. It is too snarky. I suggest either ignoring that criticism, or answering it by explaining that the extensive preliminary data obtained in your lab by personnel under your supervision provides strong evidence that you are capable of “running an R01 Program”.

  3. Re: new investigator.. all I have to say is I get this crap too. and DUH. You should respond to it in a nice way, but don’t let it go. I like C PPs approach.

    As for part 2- you must, must, must get that R01, everything else right now is optional.

  4. explaining that the extensive preliminary data obtained in your lab by personnel under your supervision provides strong evidence that you are capable of “running an R01 Program”

    That, my friend, is what I am going to say. Thanks for the advice!

    DrdrA, we’re going to do everything we can to get this R01!

  5. I’m curious: is this the new, shorter RO1? Has this gone into effect, as I can’t find it anywhere on the NIH site.

  6. No, there is still no hard deadline for shorter apps. Sometime in 2010 is the official estimate that I’ve seen.

  7. NeuroscienceAssistantProf

    Hey JuniorProf,

    First off, let me just introduce myself: I’m also a junior professor, in Clinical Neuroscience – fMRI, mainly. And I’m also in the process of trying to land my first grant(s). I’ve been fortunate, however: I mentored under an absolute grant-writing wizard, and have learned an unbelievable number of tricks from him. And I’ve had initial success: I submitted 4 grants in October (2 RO1s and 2 R21s) and got three of them scored below 200 (the fourth was unscored). I don’t tell you this to boast – I tell you because I’m going to make a couple of suggestions below, and I figure you might as well know whether I have a clue or not. I hardly profess to be the grant-writing wizard that my mentor is…but I do have a bit of a clue.

    So:

    The first three things I learned about grant writing were:

    A) Don’t hypothesize ANYTHING that you don’t have pilot data to support.
    B) Don’t hypothesize ANYTHING that you don’t have pilot data to support.
    C) Don’t hypothesize ANYTHING that you don’t have pilot data to support.

    And the fourth was:

    D) There is no point in trying to fight the first three rules.

    I don’t mean to be facetious. For better or worse, those three rules are gospel, and there’s just no point in fighting them. RO1s will absolutely get shot down every time if you can’t show support for EVERY hypothesis that you put forward. And R21s – while NIH says publicly that R21s don’t require pilot data, it’s just not true. While R21s *can* get funded without pilot data, the bottom line is that unless the rest of your application is absolutely perfect, this will not happen.

    I know what you are going to say: if you had the friggin funds to support the collection of pilot data, then you wouldn’t have to write the friggin grant in the first place. True, that: the current system is a terrible one, and is in terrible need of revision. …but again: there’s just no point in fighting it.

    So, what do you do? Well, the first thing you do is you limit your hypotheses to those things that you *do* have pilot data for. That’s right: if you don’t have pilot data, do NOT make it one of your aims.

    I know what your next response is going to be: but isn’t the whole point of science to *progress* science? What’s the point of performing a study that you already have the data for?! Again: true, that. But you have to understand where NIH is coming from: they want to fund the proposals that they believe have the highest likelihood of success. And for better or worse: if you don’t have pilot data, your chances of success are a big fat unknown. Plus – and this is key – once you get the grant funded, you can use the funds to support more research than that which you have specifically said you will perform.

    What do I mean by that last point? Well, let’s work within my discipline: say you have a theory that you want to test that says that anxiety and depression are both linked by similar dysfunction in amygdala response to negative stimuli. But you only have pilot data in anxiety patients, and none in depressed patients. What do you do? I’ll tell you what you do: you write a totally different grant, that says that what you actually want to characterize is the amygdala response in anxiety patients, and that evaluating depression within these participants is crucial because of the well-known comorbidity of both disorders. Now you can show oodles of pilot data showing that you already have evidence pointing to amygdala abnormality in anxiety. And when you get the grant, you now have rationale for evaluating both anxiety and depression…which will allow you to test the hypothesis you really wanted to test.

    Cheating? …I like to think of it as creative grantsmanship.

    Anyway – regardless of how creative you decide to get: don’t even both sending in grants that don’t have pilot data. Your time would be better served trying to find a way to get the pilot data in the first place…

    Hope that helps – feel free to email if you want to continue this discussion.

  8. For better or worse, those three rules are gospel, and there’s just no point in fighting them.

    I have at least 4 NsGA that claim you are wrong.

    /shrug

  9. BM, What the heck is an NsGA?

    NeuroscienceAssistantProf, I have heard from people in some other fields that they always write their grants as you suggest but I think that those guidelines may be highly area-specific. My problem was not that my reviewers didn’t buy into the hypothesis, they clearly did, they just wanted to see more preliminary data from some of the new methods I was proposing. We’re working on that now and hope to have some data soon.

    On the “creative grantsmanship” I can see where I had an opportunity to do that and passed it up. I may go that route in the resubmission.

  10. Notices of Grant Award.

    There is nothing hard and fast about Prelim Data. It depends on individual reviewers and their respective panels.

  11. Kristin,
    In January 2010, R01s are slated to change to a maximum of 12 pages.

    Similarly, Cheryl Kitt, PhD, Deputy Director of CSR NIH recently reported (at a seminar at Big Research University) that R21s and R06s will be restricted to a maximum length of 6 pages in 2010.

    Start practicing the mantra: concise, clear, and to the point!

  12. Kristin,
    In January 2010, R01s are slated to change to a maximum of 12 pages.

    Similarly, Cheryl Kitt, PhD, Deputy Director of CSR NIH recently reported (at a seminar at Big Research University) that R21s and R03s (not R03s as mistakenly posted previously) will be restricted to a maximum length of 6 pages in 2010.

    Start practicing the mantra: concise, clear, and to the point!

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