NINDS issues a fascinating Notice on R21s
May 14, 2010
The NINDS will continue to accept applications for investigator-initiated exploratory/developmental projects (R21s) for all program areas supported by the Institute. Previous NINDS language stated that R21 proposals were “limited to those with the potential for truly ground-breaking impact”. We would like to emphasize that such impact, as described in the trans-NIH parent R21 announcement (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-10-069.html), can be achieved in many different ways. For example, projects can assess the feasibility of a novel area of investigation, develop new techniques or models, apply existing methodologies to a new scientific area, etc. (see parent announcement for additional examples).
Umm, what? Is what they are trying to say here is that they are no longer insisting on R21′s meeting the criteria of “truly ground-breaking”? Couldn’t they just say that?
Or are they saying that their scare language has dissuaded anyone from bothering to submit an R21 when they could just write a small R01? Or go to some other IC for funding?
Or perhaps their applicants are getting so beat up in study sections which are trying to apply their previous language that they never get anything with a fundable score?
To me this move points the finger square at the problem with the R21 reviews, regardless of the qualifying language used in a Program Announcement. There are multiple explicit and implicit goals for the R21. They are poorly specified, and some are in conflict with each other. Therefore the criteria become a point of much contention in review discussions.
Apparently NINDS attempted to cut through that fog with additional specification about “ground-breaking” impact. A decent idea. Too bad it didn’t work out for them.
There was also this bit at the end which was interesting, and pertinent for many of our readers:
It is important to note that analyses of new investigator applications to NINDS indicate that the success rate for R21 applicants is lower than for R01 applicants (FY 2009 success rates for NINDS R21 New Investigators: 11% vs. NINDS R01 New Investigators: 19%). Given the current policy of the NIH to support New Investigator R01s at success rates equivalent to those of established investigators submitting new (Type 1) applications (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not-od-09-013.html), the NINDS encourages New Investigators, and in particular Early Stage Investigators (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-08-121.html), to apply for R01 grants when seeking first-time funding from the NIH.
Great first step. I’d like to see an argument that advances the cause with study section members who are still operating on the “starter grant” mentality. I’d like to see some NINDS data on productivity of R01 awards to n00bs vs. experienced investigators with 0, 1, 2… other awards.