Study Section: Act I

June 11, 2008

Time: February, June or October
Setting: The Washington Triangle National Hotel, Washington DC

Dramatis Personæ:

  • Assistant Professor Yun Gun (ad hoc)
  • Associate Professor Rap I.D. Squirrel (standing member)
  • Professor H. Ed Badger (standing member, second term)
  • Dr. Cat Herder (Scientific Review Officer)
  • The Chorus (assorted members of the Panel)
  • Lurkers (various Program Officers, off in the shadows)

6:00 am
YG: …up and at ’em! shower, press clothes, I gotta get something to eat…..
RS: “…snore…”
HB: “…snooooooooooorrrrreeee….

8:20 am
YG: (Sitting at table, computer booted up, logged into eRA Commons) …where IS everyone? the SRO said 8:30 and there’s only like half of the room full yet..OMG, I feel like such an idiot. This panel triaged my first four submissions…they must all think I’m such a moron. Do they know my 15th percentile A2 got picked up by Program? hey, there’s Professor Grey Fox, she’s like my total science idol. Maybe I can chat her up for lunch?
RS: (checking email in room, throwing down first cup of nasty in-room coffee, hurriedly dressing with one eye on the email, one on CNN) dammit, dammit, dammit. I told that postdoc to email me the results while I was on the plane yesterday…
HB: …snort, huh? hmm, did the SRO say we were starting at 8:30 or 9? crap I guess I can shower and throw on some clothes in 10. good thing Grey Fox broke us up after three bottles of wine last night..[uuuurrrp].. oooh, those mussels, shoulda skipped those.

9:00 am
Cat Herder: “…and so we must maintain the confidentiality of the review process…”
YG: Wow, this is all so serious…
RS: (Checking email from table, throwing down third cup of nasty coffee, checks text messages surreptitiously)…lazy fucking postdoc, where’s my data??…hey! so that’s Dr. Gun….geeez about time she got her damn grant the way those idiots were jerking her around on those last two submissions
HB: (Wandering in during SRO preamble about confidentiality, scoring, blah, blah, blah; nods at buddies)shit, guess it was 8:30 after all…where’s the coffee? oh man, no more cheese Danish?

9:18-10:10 am
YG: (Dutifully attending to each review, taking notes, opens pdf of each discussed application on computer)
RS: (Sending email from table, two more cups of coffee) “‘Wait…what? Why are your post-discussion scores so bad if all three of you like that one?”
HB: (Rattles off two Primary reviews with panache)

10:15 am
YG: …oh geez, my first review is coming up in about three applications….I’m so nervous….
RS: …oh man, how many cups of this weak ass hotel coffee did I drink already….
HB: …damn prostate….
All: I gotta go…!

11:05 am
YG: …here I go… “This grant has a large number of experiments under each of five Aims. To really explain my preliminary score, I’ll detail a few experiments and then discuss the missing controls in experiments 6-8, 14-18 and discuss the logic of the first..”
RS:(Looks up briefly from data set the postdoc finally sent) …Ha! aren’t the n00bs cute?
HB: Fucking n00bs always think they have to impress us old farts…damn this is tedious. They’re almost as bad as that goddamn Horace! Hmm, I wonder when Cat is going to circulate the menu from the restaurant we’re going to tonight?

12:35 am: Breaking for Lunch
YG: …hey, there’s my PO…I’d better say hi… (Hesitantly) “Hello Program Officer Whatsit, we’ve never met but I’m Dr. Yun Gun from …”
RS:(Cornering another PO, gesticulating wildly) “…and so you see, with this recent result we are poised, absolutely poised for a big finding in ….”
HB: (Doesn’t speak to POs unless they at least direct a division or handle his Center!)

3:30 pm
YG: (Eyes starting to fix into a glazed expression, head pounding from constant concentration on the grants and reviewer comments) …this is grueling! how can they sit there so calmly?
RS:(Surfing internet with window modestly reduced and half hidden behind Commons window for concealment) hmm…anything new pop up on my PubMed saved searches…shit, forgot to confirm my flight in two days to that European conference….oh man, DrugMonkey’s getting a bit ridiculous today…
HB: (Surfing internet, full size window) “Ha!, cough, cough..” (looks around) …that PhysioProf is fucking hilarious!

3:45 pm
YG: (Perking up slightly) wow! finally Professor Horace Grizzler is up for a review..He’s such a great scientist!
Horace Grizzler: (Reading his written review, line by line) “Ahem. The Significance of this proposal is represented by the focus on the functions of the Physio-whimple nucleus in the context of….”
RS: (Heading for the coffee urn) Oh shit, it’s Horace….maybe I can fake a cell phone emergency call…yeah that’ll work
HB: (Heading for the restroom )Oh shit, it’s Horace, well damn, everyone knows my prostate is shot..I can probably make this look good.

5:49 pm: Wrapping up for the day
YG: (Wearied) oooo, I’m beat. I hope I have enough energy to go to the dinner with these folks. Everyone says I have to schmooze….maybe I can go grab a quick shower to recover before 7:30…I’m so tired after this first day…
RS: ” Hey, Badger, Fox, Grizzler, drinks in the bar before we go to dinner? Yeah? Meet you in 15, gotta email a postdoc first…”

14 Responses to “Study Section: Act I”

  1. Lorax Says:

    Thanks for this DM. I fly out this afternoon to attend one of these blessed events and the drama has already started. Sadly, my cohort of people of colleagues is going to dinner tonight before I arrive, but I expect to find them in the bar afterwards. First time on this panel, I hope its not as bad as you make it sound, but experience suggests it will be.


  2. BugDoc Says:

    Too funny, DM. You must have been a fly on the wall in my last study section since this post describes it perfectly!


  3. PhysioProf Says:

    Dude, that’s totally fucking hilarious!
    Are you gonna blog about the dumb fucking asshole study section member for whom study section is the only time he gets to leave the University of Southeast West Bumfuck on someone else’s dime and have an audience forced to listen to him, and who blathers on-and-on-and-on-and-on about some shitball grant application that is gonna get somewhere between a 200 and a 220 (not even close to fundable), and then forces a huge argument about the score range even though the grant is not even close?


  4. DrugMonkey Says:

    Are you gonna blog about the….
    Feel free to write your own vignettes, folks, I love group projects…. 🙂


  5. DM – Darn you! Now my stomach hurts from laughing so hard!


  6. VWXYNot? Says:

    Simply awesome!


  7. dreikin Says:

    Can anyone provide some context (eg, what’s a study section that’s not in the library?) for us not-yet-researchers?


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Can anyone provide some context (eg, what’s a study section that’s not in the library?) for us not-yet-researchers?
    Sure. The study section is the panel of scientists who review a group of similarly-themed grant applications for the NIH. This is the initial (and some might say most important) level of review of the merit of a proposal.
    The Center for Scientific Review of the NIH administers the workings of the majority of panels. A list is here:


  9. dreikin Says:

    Ah! Thanks. Do the scientists go over their own application in front of the panel, or are they presented by someone else?


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    Generally the applicants do not present their own proposal, no. In the vast majority of cases each application is discussed by a subset of 3 members of the panel. Each reviewer presents their analysis. Generally the “primary” reviewer is expected to do the most comprehensive presentation of the proposal.
    There is at least one exception. Some subset of the larger grant mechanisms such as Centers and Program Projects are reviewed by what is called site visit (the panel comes to the applicant institution in person or via video conference) or reverse site visit (applicants travel to DC). For these, yes, the applicants make a presentation of their proposal.


  11. Pip Says:

    Please write more! what happens at the dinner? Day 2?! I’m hooked…
    maybe a comic strip to follow?


  12. Pip Says:

    of the Physio-whimple nucleus, he he he he


  13. TreeFish Says:

    Hey, dreikin.
    Check out
    It’s a mock study section meeting recorded by NIH. Though you won’t see people checking their e-mail, or daydreaming about whether they’ll have Pinot Noir or a brown-mumbler at dinner, it’s still an informative basic overview of grant review.


  14. 1brown1 Says:

    I’m off to one of these next week – first time reviewer and primary reviewer on several applications. I will try my best to not go on and on 🙂
    Please give more details!


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