Grants, Timelines and the Conduct of Science

September 4, 2010

In the NIH Grant writing game I think it is fair to say that most people are used to describing what they actually plan to do, experimentally, across the proposed course of funding. The application contains something resembling specific experiments or sets of experiments and the order or priority for conducting those experiments. I have been trained to make this very specific for most of my grants.

When I say “trained”, I mean not just in terms of advice from more senior scientists but also through punishment on the review of my grants. A couple of “it would be very helpful if a Timeline were included…” comments and I put those in by default now. It doesn’t have to be fancy or highly detailed but it is clear to me that many reviewers want some sort of visual depiction of how you see the flow of experiments over the next 5 years.

As we all know, even under the best of circumstances it is about a year between when you conceptualize the project and when you receive the funds. A lot can happen in the literature in a year’s time. A lot can happen in your laboratory and those of your collaborators in a year’s time.

What I am finding amusing today is to think about the three or four little corners of data deliciousness that I’ve been seeing these past two weeks. Very exciting stuff with a lot of potential, but also stuff that is going to require dedicated effort. We do long-term studies in my end of the world and have some bottlenecks on the throughput capacity- so I have to make choices about what to climb all over next.

In this I was sort of idly speculating where these experiments would fit best in terms of the Aims and experiments that I have laid out in my currently funded proposals and applications that are at various stages in the pipeline.

One of the more awesome current results is more or less related to part of a somewhat underdeveloped Aim that was to be addressed late in a five year plan. For a grant that has not been funded yet (although it is promising, DearReader, very promising).

We all play this dance. Propose very specific aims and experiments, write them up, wait a year, year and a half and if lucky get the cashola to start the project.

In the meantime science (whether in our own work or in the subfield we inhabit) has zoomed past our prioritization of investigations if not our core ideas entirely.

We had a conversation or two in the past (at Sb, I think) over whether it verges on misconduct if grant awardees vary too much from what they propose in the application. There are people who seem really miffed that a PI would propose one thing and then work on other (albeit related) experiments.

I never really understand where this is coming from, save from people who are used to doing funded work based on contracts. An investigator-initiated NIH grant is no contract, my friends. Not even close.

We would make progress at a quarter of the rate we do or less if the NIH took the grant = contract stance.

2 Responses to “Grants, Timelines and the Conduct of Science”


  1. […] this link: Grants, Timelines and the Conduct of Science « DrugMonkey This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged cashola, conduct, lucky-get, most-people, […]

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  2. David / Abel Says:

    Indeed, good sir, this is why NIH has an entirely different class of research and development funding called, “contracts,” with task orders and deliverables and all that other sort of contracty stuff.

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