Jeremy Berg Demystifies the Funding Decision Process at NIGMS

January 28, 2011

A new post from Director Jeremy Berg of NIGMS gives an overview of the process by which his Institute makes final funding decisions. The part about the gray zone decisions was particularly interesting:

For each application, the responsible program director presents the scientific topic as well as factors such as whether the applicant is an ESI or new investigator, how much other support the applicant has (particularly if the application represents the only support available to the investigator), whether the Council has given us specific advice on the application, whether the scientific area is perceived to be particularly exciting, and how much other research we already support in the general area of the application. The other members of the unit listen to these presentations, and the group then produces a prioritized list of applications.

Emphasis added. Note that? Program staff have to be strong advocates for your application during the selection process that occurs in the dim twilight of the gray / pickup zone. This means you have to write an application that trips their triggers and that they can understand. This is almost as important as speaking clearly to the people who are reviewing your grant at the study section level. This is also why I point out that schmoozing Program staff at scientific meetings is your opportunity to advocate in a general way for the things that you feel are important in science, not just your specific proposal at the current time. You want to educate them and bring them around to your way of seeing things as a gut-feeling or belief. If they understand the arguments even before they see your specific application, they are going to be more equipped, more interested and therefore a better advocate for your proposal.

7 Responses to “Jeremy Berg Demystifies the Funding Decision Process at NIGMS”

  1. TH Says:

    Same is true at NIAID. POs can fight for your grant. But, only 10-15/cycle (out of hundreds) actually get considered. There is luck too. Some POs are much better at persuading than others.


  2. What you quote is obvious and something that everyone knows. What I found far more interesting and non-obvious is the following:

    Funds for unsolicited R01s are allocated among the four units within NIGMS that fund these applications (the Divisions of Cell Biology and Biophysics; Genetics and Developmental Biology; and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry; and the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology), based on the fractions of applications that have scored well enough to be considered for possible funding.

    It is very interesting that there is Darwinian competition like this between these four subject-matter-based units based on the aggregate peer-review outcomes of the grants assigned to them. One could imagine allocating the R01 funds to the units on the basis of a high-level policy decision as to how much research in each of these areas to fund (as is done by Congress in allocating funds to the various ICs comprising NIH).


  3. DrugMonkey Says:

    Huh, I would have thought the very thing that amazes you is something everybody knows, PP. Ever noticed how jazzed your POs are when/if you get a score that is easily within the likely payline? And thought about some of the many reasons they want you to revise and resubmit a near-miss, gray zone score in hopes of a slam dunk score? They are happy when they get the obviously-fundable scores out of “their” people because it broadens their portfolio with no expenditure of political capital.


  4. I obviously knew this was the case on a PO-by-PO level. I didn’t know it was the case at the extremely high-level of the four subject-matter areas of a massive IC.


  5. TH Says:

    PP is funny. I am sure at his school when the Deans and President tell all of the Chairs and faculty that they have made some high level policy decisions on how money (e.g., indirect costs) will be distributed that PP and his colleagues quietly agree that the Deans and President know best and accept whatever decisions are made….HAHAHAHAHAA.
    NIGMS’ system is setup that way to prevent higher ups from have to listen to POs whine and bitch about being treated unfairly. Nothing is worse than a bitchy PO. Well maybe a bitchy Professor/PI.


  6. DrugMonkey Says:

    Everything scales, PP.


  7. Jeremy Berg Says:

    You are correct that it is important to have your program director understand your application and its significance. However, my post was also intended to point out that other facts (as opposed to perceptions) influence our funding decisions. These include: (1)ESI or new investigator status; (2) level of other support available; (3) specific Council input; and (4) the scientific topic in the context of the overall NIGMS portfolio.


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