GMP has a hilarious LOL/sob post up over at Academic Jungle in which she laments becoming PI Pushover.

Although I promised myself I would never do that to myself — let the student graduate before all his/her obligations to the group have been fulfilled (the papers we have agreed on are written up and submitted), it turns out I am as much of a pushover as the next faculty, if not more.

I let the temp postdoc graduate at the end of 2010 because we figured a couple of months would not mean much, and graduating in 2010 (sooner) looks better on his CV than 2011 (later)…. in the 3 months he’s been here after the PhD…only just gave me a pathetic draft — unworthy of a second-year grad student, let alone someone experienced in writing papers — of what’s supposed to be the crown jewel paper from his thesis, which clearly demonstrates he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about it any more.

Of course, the academic blogsphere is entirely made up of hardworking trainees with distant, out of touch PIs (on the one hand) and PIs who are highly engaged mentors cursed with lazy-ass trainees (on t’ other).
So the comments are lining up accordingly, just like they will do with this post after I publish it.
But here’s the thing Dear Hardworking Trainee….GMP is right.

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All the furor over the dismantling of NCRR to establish some new NIH IC to focus on translational whoopdedoo has backgrounded the merger of NIDA and NIAAA into a new Institute on Substance Abuse/Addiction (currently unnamed).

There’s a note in the Federal Register that the National Advisory Councils of NIDA and NIAAA will hold their first joint meeting on April 11, 2011. No mention of what will be on the agenda but the timing suggests that this is not the usual Council meeting for deciding grant funding for the current round, presumably those will still be held individually in May or June as scheduled. There’s less than two weeks to go on this so..

Information will also available on the Institute’s/Center’s home pages: http:///, and where an agenda and any additional information for the meeting will be posted when available.

Those links are not very useful, so NIDA and NIAAA may be better for monitoring.

And, here’s the Agenda on the NIAAA site after all. Looks like respective Portfolio analysis is on the docket.

Nature has a bit up on the whole Benezra letter / St Noonan situation with respect to the decision of NIH to limit NIH grant applications to a single revision.

Daniel Noonan, a molecular biologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, wrote in response what he terms a “spontaneous post”, outlining what he believes to be problems with current NIH policies that have disproportionately affected funding for mid-career biomedical scientists.
His sentiments struck a chord — resonant to some, and off-key to others.
“If you lose that one grant-renewal opportunity, it’s hard to recover in this day and age,” says Noonan.

I thought one parting shot in the Nature piece was kind of interesting.

Several scientist bloggers believe that Noonan’s comments imply that scientists should have access to NIH resources regardless of ability or outcomes; they counter that meritocracy should rule.

I am not certain this sufficiently conveys what a lot of “scientist bloggers” that I read, anyway, were saying. Certainly not what I was saying about the situation. The trouble with “meritocracy” is that it implies there is a single unified standard for excellent grant proposals and I do not believe that at all. My criticisms were mostly that a sinecureocracy for established investigators should NOT rule.

Anyway, back to the A2 issue….
OER director Sally Rockey has an explanation post up at her blog as well.

We recently received a letter from a group of extramural scientists expressing concerns about the sunsetting of the A2 applications. I thought that the entire NIH research community would be interested in reading our response

(see BlueLabCoats commentary)

The point that Rockey doesn’t make terribly well is one made by PhysioProf:

More importantly, however, there is a serious delusion that underlies this letter. There is only so much money available to fund competing applications, and the only effect changes in peer review in terms of actual funding of such applications could possible have is a change in which applications get funded. So the notion of “meritorious applications going unfunded because of this pernicious new rule” is nonsense. Limiting resubmissions can’t possibly change the number of “meritorious” applications that go unfunded.

I will admit that I had to think about this a little bit. Here’s the way I understand it. People are very focused on a common scenario of the recent past. Let’s say your IC of interest had a payline of 12%ile. And your A1 application came in at a 15%ile which resulted in, of course, the PO telling you to “Revise and Resubmit“. You did so, and the study section handed you back a 2%ile score on your A2*. Whoo-hoo!

Now the Benezra petitioners are looking at the current 7-8%ile, no-A2 environment and saying “Hey, I have a near miss 10%ile score on my A1. Man if I just had that chance for the A2, I’d get funded, brah!”

They are missing a fundamental part of the previous picture.

The ONLY reason that A1 came in over the payline at 15%ile was because the study section had a whole stack of A2s on their plate that had also come in just over the payline on a previous round of review. If those hadn’t been there, the A1 would have received a 9%ile and been funded.

The take home message here is that your just-miss score A1 score of today is not like your just-miss A1 score of 5 years ago. There are no longer any A2s in the queue clogging up the pipeline. Therefore your just-miss score is more like the “OMG, I pray the PO decides to reach way down for this one” score of before.

*The reason they did so, of course, had nothing to do with how your proposal was now objectively so much better than it was on the just-missed A1 version. It is much more a reflection of “Gee, I thought we gave this baby a score that would sneak over the line last time. Guess not. Well, we better make sure there is no way in hell Program can overlook it this time…”

I had a query for Dr. Sally Rockey over at the OER blog that she claims will be answered in an upcoming paper. Her post discussed the success rates for women PIs when it comes to R01/equivalent applications, NIH wide. Bottom line is that women have comparable success rates for Type 1 applications and a slightly worse rate for Type 2.

I wanted to know about success for the larger projects…the Program Projects and Centers.

Being impatient, I went snooping around on RePORTER for one of my favorite ICs….

P60s- 33% woman PD (there are only three P60s)

P50s- 32% women PDs

P20s- 31% women PDs

The data figure posted on the Rock Talk blog looks to show that women PIs are about 26-28% of the R01/equivalent pool.

So at least for this one IC, women are better represented on the BigMechs than the NIH-wide R01/equivalent representation.


Opinions vary as to how necessary it is to include sections on “Potential Pitfalls” (I also see the more neutral “Alternative Considerations”) in the Research Plan narrative of an NIH grant proposal. Of course, opinions also vary on how much you should devote to a discussion of “Interpretation of Anticipated Results”. Nevertheless, many study sections (including all the ones I’ve sat on) expect to see this and will ding you if you don’t include it. It is way up there on the list of StockCritiques, in my experience.

biochemme belle asks:

When discussing “potential pitfalls”, is it reasonable to say “X isn’t a problem b/c…”? To show I’ve thought thru problems for ea aspect?

My suggestion is that you do not want to come across* as “This is some possible outcome that would really screw with my hypotheses and interpretations. However it ain’t gonna happen, because of blahdeblah blah, so let’s not worry about that.”

No way. If this IS the only answer, find some other “potential pitfall” to talk about**. Seriously.

What you want to do is to accept that a pitfall that you identify (or is overwhelmingly obvious) could possibly occur. Fully accept. And give a description of how this would change your interpretation of the results of the Experiment. And how it would change the subsequent line of attack. Perhaps even show how the working hypotheses might need to be modified.

By no means should you simply dismiss any possible adverse or unexpected outcome as impossible or so unlikely as to not be worth your time considering. That way lies triage.
*And I am not entirely positive this is what biochemme meant, but it is worth addressing even if she didn’t. Yeah, I’ve seen this type of stiff arm in too many proposals….

**You get to choose which pitfalls you talk about. Choose wisely. You can’t leave something that is overwhelmingly obvious to any reader ignored..but then if you have too many of those your plan needs some serious re-design anyway. As always, the audience here is not your entrenched detractor who can find and obsess over the least likely adverse outcome if she so chooses. Your audience is your advocate. You are trying to give this reviewer enough ammo to say “The applicant appropriately considered potential adverse outcomes and pitfalls and has a reasonable plan to advance should they occur” or similar.

Ok, ok, so we helped the “international community” bomb the shit out of Libya in service of the “no fly zone” set up to help the opposition get rid of international all time leader in the Nutcase Autocrat division, one Moammar Kadaffi. In the opening salvo, we apparently sent an asstonne of Tomahawk ship to surface missiles over to knock out various Libyan things. Go us.

Wikipedia claims that each tomahawk cruise missile costs $756,000 in FY2011 dollars. This article claims that we launched 112 of these bad boys, but also goes on to estimate the cost of the ‘long-range’ variant at a cool $1M, maybe $1.5M. NPR comes in with a $100M ballpark for that first salvo as well.

Round numbers, I likey. What I don’t so much likey is the following.

One standard 5-yr, full modular NIH research grant proposal runs $1.25M in direct costs. Add on the consensus state university 55% overhead and we’re talking just under $2M. For FIVE years of work. On a problem of lasting importance to human health or biological understanding. And we dropped FIFTY of those babies off on Libya all in the span of, what, an hour or so?

For what? mind, you, it ain’t like we knocked off Kaddaffi with this. Oh no. We just blunted his ability to knock our planes out of the sky as we enforce a no-fly zone. We’re just getting started in terms of expenses, my friends.

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we just randomly drop FIFTY R01-sized projects on dictatorial megalomania, social control and democratic grass roots revolution onto our social scientists? Hmm? It can’t help but be at least as productive as this.