Hitting your marks

July 10, 2011

I am not a very scheduled person. No doubt to my detriment in many areas of life. I don’t make ’em, and I have a hard time sticking to externally imposed ones.

But I have almost always hit my grant deadlines.

In the generic, investigator-initiated grant submission to the NIH, schedule is not all that critical. If you miss a deadline, you just have to wait another 4 months. There are plenty of people who would actually advise you to miss a deadline if your grant is less than perfect.

I’ve always erred on the side of getting the application closed out and submitted. Some of this may be in recognition of my own procrastination. Submitting grant applications is hugely important in my job and maybe I figure that if I let myself skip a deadline that I will never make one again. Or maybe I see myself as someone who is a closer. As being good at getting the application finished and out the door at crunch time. Perhaps I take pride in that…

I’ve fielded questions now and again about PIs that are horrible at this. That seen to habitually fail to meet their grant deadlines. By this, I mean they’ve told their lab and/or admins that they are planning to submit..and the lab could seemingly make good use of another grant, pronto…and yet the proposal never gets submitted. I had a few queries during this recent submission round. The details vary but it all boils down to the same binary issue- you are either giving yourself a chance to win funding or you are not.

The most I can usually do is shrug my ignorance. I don’t understand this phenotype at all. Increasingly, I see trainees, and even techs and admins, that *know* that this is a problem. They are more cognizant these days that grants are hard to come by, that money is tight and safety nets are weak or nonexistent. So they start to worry..about their job, their science and even the personal well being or mental health of the PI.

I mutter platitudes. Maybe the PI got busy with kids or spouse or family. A divorce? Maybe she has other irons in the fire due to collaborative grant writing. Maybe he decided writing papers was critical. Maybe her read of summary statements finally got through to her that revising was a nonstarter. maybe some other proposal recently got scored in the fundable range?

None of these explain the repeat offender, of course.

But I have little else to offer.

Strategically, DearReader, there is a prescriptive lesson herein. Don’t do it. Don’t get a reputation with your lab or admins as a chronic misser-of-grant-deadlines. It makes them really nervous about your competence…and the lab’s medium-term prospects.

You don’t want your people losing confidence in you.

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No Responses Yet to “Hitting your marks”

  1. FoofootheSnoo Says:

    Let them! All the better odds for my grants.

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  2. Any opinions on those that only program project grants because they think its safer to run with a herd than alone?

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  3. Pinko Punko Says:

    I see this with a good friend of mine. It is someone struggling with their confidence. A combination of previously submitted probably poorly written grants, but then taking the criticism of those grants to heart as meaning the science is problematic, when it was the reviewers responding to the proposal (but came across as the science).

    If you write a bad grant, you have to have a way to recognize this and not necessarily conflate the proposal with the science. Obviously, in many cases these are the same.

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  4. Corollary: if you are going to miss a grant deadline that you had previously aimed for, you should explain to your lab science peeps and admins why.

    For example, we were aiming for a grandfathered R01 A2 resubmission on the last permissible cycle. As we were writing the thing, the realization became more and more salient that it was fools’ errand. This was mostly based on the fact that–while the A0 was scored (poorly)–the A1 was triaged, and there were some nasty comments in the critiques.

    After discussion with my PO, I came to the conclusion that it would be much better to rewrite the thing as a new R01 submission, target a different study section, and go for the following cycle. We did so, and the A0 is going to imminently be funded.

    Keeping people informed of all of this as it occurs is very good for lab and departmental morale. Of course, if you reason for missing a deadline is that you are a lazy irresponsible shit, then I suppose there isn’t much you can say.

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  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    GR-
    Not really. If someone has a thang going on that is successful, more power to them. I know some science, like that using huge clinical populations, almost HAS to be done as BigMech collaborations. And some ICs seem to have a relative preference for the boondogle, so perhaps the odds are slightly better at one IC over another.

    Now if it is because someone without ideas is riding the coattails of other scientists, well, perhaps in private I might have the odd sneer. But then I’d quickly get back to remembering my job is to take care of my own beeswax, not judge whether other scientists are smart or not and let that shit go….

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  6. DrugMonkey Says:

    Thanks, Pinko…someone always has a fascinating point, don’t they? So what do local colleagues and friends do? When do you say something? Is this only the job of the Chair? I can imagine a vicious cycle wherein the confidence blow you describe make a PI even less likely to seek help with his proposals…

    I definitely try to emphasize the distinction between not liking the application and hating the science (or the scientist!) in my spiel to junior PIs who are reading a disappointing summary statement. I don’t know how much it works though…

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  7. Neuropop Says:

    It is not the grant proposal deadline that I worry about missing, mostly because there is a deadline, which is known months ahead and preparations can be made. I don’t think I have missed a deadline when I knew I needed the funds. Besides it is career suicide to not have an iron in the fire every cycle given the <7th percentile funding rates.

    What is more problematic is submitting papers, which have no deadline. It takes a lot of experience to decide when the story is "finished" at least for this iteration and it is time to shove the manuscript out the door.

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  8. anon Says:

    Pinko and Dm- I was one of those poor shits who didn’t know how to write a grant. Senior faculty ended up being of NO assistance and provided no advice beyond a few grammatical changes in some sentences in the grant, even after looking at my summary statements. I finally got assistance from other junior faculty who were recently successful and seemed to be more clear-headed about what reviewers were looking for. I also got outside help from a non-biased consultant and have been successful ever since. The general problem is that each grant writer (and reviewer) has a narrow scope of expertise. What was missing from my earlier applications was a clear description of the project and its outcomes in language that could be understood by a non-expert.
    Senior faculty don’t have this problem – they continue to do what they’ve always done, no matter how shitty the writing, and get funded based on a previous track record rather than on content of the grant application. I’ve never sat on study section, but I’ve heard others (particularly newer members) complain about how applications of more senior investigators are favored based on the track-record criterion rather than on proposal content.
    That said, painful as it was to subject my earlier applications to ridicule, I’ve never missed a deadline.

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  9. given the <7th percentile funding rates

    This is an exaggeration of the current situation for all ICs, and a gross one for a few of them. For example, NINDS has a hard 14 %ile payline for established investigators and NIGMS is funding down into the 20s (with a probable steep dropoff at around 15 or 16).

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  10. Zee Says:

    I love the comments about letting your lab know about what is going on, so true, so necessary. I did my PhD for an advisor that was completely cryptic. We never knew what grants we had or were applying for. We never knew what grants we were working on or getting paid from. We never saw the grants that our data went in.

    The result was a lot of commands ‘get these experiments done NOW!’ or ‘write these section and have it to me in two hours!’ followed by a lot of anger (at the commands) and confusion (over the weird sudden urgency). I found all the secretiveness stupid.

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  11. DrugMonkey Says:

    Some PIs think it is their, and only their, responsibility to deal with grants. Which is true. In a way. But I’d argue this is just not good leadership anymore in the current funding environment and with my current perspective on postdoc training. It can be a fine line because you don’t want to scare the hell out of trainees who lack the perspective, nor do you want to distract them too much from their actual work on the science front.

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  12. Pinko Punko Says:

    I think if you are training people you let them see grants in progress. Some PIs think this is like dropping their pants to their labs, or exposing themselves in a less than perfect situation, but if you want your trainees to not be screwed up about letting people comment on their proposals if they get their own labs, then maybe you can show them that it isn’t that big of a deal.

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  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    We never knew what grants we had

    Wow. No excuse for this from the PI end….mentors should *always* make the grants that are active available to the postdocs. And the postdocs should read them over.

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