Too MUCH effort on your NIH Grant?

October 1, 2012

Oh, this is a good one.

@boehninglab asks:

Has anyone heard of study section tanking a grant b/c of too much % effort listed (in particular, 40%)? @drugmonkeyblog #NIH

I have no specific recollection of such a thing but it does tingle a slight chord of my memory. Suffice it to say that I am not surprised one bit if this has occurred.

If anyone has seen such a thing go down in a study section (or received such comments on a summary statement) I would be fascinated to hear the rationale that was advanced.

Is this an attack on soft-money faculty?

I have definitely seen criticisms that not enough effort was being devoted, but that has typically been in the realm of supporting BSD investigators at 3% or the relatively junior PI at something below 15% effort. The criticism over too much effort seems to contrast with this.

No Responses Yet to “Too MUCH effort on your NIH Grant?”

  1. Dr24hours Says:

    In my agency, effort in excess of 50% is closely scrutinized and can be reason for bad marks on the budget aspect.


  2. Boehninglab Says:

    One more tidbit which may (likely does) make a difference: PI is a new investigator.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    Personally I would not blink if a new investigator listed 100% effort because I know what time it is on noob street. and I would challenge anyone who wanted to make a critical deal out of such a thing.


  4. qaz Says:

    This doesn’t make any sense to me. 50% effort is very normal in my department and in the grants I’ve seen. I think 100% effort might make someone complain, but 40% is totally normal. Less than 20% often gets complained at, but 40% wouldn’t be an issue.

    I don’t know if this is what is going on, but I have a memory of a case where the PI was still thinking like a postdoc and still expecting to run all the data him/herself. I don’t remember what the study section said as their official complaint (this was a couple of years ago), but the discussion was definitely that the PI had too much dedicated effort on the project (not percent time, but stated roles that they were expecting to do data collection daily). If I remember right, the attitude was that the PI didn’t know what they were getting into and was thus dinged as being naive.

    Another possibility: Maybe the PI already has several grants with large percentages?


  5. gerty-z Says:

    I think it is ridiculous that a new PI gets dinged for “too much” effort. But I have heard that it is not good to go over 90% total effort (at least, that is what my admin says). Because obviously you are writing other grants and therefore can’t be spending 100% on the funded project…or something. At least it opens up the possibility that someone higher up on the food chain will get their knickers bunched.


  6. Dr Becca Says:

    The BRAINS award requires at least 50%, with the exception of faculty who are currently on R00, which requires 75%.

    Here’s a question: Is it normal/OK to ask for less salary $$ than you say your %PE will be?


  7. physioprof Says:

    Here’s a question: Is it normal/OK to ask for less salary $$ than you say your %PE will be?

    For someone under the NIH salary cap, this is called “voluntary cost sharing”, and is perfectly OK with NIH. The question is whether it is acceptable to your institution to pay some portion of your salary that supports effort on NIH grants. Note that for PIs over the NIH salary cap, institutions are forced into “involuntary cost sharing” of the fraction of the salary supporting effort on NIH grants that is over the cap.


  8. I’ve gotten similar complaints on NSF proposals — “why does the PI need so much percent effort when he already has support on other grants?”. I’m not so sure it’s a deliberate attack on us soft money folk so much as it is blissful ignorance from the TT world where having 20-30% total effort on grants is sufficient.


  9. pinus Says:

    100% effort suggests a lack of support from the university….also a lack of anybody reading it. at least put it at 95%, so you can hold that 5% for ‘grant writing’.


  10. drugmonkey Says:

    To be clear Geety-Z it is technically illegal to have 100% salary support on the Federal dime and to prepare new grants requesting money from the Fed. Or so one perspective I’ve heard believes. Other soft money folks I know have higher ups that evince institutional ignorance of this so ymmv.


  11. drugmonkey Says:

    For the new grant, pinus, it shouldn’t matter. After all you won’t need to write another grant until the final year, right? Reduce effort then.


  12. pinus Says:

    true. if I saw that with an amazing grant, I may something about ‘institutional support’, but it would not effect score.


  13. Surely it depends on the scope of the research being proposed?


  14. (I should clarify that most of my experience is with Canadian grants where all PIs are on hard money and no PI salaries are requested)


  15. Virgil Says:

    This exact thing happened to me… 50% effort, pink sheets said too much. Thye also dinged me for having an RAP on the budget for 80% (how in the f*** else am I supposed to pay them?) Furthermore, they gave me s*** about an equipment request (again, now that shared equipment grant are an endangered species, how exactly are we supposed to buy this stuff?) Of course, the fact we went non-modular on the budget made us a sitting target, but that’s for another discussion. Bottom line, study sections are becoming nosy about budgets, when in reality is none of their god damned business!


  16. Pinko Punko Says:

    But budget shouldn’t affect score- they talk about that after the vote.

    Anyhow, 150K salary for one person on one R01 can only really work if the R01 is gigantic, so this is a luxury that 25 year-old R01s have for those on softer money positions, and these don’t seem very tenable in the current climate. A 700K/year R01 really should be two separate grants but has bloated into one and the PIs effort has followed, but in reality the only reason the PIs effort has followed the bloat is because the PI is massively expensive and it is the only way to cover the salary. I think the effort caps are probably going to get looked at more closely in the future in terms of what the allowable effort levels are, or maybe there will be some sort of government coordination for looking into those with 150% effort or what have you. I don’t know.


  17. Grumble Says:

    Grant budget is explicitly part of study sections’ god damned business because reviewers are tasked with evaluating whether the budget is appropriate. That said, I’m not sure on what basis a reviewer can say, “50% effort is too much.” Like so much else that reviewers do to cut down grants they don’t like, it’s just wind out of their asses.

    I’ve never seen effort allocation (or even budget) come up at study section, though. Budget is probably rarely, if ever, the major reason for a poor score.


  18. Pinko Punko Says:

    It is not part of the score- the budget is not scored. It is part of review for guidance to council. You don’t get a 6 for the budget. And voting happens before budget comments are elicited by the chair, at least in my experience.


  19. yellowfish Says:

    When I was a research scientist (until through some last gasp stroke of good fortune I finally got a faculty job) I was really trying to become independent and cover my salary (in order to not end up flipping burgers somewhere when the grant I was on ended). My PO told me that the absolute most she thought I could put in for an R01 to cover was 40-50% and that would only work for new investigators, for everyone else the max would be 25-30. It was definitely depressing to realize that even if i had managed to land an R01 it wouldnt have saved me. Now I’m doing the BRAINS rfa and it seems amazing that they allow 50-75%, especially given that you can only apply if you already have a job with substantial institutional support! I also had a reviewer ding me because he thought I put a specific co-investigator on for too much effort (and that was 10-15).


  20. One particular agency **cough American Diabetes Association cough** requires a letter from the institution stating that the PI will devote 75% of their time to research but the budget restrictions mean that you can only ask for about 20% salary support. For faculty that teach and do at least the minimum amount of service, 75% effort for research is ridiculous.


  21. another anonymous person Says:

    In my department, we are allowed up to 75% effort on grants without impacting our teaching/service requirements, by the structure of our (9-month hard money) appointments. However, we can typically take only 21% salary from grants; remaining effort is voluntary cost share by the university or release time.

    I have been told that reviewers look negatively at more than 3 months (25%) of PI effort on a single NIH R01. I do not know how much truth there is to this. I do know that where it becomes very challenging is in figuring out how much effort to put in for on collaborative proposals where there may be 3-4 different PIs involved, especially when some are soft money and some are hard money positions.


  22. Joe Says:

    “where it becomes very challenging is in figuring out how much effort to put in for on collaborative proposals where there may be 3-4 different PIs involved, especially when some are soft money and some are hard money positions.”

    I saw a proposal like this. It was non-modular, somewhere in the high 400k/yr range. 2 PI’s, one big shot and one RAP covered at 50% and 100%, respectively. Then there was a subcontract for a large amount including some part of subcontractor’s salary and finally money for one post-doc and one tech. It was for an amount of work similar to what would be on a standard, modular R01, for approximately double the price. How much enthusiasm would you expect a reviewer to have for that? It had some minor problems, got an “excellent” score, and a note in the budget section to reduce the budget by about 100k. It will likely be back next cycle.


  23. Namnezia Says:

    You can always increase your effort if needed once your grant gets funded no?


  24. arrzey Says:

    One study section I sat on routinely questioned effort on R01’s, whether it matched the work proposed or not. It could be off in either direction. This was considered part of the evaluation of the PI. Amounts of other help requested was also taken into consideration. It wasn’t an issue of absolute amount of time, but of whether the PI knew what they were doing, a grantsmanship thing.

    Now, at my MRU, 100% is not permitted for anyone, for the grant writing reasons, listed above.


  25. pablito Says:

    “You can always increase your effort if needed once your grant gets funded no?”

    That’s what I did for my most recent NIH grant, all the way to 75%.


  26. Polytrope Says:

    I’ve seen grants in physical sciences rejected because together with existing grants from the same funding body it would have taken the PI to something like 250% effort. Guess they were hoping we wouldn’t bother to check….


  27. bacillus Says:

    @polytrope. 250% effort is what you’re supposed to give to writing the proposal!


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