Government shutdown NIH Grant strategery

October 17, 2013

There’s at least one early indicator of what is going to happen with the study section rounds that were cancelled because of the government shutdown.

This has all sorts of implications, one of which was brought up by Professor Jentsch in a subsequent tweet. It is related to the NOTice just issued which says that all October deadlines will be pushed forward into the “November timeframe”.

Let’s say your submitted a new proposal in June or perhaps a revised or competing renewal proposal in July. And like a busy little beaver you’ve continued to work on the project. Perhaps you have some excellent new data that further supports your awesome ideas and the killer experiments that you’ve proposed.

There is only one thing to do. Pull the grant from consideration and resubmit it, with the new data, once the NIH picks some November deadlines.

44 Responses to “Government shutdown NIH Grant strategery”

  1. gingerest Says:

    Wow, that makes me feel even sorrier for the NIH staff than I do for the reviewers. I mean, the long-range effects are terrible, too, but I can’t help but think sitting on a section is going to go from being intense but manageable to being a real nightmare. And, of course the funding delays make it hard on investigators, but that’s not new, apart from the weird opportunity.


  2. miles Says:

    I’m on three study sections this fall and 2 of them were canceled . The first one has already been rescheduled for early November today. Fact is, we have all continued reviewing and the moment era commons comes back online we will upload our critiques.


  3. Anon Says:

    We were also ready to reschedule our study section, but after some scrambling to find dates, the SRO announced that everything has been postponed until the next round. The January council meeting will not happen, and we will have a double load for the spring review. Anyone with a grant that should have been renewed these last three weeks will be able to retract and update with a new submission. I’m still reeling from the implications.


  4. Cassius King Says:

    This is what I was afraid of. Oh well, I do have some great new data so I can add that to the mix. I am submitting an R21 as well this cycle, likely to the same study section, so I hope the fact that they will be reviewed together doesn’t hinder my chances for either one. Anyone have any advice regarding that?


  5. Cassius King Says:

    Also curious as to the Institutes that miles and Anon would be reviewing grants for….


  6. Cryomath Says:

    I was hoping to include (I know the long odds but it never hurts to dream) the positive results of my two summer r01s in my applications for new positions. It’s considerably less impressive to say several pending due to government shutdown.


  7. No Hay Dinero Says:

    Let’s do some thinking here:

    I) Grants will be reviewed November 2013;

    II) Sequester II, far more brutal than Sequester I, will kick in January 2014;

    III) Great scorers for November 2013 session will be told, “Sorry, bro, no hay dinero.”


  8. Ola Says:

    What a f***ing drama queen. It IS a rumor!

    Our SRO is instructing us to block off 2-3 days in early November for an internet assisted review, so this particular Twitterer would appear to be incorrect on at least one count. Maybe one or two study sections (neuro-ish?) will be trashed altogether, but I know of at least 3 that are going ahead (including one neuro), just delayed by a few weeks.

    Methinks perchance this may be one occasion where the Twitts are not the most reliable source of news on this issue?


  9. Dave Says:

    DM: I’m confused. Is this official or are we still awaiting notification from the NIH? I’m in the exact situation you describe – submitted an A1 in July – and was already looking at a late SEP review because of a reviewer conflict. I like the idea of pulling it and resubmitting it.


  10. Ola Says:

    @Cassius King
    CSR is institute agnostic. Sure, most study sections are clearly tied to a given institute, but nominally there’s no such thing as “reviewing for an institute”. You review for CSR, and the institute does the funding, so many study sections will have grants from multiple institutes under review at any given session (I counted 5 at our last meeting).


  11. Cassius King Says:


    Yes, I understand. Just curious as to whether they happened to be on SEP’s for an RFA or PAR being reviewed in a particular institute….


  12. Anon Says:

    I can only speak for my study section for sure, but the SRO indicated that the NIH/CSR decided to move all applications from standing study sections that were supposed to be reviewed for the January 2014 council to the May 2014 council. This news came out at the end of the day in DC, but I’d expect an official notification from the NIH before making any specific plans. I think we’ve got to expect that it will take a few days for things to be settled. It is highly confusing, because earlier in the day we were trying to reschedule but now we’ve been called off.

    I’m also confused about what to do with my own grant application – I had an A1 that was to have been reviewed later this month. I wasn’t terribly hopeful about it because the A0 hadn’t scored well. We did address the major concerns of the reviewers, but it’s hard to predict. Now I’m left wondering whether to leave it as is, withdraw and revise (though the new data we have now could shift the focus significantly), withdraw and submit a new version, significantly changed, or… Any ideas about whether the SROs will be willing to let out any of the scoring information that is available? The SRO of the study section I review for is quite approachable but the SRO of the study section my grant will be reviewed in has not been so helpful in the past.


  13. Dr Becca Says:

    OK, here’s a question: I submitted an A0 in June that was meant to have been reviewed last week. Since then, we’ve gotten IACUC approval and just received biosafety approval after a big fight with the committee at my uni, so we can finally start some piloting of the new methods we’re proposing. If I withdraw and resubmit in Nov (with the rest of the delayed Oct A0 submissions) and there is only maybe a tiny bit more feasibility data than the application that’s currently in, would the reviewers who remember the old one hold it against me that we haven’t made more progress since June? Are they allowed to take withdrawn apps into consideration? In that case, would it just be better to leave the original in?


  14. DrugMonkey Says:

    Above all else hold tight until you get specifics from the SRO handling your grant people. Yes, there is a feat chance that different study sections will be doing different things.

    I think it also likely that CSR is gong to realize they can’t have this all half-assed and of differential fairness to applicants . That may result in policy bein changed a few times in coming days.

    I’m just saying…be prepared to take what steps you can to advantage your proposal.


  15. My SRO set up dates last week Oct – 2nd week Nov for rescheduling. Her last advice is that unless the shut down runs longer than that, we WILL meet, and we WILL review this set in this cycle. We also got our reviews in before the shutdown, and had entered the read phase.

    I would bet that it is going to be, as DM suggests, a changing landscape. Do nothing rash at this point (ie pull your proposal). And, for pete’s sake DO NOT CONTACT your PO or SRO. They have enough to do right now.


  16. @Ola @Cassius King Cassius, you are correct for some large% of Study Sections. This is true for R03s and R21’s.

    However, there is a non-trivial number that are in fact tied to a specific IC. These are the SS’s that review IC specific mechanisms. This includes T’s, F’s, K’s, R03’s and a number of others.


  17. Ola Says:


    Note that moving proposals to a later COUNCIL meeting is quite common. It is quite likely that proposals due to have been reviewed in the past 2 weeks will indeed get reviewed this fall, but the applicants will just have a longer wait in between scores and notices of award. It’s also possible that sequestration 2.0 may have played into this decision – by late spring NIH will have a better idea of how much cash they actually have on hand, versus the headless-chicken syndrome seen this past January when sequestration 1.0 kicked in.

    In my experience, the council meetings never happen on time anyway, and the time between the meeting itself and the issuance of award notices has been getting steadily longer in recent years. Last fall, the October council meeting for my institute took place in December (delayed in part due to Hurricane Sandy), and the NOA’s that were supposed to go out in November actually went out in March of this year. One of my proposals was reviewed/scored in February, then the May council meeting took place in June, and the NOA (for a July 1 start date) actually came through in late August.

    If there’s one piece of advice here, it’s that we should all be speaking to our Deans and financial officers about the whole 90 day pre-award thing, because we’re likely gonna need it.


  18. Grumble Says:

    I have a grant that was to be reviewed in a meeting that was canceled. If they postponed the *review* of grants until the next meeting round, as Jentsch’s tweet indicates, then I would end up with two grants in the same study section because I was planning to submit another one soon. Not good.

    If they instead set up a new meeting in Nov/Dec, but postpone funding until after the May council meeting, things are a little bit better. But what if the two grants get “grey zone” scores of, say, 11th to 15th percentile? I can totally see the program staff saying, “you get one, but not both.” Whereas if they were in different council rounds, the psychology might be a bit different.


  19. Physician Scientist Says:

    If this goes through, I’m going to appeal a poor score on an R01 revision.

    Timeline: first submission of competitive renewal = Nov, 2012, score: 17th percentile at NIGMS feb. 2013, revision back in July, 2013. If it gets delayed until February 2014 review cycle, I will argue that its a competitive disadvantage to delay review of a static grant in a fast moving field, and I’ll also argue that there wasn’t enough time to pull it and reformat it (as there will likely be only a 2 week window in which to do this).

    If they do this, they might as well allow all affected grants to have an A2 as the number of appeals will go through the roof.


  20. Why am I doing this again? Says:

    All the uncertainty makes it impossible to plan anything. I can’t take students, I can’t hire a postdoc, I can’t do anything. This is the second time in the last year where I had a grant review significantly delayed. One was supposed to be reviewed in May, but the review session (RFA-specific) was bumped to September. Now, I have one that was to be reviewed on Oct 4 that is now to be reviewed at a mystery date sometime in the future. In the meantime, the lab is racing towards financial ruin without abatement, even with my current R01 in place (running a competitive lab with $200k/yr is untenable).

    I hope my predictions of a continuing NIH funding downward spiral are wrong. Getting a conservative president hell-bent on cutting the government the next time around sends chills down my spine.


  21. Pinko Punko Says:

    I have seen an email from an SRO. Email states that council for sure is cancelled and wording of email is as anon states above, at minimum particular study sections are also cancelled and will be double duty for Feb. The email indicated that grants not pulled would still be reviewed (i.e. four months more stale).

    This is not good news. The claim was to keep peer review quality high, and by this I presume face to face meetings generally, but meeting with over 100 grants vs. say 50, that could be a mess. This email stated the desire was to do all R01 in a 2-day meeting, and internet assisted for R15, R21. This could be reasonable to break up the workload. Study sections that are normally one day going to two day is not an issue maybe, but study sections that are already two day- these I worry about. You really can’t do 170 R01s in one section.


  22. Joe Says:

    @Why am I doing this again? “Getting a conservative president hell-bent on cutting the government the next time around sends chills down my spine.”

    It has been going the same way for quite a while now, no matter which party heads the exec branch.


  23. meshugena313 Says:

    This is so insane, I can’t sleep. My dean is swinging his axe, willy nilly, and about to chop the head off of anyone caught in its path. Labs will be – and are – closing left and right. I had an R01-A1 and R21 in for Oct review that I felt confident about. Now, WTF? What the hell are we supposed to do? The most awful part is that we have great science, with innovative discoveries. All will be down the drain.

    We have one area to push now with potential substantial intellectual property value, perhaps that’s our savior? Get a patent in before the axe hits?


  24. Why am I doing this again? Says:


    Yes, but imagine a world where the president and congress agree that the NIH should be actively cut. Yes, it was cut under sequestration, and it hasn’t kept pace with inflation, but I can imagine a scenario in which the president WANTS a 10% (or more) cut. I don’t get the feeling that the liberals want that, and the ability to out-vote the tea party-types is holding things in relative check. But if they really take control, we’re truly doomed.


  25. Dave Says:

    Hey, it was just a government “slimdown”….remember? No harm done 😉

    I think everyone who submitted in June/July or October should be allowed to pull their grant and resubmit as an A2. And they should be given a 10 point handicap on their priority score.


  26. Dave Says:

    ….but I can imagine a scenario in which the president WANTS a 10% (or more) cut

    You do realize that the Fy14 NIH sequester cut on January 15th will be 20%? Whether the president “wants” it or not, I can’t see this going away.


  27. Joe Says:

    @Dave “You do realize that the Fy14 NIH sequester cut on January 15th will be 20%?”
    I hadn’t realized this until recently. We are sooooo screwed.


  28. Anon Says:

    Yes, labs will close because of this. I wonder if there is any way to quantify this? Not that it matters much to the congresspeople, but it does matter to us.

    I’m having trouble seeing any good way out of this scenario. Like DM, I suspect that this will go through a few iterations before settling on a plan to go forward. But, both as a reviewer and a PI, how do I feel about pulling and revising the grant? As a reviewer with critiques written and colleagues critiques read, it will be hard to un-do the “decisions” that have been made. If a grant scored well, presumably the PI couldn’t screw up a revision too badly. If a grant scored poorly, it’s unlikely that revisions could change our minds (but how would we know we were fairly evaluating the revisions?). If a grant was on the line… What can we do? We are under a lot of pressure to spread the scores and not bunch things up around 2&3.


  29. Why am I doing this again? Says:

    Wait, what? 20%? Where can I read about this? I have not heard such a number.


  30. Why am I doing this again? Says:

    My read of what I can quickly find is that the House wants cuts (especially Ryan), but that the Senate is proposing to increase (slightly) the NIH budget…as is Obama. Where is the foregone conclusion that we’ll see a 20% cut? What am I not seeing?


  31. drugmonkey Says:

    yeah, just like last year and NIH ended up cut with #sciquester. No reason to think there is special-flower political will (despite Cantor’s posturing in a lab coat) to help the NIH out.


  32. Why am I doing this again? Says:

    I’m reading 2% for 2014. Where is the 20% coming from???


  33. Why am I doing this again? Says:

    Are you talking about this:


    I can’t find a single web hit on a 20% NIH cut. Can anyone back this up? You people have really screwed up my day…!!


  34. Sequester Says:

    Click to access pdfviewer.aspx

    The sequester 2014 is more flexible than 2013, which mandated automatic across-the-board cuts. In 2014, there also have to be cuts but Congress has more room to dictate what is cut.

    In the graph above, one can see the 2014 budget passed by the House, which factors the sequester, or the one from the Senate, which does not. That’s because the Senate’s version gets rid of the sequester altogether.

    With the sequester intact, the overall cuts will be deeper in 2014 than 2013.

    The real questions now are:

    Will be sequester be repealed in early 2014?

    If not, how will Congress treat the NIH?


  35. Why am I doing this again? Says:

    Okay, a colleague explained that sequestration (as it currently stands) is a progressive 10-year plan (I hadn’t really internalized this fact, I guess). So, based on what I’ve found, the numbers are thus:

    Loss to the NIH budget in 2013: $1.5 billion ($30.6 B down to $29.1 B) = 5% cut
    Loss to the NIH budget in 2014: $2.0 billion ($29.1 B down to $27.1 B) = 7% cut

    Although 7% is already devastating, where’s the 14%? Or is that the estimate for the impact for extramural investigator-initiated grants?


  36. Grumble Says:

    For Cantor to say that he supports biomedical research is patently ridiculous, when it is his caucus and his actions that have driven recent NIH budget cuts (not to mention the piddling increases even before the sequester).

    Cantor is an insolent, nauseating, hypocritical son of a bitch, even by Tea party standards.


  37. drugmonkey Says:

    Cantor was just posturing at the NIH in their divide-and-conquer attempt to partially re-start some most-popular aspects of gov function after they shut it down. Even at the time, they were proposing to fund the NIH with some new cuts.


  38. sciencegirl Says:

    Confirmation that grants not reviewed during shutdown are moved to Feb. cycle:


  39. Dave Says:

    Should reiterate that the 20% (18.6%) cut is in the House (i.e. GOP) budget, which meets the constraints of the FY14 sequester levels.–media/science-policy–government-affairs/fiscal-year-2014-funding-outlook-remains-bleak.aspx

    Click to access 6_24_13_Senate_FY_2014_302b_Allocations.pdf

    Any Senate (Democrat) numbers you see are just that….numbers. They are fantasy at this point. I think the sequester will be lightened in January by the negotiations, but if the GOP has there way 100% then it will certainly be a very large cut that will make FY13 look like a party.


  40. Physician Scientist Says:

    One possibility if, as a community, we don’t like the delayed study sections is to refuse to serve (or cancel serving) on the November study sections that are still occurring.


  41. Michael Says:


    And it’s pathetic that the NIH is not preparing for Sequester II. Some of the biggest problems with Sequester I were caused because the NIH was completely caught off-guard. Collins is useless.

    @Physician Scientist

    Sally does not care about your whining or rants. She’ll still get her 250K or so per year salary, so it’s all good for her. The lives of NIH leaders and administrators is not bad at all!


  42. Physician Scientist Says:

    Civil Disobedience! Refuse to review unless they get to work and review our grants. Scientists are willing…its the adminstrators who don’t want to do it.


  43. Charles Says:


    I agree with you. Let’s think even bigger: Why don’t we ask for Collins’ resignation? That would shock the NIH into action.


  44. Dave Says:

    One way for you guys to protest is to give every grant a perfect score.


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