A NIH Grant Applicant's Calming Mantra

March 10, 2014

“No matter how ridiculous the summary statement comment, it helps you to write better proposals in the future.”

11 Responses to “A NIH Grant Applicant's Calming Mantra”

  1. Busy Says:

    “This grant is no good, the main reason being that it wasn’t written by me.”

    I actually saw once such a review, just written in a more obscure form. What is the teaching moment there from which one could learn?


  2. rs Says:

    Agreed. In most cases, when you rewrite, you yourself wonder, is this what I wrote? This needs improvement. I have found that most of the summary statement comments are just to ridicule you and are not a good critique to improve your proposal plan, so I have stopped worrying about them.


  3. Pinko Punko Says:

    My friend just got some good news Summary Statements, but the Resume of Discussion didn’t seem to reflect the score- it was written really weirdly. All three reviews engaged with the grant to some extent, but the presence of Stock Critiques™ was quite apparent. Some really dumb stuff- just had feeling this was a long term panel member that is now reflexive with generic concerns. It seems like the discussion turned it around, but the Resume couldn’t really explain what turned it around, though it ended on a “high enthusiasm” statement. The individual reviews did not appear to be edited to reflect what the final scores must have been. Very perplexing. I also wonder these days about the “your collaborator is far away” Stock Critique™. I feel like this just dings grants for people not in major hubs, as they are more likely to have distant collaborators.

    I see comments as the following classes:

    1) Engaged, picky (feel like ad hoc)
    2) Engaged, thoughtful
    3) Engaged, critical
    4) Disengaged, generic (Stock Critques)
    5) Disengaged, moronic
    6) Inarticulate bad vibe (these may be dispersed). These are helpful if you or someone else can translate them from the tea leaves, i.e. “they think the science is fine, but think it has no significance but aren’t coming right out and saying that”

    2,3,6 are most useful. 4,5 can be handled rhetorically, but it is never clear if you are wasting space that might be more valuable for countering future 1,3 style reviewers. You somewhat have to hope that 5 is handled by the rest of the panel, though can sometimes be handled by hitting the sweet spot of detail/clarity. Sometimes 4,5 teach you how to rhetorically evade some types of critiques, or provide 2,3 type reviewers with counterarguments for 4,5 types.

    It is just too narrow a funding window now for some comments to be meaningful.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    I think it relatively common for reviewers not to bother re-editing comments post-meeting. Frustrating when the score doesn’t seem to match the critiques. Especially hard when the criterion scores don’t seem to tell the tale.


  5. Pinko Punko Says:

    Yes, if you just miss the line and have to get back in, you don’t even have the words to match the positive vote/discussion. Therefore it will be difficult to get the new reviewers to perceive you are building on a well-received initial application. Oh well.


  6. Grumble Says:

    When scores don’t match the reviews, the best thing to do is ask the PO is s/he sat in on the discussion. My PO does this routinely, and the notes passed on to me verbally (minus any identifying information about the reviewers, of course) usually end up reflecting what’s in the summary statement – but not always. When the PO says someone was arguing strongly for or against, and the score shifted as a result, that really helps to explain why the scores and reviews don’t match.

    General advice: if you don’t get informal meeting reports from your PO, you should.


  7. Pinko Punko Says:

    I have definitely heard that, Grumble, but in my circle of experience, the POs for my colleagues (or my) grants have never been in the room. I wonder when they choose to be in a study section- perhaps if they have a chunk of their portfolio in that section?


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Exactly Grumble. Always call your PO after the meeting if your grant was discussed. They can give you a lot of context if they listened in or attended. Sadly it does seem as though this is less common then in the past.


  9. Grumble Says:

    I have an outstanding PO at the institute where I get most of my funding. My experience with other POs has been underwhelming; sometimes it’s just plain hard to talk to them, much less ask them to do something for me. So I’m not surprised to hear that some POs don’t attend study section where “their” PIs have grants under review.

    But if enough of us ask our POs to attend, hopefully they will get the message that it’s very useful for us and more of them will start doing it.


  10. Ola Says:

    @DM Bingo! Nobody edits comments post-meeting. Part of the problem is the window is so damn short, and you’re traveling and playing email catch up as soon as you get home, and it just never seems to happen. A longer post-meeting window would help, but then that cuts into the SRO’s editing and pink-sheet prep’ time.


  11. Pinko Punko Says:

    Well, I do, because I know it would be useful to the applicant. Especially if my score changed, or the discussion went a different direction. However, the SRO in this section is pretty good at the resume of discussion. It doesn’t take too long to edit, unless the whole pile got discussed, but even then, how many do you change your scores on.


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