Something you'd learn in business school?

March 19, 2014

erickttr observed:

I notice that you go to RePORTER for information to help solve mysteries and gather data and strategic thinking respecting grant strategies and for a feel for national trends. Do you ever bring this up in conversation with POs? For example, “I noticed in RePORTER that only 5 R01s have been funded from this PAR, none from my IC of interest (which had a part in creating the FOA) …. what’s up with that?” Or is that too …. something … seems like something you’d learn in business school …. not grad school (where we learn to pipette and run gels).

The things that I talk about on this blog are things that I learned, sometimes the hard way, as a faculty level scientist who was expected to land major research grants to fund his laboratory. A few things I picked up as a postdoc, but my education really accelerated after my career world said “Okay, show us what you can do, junior.”.

Much of what I relate to you I learned in bits and pieces over a very long period of time. Just this very month, btw, I learned yet a new wrinkle on NIH behavior when it comes to grants. I am always learning new stuff.

Obviously, I think it is imperative for my continued career existence that I keep my head up about where the lab’s funding comes from. I blog because I think you Readers should do so as well. Most of this stuff isn’t rocket science, just information. Information that you will over time come to value, information that you will find to be incorrect for your situation and information that may never be of use.

It is my belief that the more academic folks who plan NIH extramurally funded careers know about the NIH system, the better for them. And even grad school isn’t too early to start to pick up the basics.

When it comes to Program Officers and, yes, Scientific Review Officers, my answer to erickttr is a simple “Heck yes!”. Even people who are part of the system don’t necessarily know everything about the system. Not even “their” piece of the system!

You may recall my various frustrations over the years with aspects of the NIH system that participants in the system seem to ignore. Rockey’s assertion about PhD job prospects. The amazing discovery that NI awards, prior to the invention of the ESI category, were going to highly established PIs who simply hadn’t been NIH funded yet. Program Officers who told people in soft-money jobs that “well, that’s not a very good job, you shouldn’t be taking those”. POs who tell investigators they just need to “write better grants”. SROs who were entirely unaware of the A2 traffic-pattern effect as it was developing (“What do you mean this study section rarely funds A0 applications?“)

The list goes on and on.

Areas of scientific study that are woefully underfunded by your favorite IC are no different. YOU, scientists, serve an educational purpose. You do this by virtue of the grant applications you submit. You do this by virtue of the reviews that you supply when asked to serve on study section. You do this in your annual Progress Reports.

And you do this by chatting up your friendly POs on the phone or at scientific meetings.

Part of your argument can be derived from RePORTER. Of course. Particularly when you want them to fund you to do X and there are hardly any grants funded on X at the moment. Maybe you can point to a study section which should be handling X but never seems to let any proposals out with a fundable score. Who knows, maybe you will eventually get a Program Announcement or Request for Applications funded.

Go RePORTing folks.

Addendum based on this (wisecrack?) comment from SidVic.

You are poorly served by these idiots, and it is shameful that the NIAAA portfolio doesn’t contain at least 4-5 projects addressing x and z. Hey you should really do your duty to humankind and pick up my grant…

Obviously you want to be polite. But the real point here is that you are playing the long game. When you front people with the deficits in their system, they are not going to immediately agree you are right and hand you a new grant award. Not the way the world works. You are trying to shape their own beliefs. This can take time. And you are also trying to give them (your advocates) the ammunition that they need to make their case with higher-ups. (When text that is suspiciously similar to your rantings shows up in the RFA, just quietly pat yourself on the back and consider it a job well done!)

6 Responses to “Something you'd learn in business school?”

  1. erickttr Says:

    I saw your reply last night, wrote to the SRO, and they called me this morning. What you wrote was spot on — it was news to them. and they expressed some gratitude on bringing it to attention. I got some information too that I otherwise would not have. (how many apps from my IC have been submitted for each round, how many reviewers stay/go between cycles). As a 4th year adjunct (all research no teaching), floating from 2-year to 2-year and sucking at the teats of big-effing-program-projects, I feel like I’m just starting to “get it” and I hope it’s not too late.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    SROs of my experience DO want fair, appropriate expertise reviews. They don’t know everybody. They don’t always know what is the most relevant expertise. So yeah, talking to them about where you see a chronic deficit of expertise is good. (You may also find out that despite the description of the study section on the CSR page, it isn’t really the place for your proposal.)


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    And for the record, I try to avoid ever thinking I “get it” when it comes to the NIH and grant seeking. This is seven-blind-men-and-an-elephant stuff…


  4. Grumble Says:

    “Most of this stuff isn’t rocket science…”

    Yes, but is it brain science?


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  6. Yvain Says:

    Great post, drugmonkey. In the era of the new scoring system I kept getting positive reviews, but not quite fundable grant scores. I mentioned to my PO that according to RePORTER no grants had been awarded for a special solicitation, and I shared a theory that my review panel was not giving proposals they apparently liked strong enough scores to be funded. The next round my score got bumped from an unfundable 30 up to a perfect 10. The lesson I learned was to “talk to your PO,” and be grateful when you get lucky…


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