MIRA Moaners

March 31, 2016

Jocelyn Kaiser reports that some people who applied for MIRA person-not-project support from NIGMS are now complaining. 

I have no* comment.


31 Responses to “MIRA Moaners”

  1. Pinko Punko Says:

    What I would like to know is the process of deciding- what was the formula for budgets, and how did they get to the range of different cuts? I would like to know if they were evenly distributed by cohort- age/sex etc. From my asking around it seems like 200K for first R01, +150K for second, +100K for third, approximately. Maybe somewhat prorated by budgets of the expiring R01 and the converted R01.

    And the interesting part of the Kaiser piece was the quote about mid and Senior career investigators. The gap between baby MIRA and BSD MIRA is a full generation of mid career scientists- this is a worry for me relating to NIGMS. These will be the PIs that never had opportunity to get to the second R01 level, will have been funded on highly truncated modular budgets (GM policy to spread dollars), and will be judged on their productivity relative to Baby MIRAs getting funded at >250K and to existing PIs renewing > budgets.

    That said, I support the MIRA for some things, but the idea to convert everyone in GM to MIRA may have some unintended consequences. If everything is people not projects, the wages of “stability” seems like a loss in diversity, and the ability to get back into the mix with compelling new ideas. If everything is a 6 page proposal- the focus and creativity that underlie excellent proposals will be lost. That loses value, and it makes it more difficult for scientists that are perhaps less productive but high quality to stand out (I speculate). Projects should always be the bedrock of NIH- the rigor of proposing and reviewing projects (if not spirit crushingly burdensome) is a good that should not be discarded.


  2. Pinko Punko Says:

    Adding- what I heard was this: since one R01 needed to be expiring and PIs that applied had to NOT submit renewal for that, the PIs that felt burned felt the thumb was on the scale to take the MIRA, because what did not seem clear from outset- that the expiring grant would then be dead if one didn’t accept the MIRA. This is only backchannel second or third hand information. I don’t know if this is true. I think there was perception that if MIRA was not obtained or the terms seemed bad, the R01 renewal could get submitted. I wonder if the PIs that did NOT get the MIRA are still able to submit those expiring R01s as renewals?


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    Since NIH has always functioned in part as people-not-projects I agree that further downgrading of project based review with this MIRA disaster is a bad idea.


  4. dr24 Says:

    Is there somewhere I can go for context? I don’t know what MIRA is or why I should hate it.


  5. Ola Says:

    What’s not in the article is a discussion of the financial benefits of this model to NIGMS. Taking the example of Sue Jinks-Robertson in the piece as representative, her budget (3 grants) went from $427k to $345k. NIGMS claims they will award about 115 MIRAs this year. That’s a total savings of $85k x 115 = $9.4m, plus say 50% indirects = $14m/yr.

    NIGMS always cut their R01 budgets – say $200k is the norm, so a spare $14m would conceivably permit them to award an extra 46 new R01s ($300k per award including indirects).

    According to this post from Lorsch (https://loop.nigms.nih.gov/2016/03/application-and-funding-trends/) the NIGMS portfolio is steady at about about 1000 R01s awarded per year. So, if all the savings get siphoned back into extramural RPGs, this would increase the number of R01s that NIGMS can award by around 5%. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.

    Granted (!?) there are other problems with the model as DM has elegantly conveyed, but at least (to a first approximation) there’s a fiscal rationale for it.


  6. Plenum Says:

    NIGMS automatically cuts R01s to 4 years (except for new investigators) and then cuts an additional 20-24% on top of the annual budget (24% so they don’t have to renegotiate aims). That’s why the NIGMS success rate (29%) is so much higher than the other institutes. Most other institutes cut either years (NHLBI) or budget (NIA 18%, NIDDK 10%, NIAMS 12%, etc). I think NIAID may be the only institute that doesn’t cut either the budget or years.


  7. potnia theron Says:

    Part of the question: is the cut from MIRA about the same as would be (if not more) from R01s? Is Jinks-Robertson seeing the same cuts she would have seen with other funding? As they say: past performance is not always a good predictor of future returns.

    Finally, I had to laugh at trading “her three small, project-based grants, which had to be renewed every 4 years”. If you look on reporter for her: she’s got two R01’s and a T32. One of the R01s is 27A1.


  8. drugmonkey Says:

    Ola- I think we are all very clear on the NIGMS strategy to cut budgets to fund more grants. I find this to be a recipe for further grant churning. They semi-recognized this with MIRA ….but the predictable emerged. Those who really want and like it are, statistically, getting more cash. Those who really feel a cut in total overall funding are not happy.

    The cut-to-the-bone strategy also leads to massive inefficiencies in productivity. But this is easy to ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist.


  9. potnia theron Says:

    And spending more time writing proposals than papers.


  10. AcademicLurker Says:

    From the article:

    the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), announced a new kind of award that promised stability. She could trade her three small, project-based grants, which had to be renewed every 4 years, for a single award that would provide 5 years of steady funding.

    Is it just me, or does 5 years instead of 4 sound like a pretty negligible increase in “stability”?


  11. Pinko Punko Says:

    1 grant every 5 vs 3 on rotating basis every 4 is a huge difference. I suspect some of the issues with complaints are how small the grants were in the first place. GM always has problem in there is huge difference in sizes of grants, meaning how to compare?


  12. Newbie PI Says:

    From what I saw on twitter, some BSDs are feeling like the MIRA was a bait and switch used by the NIH to give them not only less money, but far less money than they were expecting. If I was one of those BSDs, and I was giving up other funding opportunities for MIRA, I’d feel bamboozled too.

    As for the baby MIRA, I really can’t wait to see what criteria was used for judging them. My score left me shocked that my grant was even discussed. Like laughably bad. As in, I’ve never heard of a score this high. My track record and success as a PI is awesome (but maybe everybody else’s is too) so they either dinged me on Approach (which is supposed to be de-emphasized for the MIRA) or dinged me for not being at Harvard. Will be very interesting to see who gets these.

    Also, is this pronounced Meera or M-eye-ra?


  13. JK Says:

    Newbie PI, I’m with you on the baby MIRAs. I’ve heard of multiple poor scores from very good young scientists, so the summary statements will be quite interesting when they show up. I’d love to see the score distribution for these.

    My biggest moan about the ESI MIRA is that if you submitted one then you couldn’t submit another grant to NIGMS for an entire year due to the review cycle and the fact that the MIRA overlaps with everything. As an assistant professor you only have so long to get a major grant, and to be told you can only submit one grant a year to NIGMS makes it difficult to get your lab funded in time for tenure, especially if the funding rates are going to be similar to the standard R01 ESI funding rates (which you can submit multiple of per year). Also, if the reviewers want to see multiple publications to show productivity then few investigators will be competitive after only one or two years on the job, which means you might only get two chances to apply for this before its tenure time. I’m not sure if this is a bug or a feature, but its certainly an innovative method to add more noise to the funding process.


  14. The Other Dave Says:

    All those MIRA recipients can quit their whining and shove their other grants up their fat stupid privileged asses. You know what I am tired of? I am tired of heavily-funded people in fancy places asking me for reagents and mice that were produced and are maintained without NIH funding. You know how it’s common for people to withhold unpublished reagents? Well maybe it should be OK for me to say Oh sorry until NIH pays me to become a resource center I can’t afford to maintain a couple extra litters or get that stuff out to you. They want all the money? Fine. Well then we’ll see if they can do all the science on their own too.

    I like that some institutes are trying to spread the wealth. They’re recognizing that science is a community endeavor. That lone superstar with all the funding can’t actually do jack-squat on his/her own. The rest of us train the undergraduate and graduate students who become their awesome postdocs, make the specialized reagents that they rely on, record the basic observations that are the foundation for their glamour-mag glory, and ultimately read their self-serving more-often-than-not-these-days overhyped and fraudulent bullshit.

    This is what happens when I am having a bad day and too many people ask for stuff. No, it doesn’t correspond to any bad grant review.


  15. Microscientist Says:

    I’m trying to determine how to search for MIRA awards on Reporter. The activity code R35 doesn’t show up as a choice. I’m curious to see what these folks wrote for their abstracts etc. Any ideas on searching for these?


  16. Pinko Punko Says:

    Micro- NOA aren’t out yet so not likely to be in Reporter yet


  17. SG Says:

    Jk, you can submit a new grant to nigms as soon as your SS is released. You don’t have to wait a year.


  18. SG Says:

    My understanding is that MIRAs are optional. No one has to accept the award. They can keep the r01s….correct ? I can’t read the science article at the moment..behind a paywall for me.


  19. JK Says:

    I didn’t mean you have to wait a year after review. What I mean is that if you submitted a baby MIRA last September you couldn’t submit a regular R01 last June (since it would still be under review when submitting a MIRA), or last October or February since the MIRA review didn’t happen until March. Thats 3 submission cycles where you can’t submit to NIGMS.


  20. Anon Says:

    What types of scores are people hearing? Based on my NIH experience I figured any score under 30 would be funded. Have people heard of any such scores?


  21. Newbie PI Says:

    My score was 59 for baby MIRA. A colleague of mine (who has a significantly worse CV than me) got a 66. I’m wondering if they discussed more of them than usual because these scores seem crazy. No percentile was given and comments still haven’t shown up.


  22. JK Says:

    I had a 39, which I assume won’t be funded. I colleague of mine that has a better CV then I do got a 60. I saw a score of 33 over at writedit’s place. I think I read somewhere that all of the proposals were to be discussed, so theres nothing to be read into getting a score vs. being triaged.


  23. Anon Says:

    OK Just curious. I received a 20 (baby MIRA) and was very happy although I should say that I am probably one of the most senior ESI eligible candidates with a decent independent publication record (>20 papers in 5 years).


  24. dtm00 Says:

    I was the 33 baby MIRA at writedit. Looks good based on all these high scores, but as my non-scientist spouse says, the grant winners are likely not the people wasting time posting on blogs. Thus, I am planning next cycle to put in a new R01 and resubmit another R01 that was sidelined by the pending MIRA.
    The scores are really meaningless without a percentile. For example, I did get a regular R01 reviewed in a standing study section with a mid 50’s impact score that translated to 40th percentile. I was surprised since I thought 50+ score should have meant not discussed.
    Somewhat related, take a look at this updated FAQ on the baby MIRA:
    Looks like if you were bold enough to submit both an R01 and MIRA (basically ignored the clear instructions that this is overlapping grants) they will consider each! Which is utter bullshit for those of us who followed instructions. Sort of like the old no resubmissions policy that those in the know knew to ignore.


  25. BioSciProf Says:

    I got a MIRA. It will be less money than the 2 R01s I had going in. BUT was clearly the intent from the get-go, so I don’t understand why some folks are complaining. I know people who qualified but decided not to apply for just that reason. In my opinion, the reduced funds for 5 years (meaning I won’t have to write a grant for several years) is more than worth the cut in funds. I will be able to focus attention on actually thinking about science properly and plan in advance for staffing, rather than lie sleepless wondering if I will have to let my tech go if this or that doesn’t fly. And that means I will be a better mentor, too.


  26. pla99 Says:

    An NIH PO has told be that I will likely be receiving a baby MIRA. It seems that many people think these baby MIRAs are a bad early career move. Why is this? Is there something I’m missing?


  27. drugmonkey Says:

    No idea. They are up to full modular and for 4 y right? So not any worse than an R01 from NIGMS. and it “may” come with some sort of ramp down funding if you can’t renew it (unlike R01). I don’t see any problem. My criticism is just that NIGMS made the senior investigator MIRA a significant upgrade from a single R01 at full mod and hosed the ESIs with an R01 dressed up as a MIRA.

    Now true, you won’t be able to apply for any more normal NIGMS funding but it is up to you if you were going to do that anyway.

    congrats and good luck.


  28. Status quo Says:

    pla99- out of curiosity, did your NIH ecommons status change to “Pending” or does it still stand at “pending council review”. Thanks!


  29. Newbie1 Says:

    My baby mira switched to: Pending administrative review. Refer any questions to Program Official or Grants Management Specialist. What does this mean? Anyone else notice a status change in the past day or two?


  30. Mira Says:

    Congrats, it means that you are funded! The POs are making calls today to all that were recommended for funding. Good luck!


  31. the_young_guy Says:

    Well here is my take on the process. I applied for the young investigator MIRA last fall. Based on my not being scored (that was a first for me) versus a friend who was funded, and knowing my friend’s application and comparing them, along with our study sections, our conclusion is that the old adage applies: “its not who you know, its who knows you.” It is certainly an award that leans heavily toward those who have done postdocs in top labs. A name goes a long way. I don’t think much can really be taken into consideration for actual science with these applications, more like the potential for good science. But should I really be surprised?

    Basically, if you had great training with a well-known name in the field then they will see you as likely to do well and therefore you are a considered a good candidate for the MIRA, which equals good scores. Others need not apply. No publications, no problem. Make it sound exciting, they won’t really read much of it anyway, unless they are trying to find a reason to give you a poor score.

    It might be stretch calling it a baby HHMI, but it has some similarities. Maybe they are thinking that by removing the top players from the R01 pool, it will even the playing field for others?? Is this just politics as usual in academia?? I don’t know. It was worth a shot because NIH was VERY vague about what they were looking for. But its clear now. At least now I know that my time is better spent NOT reapplying.


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