Interesting exchange on the twitts today with someone who is intimating that the process of selecting peers to serve as grant reviewers on NIH study sections requires some transparency and fixing.

As my longer term Readers are aware, my main objection along these lines is that I think Assistant Professors should not be excluded and that the purge urged on by Toni Scarpa back some years ago was misguided. I will also venture that I think it is ridiculous that the peer review pool is limited to those Professorial rank people who have already won funding from the NIH (for the most part). If really pressed, I’ve been know to suggest that it is even unfair that the more senior postdoc types who have not yet won a faculty-level appointment cannot review grants.

Other than that, I am generally down with the official mandates to seek ethnic/racial, gender and geographic representation on panels. My personal experience has been that the SROs do a pretty good job at this. Also, because of these factors, I have found that the types of institutions represented spans the range pretty well..small mostly teaching profs, big Research Uni profs, research insitutes of various sizes, public Unis, private Unis, Med Schools and academic departments.

So it is with some confusion that I read someone asserting that there is a problem with who is selected.

My query of the day, therefore, is to ask you if you know of people who seek to serve on study section but cannot seem to land an invite. Alternately, do you know of categories of investigators that are routinely overlooked?

“The proposal is extremely well-written and clear.”

This is my query of the day to you, Dear Reader.

We’ve discussed the basics in the past but a quick overview.

1) Since the priority score and percentile rank of your grant application is all important (not exclusively so but HEAVILY so) it is critical that it be reviewed by the right panel of reviewers

2) You are allowed request in your cover letter that the CSR route your NIH grant application to a particular study section for review.

3) Standing study section descriptions are available at the CSR website as are the standing rosters and the rosters for the prior three rounds of review (i.e., including any ad hoc reviewers).

4) RePORTER allows you to search for grants by study section which gives you a pretty good idea of what they really, really like.

5) You can, therefore, use this information to slant your grant application towards the study section in which you hope it will be reviewed.

A couple of Twitts from @drIgg today raised the question of study section “fit”. Presumably this is related to an applicant concluding that despite all the above, he or she has not managed to get many of his or her applications reviewed by the properly “fitting” panel of reviewers.

This was related to the observation that despite ones’ request and despite hitting what seem to be the right keywords it is still possible that CSR will assign your grant to some other study section. It has happened to me a few times and it is very annoying. But does this mean these applications didn’t get the right fit?

I don’t know how one would tell.

As I’ve related on occasion, I’ve obtained the largest number of triages from a study section that has also handed me some fundable scores over the past *cough*cough*cough* years. This is usually by way of addressing people’s conclusion after the first 1, 2 or maybe 3 submissions that “this study section HATES me!!!“. In my case I really think this section is a good fit for a lot of my work, and therefore proposals, so the logic is inescapable. Send a given section a lot of apps and they are going to triage a lot of them. Even if the “fit” is top notch.

It is also the case that there can be a process of getting to know a study section. Of getting to know the subtleties of how they tend to feel about different aspects of the grant structure. Is it a section that is really swayed by Innovation and could give a fig about detailed Interpretations, Alternatives and Potential Pitfalls? Or is it an orthodox StockCritiqueSpewing type of section that prioritizes structure over the content? Do they like to see it chock full of ideas or do they wring their hands over feasibility? On the other side, I assert there is a certain sympathy vote that emerges after a section has reviewed a half dozen of your proposals and never found themselves able to give you a top score. Yeah, it happens. Deal. Less perniciously, I would say that you may actually convince the section of the importance of something that you are proposing through an arc of many proposal rounds*.

This leaves me rather confused as to how one would be able to draw strong conclusions about “fit” without a substantial number of summary statements in hand.

It also speaks to something that every applicant should keep in the back of his or her head. If you can never find what you think is a good fit with a section there are only a few options that I can think of.
1) You do this amazing cross-disciplinary shit that nobody really understands.
2) Your applications actually suck and nobody is going to review it well.
3) You are imagining some Rainbow Fairy Care-a-lot Study section that doesn’t actually exist.

What do you think are the signs of a good or bad “fit” with a study section, Dear Reader? I’m curious.
*I have seen situations where a proposal was explicitly mentioned to have been on the fourth or fifth round (this was in the A2 days) in a section.

Additional Reading:
Study Section: Act I
Study Section: Act II

from jipkin over at PhysioProf’s pad:

The attitude “I’m happy to debate” should be replaced with “I’m happy to explain”.

and there it is.

Anyone out there ever reviewed SBIR or STTR grants for the NIH? Any thoughts on what seems to be most important, common pitfalls and the like? Any thoughts on how the review discussion tends to differ from standard R01 review?

I have essentially zero experience with these mechanisms and some reader was asking…..

GrantRant XI

January 31, 2013

Combative responses to prior review are an exceptionally stupid thing to write. Even if you are right on the merits.

Your grant has been sunk in one page you poor, poor fool.

The glass is half full

January 31, 2013

There is nothing like a round of study section to make you wish you were the Boss of ALL the Science.

There is just soooo much incredible science being proposed. From noob to grey beard the PIs are coming up with really interesting and highly significant proposals. We’d learn a lot from all of them.

Obviously, it is the stuff that interests me that should fund. That stuff those other reviewers liked we can do without!

Sometimes I just want to blast the good ones with the NGA gun and be done.

Notice of Grant Award