Saturday, March 22, 2014

My R01 advice so far…

I’m not quite ready to write up an exhaustive guide for what I think should be included in each section of an R01 like I did for the K99/R00 application, because, well, honestly, I haven’t gotten an R01 funded yet.  I have now submitted two completely different applications.  One was scored, but not in a fundable range, and the second will be reviewed in June. 

So what did I learn from my first unfunded application? 

Well first of all, you really have to think about whether it's worth the time if it's not a clear super-slam-dunk. It really seems that every star has to align for you to get funded right now.  For me there were several problems with my grant that I did realize beforehand, but, because I was getting such great feedback locally, I suppressed my gut feeling about these things. 

1.  I proposed to use a mouse model that we are in the process of developing.  All three reviewers basically said that preliminary data with the mouse was absolutely necessary and one even said that the relevance of the entire grant was in question until this mouse and the preliminary data were in hand.  I actually think I would have been better off leaving that one small subaim out of the grant altogether.

2.  This was a new direction within my field that I have not published on specifically.  I actually got 1’s and 2’s for my score as an investigator, but then there were hints of skepticism in the critiques of the approach, which I think would have been eliminated had we had at least one publication on this exact topic.  I will not be resubmitting this grant for at least a year so that we have both the mouse and a published paper. 

3.  A clear focus on a specific disease seems to be absolutely essential.  I thought a strength of my grant was that what I am studying is an entirely new aspect of a protein/pathway that is so broadly important.  However, without a very specific disease model system, our work came off as generating knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  This is a little frustrating that they weren’t seeing the big picture, but on the other hand, I see how it’s easier to grasp, and easier to justify spending the money when there’s a specific disease being worked on.    

4.  Adding senior PIs onto your grant does not necessarily make you more credible. It just makes the reviewers angry. “Bloated” budget or some variety of that sentiment was used by all three reviewers.  This came out in the critiques of the approach.  Any salary support for people outside of your lab has to be absolutely 100% critical to you completing the research.  Mentorship or advice on certain techniques doesn’t cut it.  They need to actually be doing something substantial to get any salary support.  I was left with the feeling that a simple modular budget for me as a new ESI with no paid collaborators would have made them much happier. 

The last thing I’ll say is that while this grant was not funded, I learned A LOT that I applied to my second application.  This new application is on our bread-and-butter topic, the one for which my K99/R00 was funded.  This one was so much easier to write because we have publications, lots of preliminary data, and a very clear disease model.  The tricky part for me was making it completely different from my R00 aims.  I was hesitant to submit on this topic earlier because I assumed that whatever I proposed, the reviewers would say, “well shouldn’t you be doing this new and exciting stuff already with your R00 money?”   However, this view changed when I realized that one of my fellow K99 recipients had landed an (enormous non-modular) R01 on his first submission in the first months of his faculty position with the same overall goal as his K99.  Upon a very careful read of his grant summaries, I realized that the aims of his two grants were indeed distinct even though the goal was the same.  I decided to take the same approach.   Over the past two years in my own lab we’ve made a lot of progress and have developed some new directions, so I made absolutely sure that my aims were completely different in the two grants.   Stay tuned for the June reviews.  I’ll either be writing up my guide to writing R01s or frantically working on a resubmission. 

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