1. My lab currently has no other funding and I’m going up for tenure soon. NIH study sections are not supposed to consider these things, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was the grant to hit the payline.
2. I submitted what I would consider credible applications to this study section at least 2 out of 3 grant cycles for the last 3 years. They’ve seen my name many times at this point, and I’m sure that helped. These repeated submissions also involved a bit of “spaghetti throwing” to see what sticks to the walls, i.e., experimenting with what combination of aims the reviewers liked.
3. I stopped publishing my lab’s research. I discussed this in my last post, but I think it bears repeating because it seems to have been successful. I still had collaborative manuscripts coming out, so I have lines on my CV for this year. But, what I had experienced too many times was that I would submit a grant and the reviewers would say certain aims were incremental because we had already published on the topic. In one instance, I had a paper accepted surprisingly quickly, so it was out before the study section met, and basically scooped one of my own subaims. I was not going to let this happen again, so I put a pause on our submissions. This idea of needing a strategy for timing of publications is not something I had thought about previously.
4. Having served on five study sections now for NIH and other national or international organizations, I’ve seen a total variety of successful grants written in completely different ways. What I will say is that there are a few things that seem to be necessary if you’re a new PI and/or not famous: a perceived need for funding by the study section even though these things are never discussed outright (e.g., tenure deadline, no other funding, salary requirements for your institution), a steady track record of productivity (fancy journal publications help immensely whether that’s fair or not), credible applications (clear and concise with not a single extraneous experiment; if an experiment won’t give a clear result, don’t include it), appropriate collaborators with strong letters of support for any new techniques, and something about your application that is really exciting or novel.