Tuesday, October 25, 2016

NIH Funding Success! Finally!

Today I got a fundable score on a big 5-year NIH grant.  The grant mechanism is similar to an R01, and has the same level of funding.  I have a few takeaways for those applying for their first grants…

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.

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