New & Early Stage Investigator

Aug 22 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It is a much remarked fact that the age to first award of substantial independent funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been steadily increasing, such that "new investigators" are now, on average, in their early 40s before they get their first major research award (typically an R01). To this end the NIH put into place some new rules to help weight the review process in favor of meritorious new investigators. This lead to much hand wringing and foul crying because it meant that very established and experienced scientists could claim NI status just for not having had an R01.

For example, one might be a Research Associate Professor within the lab of a Greybeard or Bluehair and be made PI on a "new" grant, even though the work was to be done within the lab of the aforementioned senior faculty member. (As usual, I defer to the expert commentary of M'Learn'd Colleagues Drugmonkey & PhysioProf for more cogent discussion of these issues.)

To help out the poor unwashed masses of junior scientists a bit more, the NIH then brought in the Early Stage Investigator policy, which weights in favour of scientists who are less than 10 years from the completion of their terminal degree (PhD or MD).

here lies the rub, my friends, I am just a year out from that ESI cut off. It will be ten years next August that I graduated from my Alma Mater with my PhD (although, like most scientists I count the date of my successful defence and the great moment when my PhD advisor (a man who looked strikingly like Bill Murray) left the conference room where my committee had debated my performace and said, "Congratulations Dr. Brooks" with an enormous grin on his face. I admit, I burst into tears and gave him a hug).

So, given that the clock is well and truly ticking here, my current plan is to apply for an R21 this fall, and an R01 next year. Both should fall under the NI and ESI categories, because even if the R21 is funded it is not counted as a major award for determining NI status.There are two deadlines I can aim for with the R01 in 2013 to maintain the ESI status: February 5th and June 5th. Can I submit in February and then significantly re-write and submit as a new grant in June? Then if (when?) the February submission ricochets out without review, I have a bit of time to take any comments and tweak a new submission for June?

Now, I've worked on many, many, many grants over the last four years since I left the lab. I've contributed to old and new format R, U and P mechanism awards. But - I've never actually had to write a "whole" grant myself. and it needs to be a palpable hit to count if I'm to get my (assumed) resubmission in in time.

I won't be writing alone - I have a very good team of experts I work with and we'll craft this together, but the ideas, and the bulk of the work will be mine. They'll contribute some technical portions and language but that's all. It's going to be a busy few months I think...I'm debating cancelling our Christmas vacation to the UK...

9 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Best of luck!

  • Dr Becca says:

    Good luck! For the record, ESI and NI statuses are irrelevant to the R21 on both ends--like you say, it doesn't count "against" you should you get it, but nor are you given the scoring boost you'd get for an R01 as ESI/NI.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Also, you probably know this, but resubmissions are due a month later than the normal deadlines, presumably to allow you to actually get it in. A Feb submission likely goes to study section in early June, so you won't get your score until then, and summary statement a week or two later. That gives you about 2 weeks to flip the thing for a July 5 resub, but if you have to wait until the Nov resub date, I believe you don't lose your ESI status as long as the A0 was submitted within the 10 years.

  • brooksphd says:

    Thanks dudes.

    Dr. Becca - I knew if I rushed this post i'd flub something. Of course you're right about the resub dates. I was thinking that the R01 A0 would go in February, and be killed to death. It would be a new A0 in June and A1 later that year. If it doesn't get killed to death i'd have the A1 in July and then a subsequent A1 at the year's end for the June A0.

    Clear as mud?

    Our project base is sufficiently broad that I can try 2 fairly distinct applications next year...I think.

  • Aim to make the A0 as kick ass as it can possibly be rather than planning to rewrite it as a new A0 in the next cycle (which is what you seem to be proposing, yes?).

    FWIW: there was 12 months between the A0 and A1 submissions for my R15 as we needed to collect some new data and rejig things after seeing the reviewers' comments. It was worth it as the reviewers loved the A1 and it got funded but that wouldn't have happened if I'd resubmitted it before it was ready.

  • brooksphd says:

    Good point. If it scores well/has good comments then that could be thee oomph it needs.

    Kinda scary. Like a million dollar hand of poker...

  • Albert Lai says:

    The truth is that if you're not discussed at A0, then the chances of getting funded at A1 are very poor. I was told <5%, and that was when the funding environment was slightly better than it is now. Therefore, it isn't really helpful to shotgun proposals before they are ready. Also, your aims between the two A0's would need to be substantially different or CSR will automatically label it as being the same proposal. (I've been told they carefully review this.)

    The other consideration to take into account is that the NIH policy is to recommend ESI-eligible investigators to apply to R01's and not R21's. Early stage investigators have traditionally not been very successful at getting R21's (especially since there is no ESI bonus) and when they do, they have not been successful at getting an R01 based on them. This does not set people up for a successful career path and is why they are pushing people towards R01's regardless of what the traditional wisdom has held. (This is from the NLM extramural research people.) Therefore it may be more worth your time to spend your time working on your R01 proposals and making them as good as you can, rather than working on the R21. (Esp. as your ESI status won't help w.r.t. the R21 regardless of when it is submitted.)

  • Albert Lai says:

    Also, Becca's right about your ESI eligibility for your A1 resubmission. You have up to 13 months to do the resubmission and retain ESI status: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/investigator_policies_faqs.htm#2727

    Therefore, depending on what the reviews say on your two A0 submissions, it may be best to hold off on resubmitting until you are absolutely ready.

  • [...] A couple of weeks ago I wrote, in high spirits, about finding an NIH Funding Opportunity Announcement that matched perfectly with something I’ve thinking about doing. It was an R21 grant, which is a small 2 year award for novel, exploratory research. The little bit of funding would have covered someone on my team to try and do something new and fun with one of the tools we have at our disposal, and see if we could broaden its impact and predictive power. If it worked then we could apply for a larger R01 type grant and fund expansive and scalar development of this tool. If it didn’t work, then no-harm, no-foul. [...]