Responding In Kind

Somehow, among my various projects, I am supporting 3 grant applications with short turnaround times, all of which – despite being well-designed projects – suffer to some extent to lack of responsiveness to the sponsor.

Exhibit A: I find myself in the extremely odd position of assisting with the same grant proposal at my new institution that I would have prepared at my former institution – but facing quite a different set of challenges. The new kids have a superb project with all the data & partnership ducks in a row … but they are writing a public health program (acheiving HP 2010 objectives) like a research intervention. They are clinical researchers, not epidemiologists. They think in terms of collecting highly detailed data on manageable numbers of patients … not tracking broader incidence-prevalence trends at a population level. And they aren’t use to chopping their methods into discrete tasks with names and deadlines assigned to each for display in tabular format. To be honest, it’s always hard for me to shift my mind into this framework, too, especially when I’m simultaneously working on …

Exhibit B: A truly innovative R21 proposal to refine an exquisitely promising & nontoxic method for studying membrane protein interactions in cells at a molecular level. The PI recently came here from Europe and, despite being a well established researcher, is not familiar with how the NIH works or the urgency with which we need to find a funding institute for this R21 mechanism (given that NIGMS, the logical home for this work, does not accept applications in response to the parent R21 PA). I gave the PI a gold star for sorting through the CSR review group lists to identify the most appropriate study section … now we just need a program officer to confirm his/her IC will write the check should a fundable score be assigned. Contrast this with a third proposal that has a definite funding home (NIMH) but a PI balking at the recommended change in funding announcement in …

Exhibit C: An R34 to compare an Internet-enhanced PTSD intervention with usual care for women with a history of recent sexual abuse/domestic violence. The proposal originally went to the blanket R34 program announcement, where it was utterly slammed by the study section (responding to the comments required redesigning the study – including the addition of a new PTSD focus – & rewriting the proposal almost from scratch) … but since the original submission, an R34 PAR specific to mental trauma (& especially PTSD) was released. The program officer concurs that the proposal would best be submitted as a new application to this PTSD-centric PAR. However, the PI looks longingly at the extra few weeks afforded by a July resubmission versus the immediacy of a June new application submission. I suggested that if a few extra weeks are needed (which, in truth, they are – and then some), the application should wait until October and be polished to add a very sharp competitive edge. Radio silence from the PI.

Such is the life of a grant mentor.

Take home message: please step back & look at your proposal from the perspective of the sponsor with regard to the design, presentation/organization of the narrative, and appropriateness of the request for the chosen funding announcement/mechanism/sponsor.

Updates: Exhibit A is coming together as an outstanding proposal, Exhibit B found (after many phone calls & e-mails) a program officer & sponsor IC, and Exhibit C will submit a new proposal to the more appropriate PAR in the Oct cycle.



  1. drugmonkey said

    Exhibit C: Aha, trick question writedit, very clever. The solution is, 1) revise grant for July. It isn’t just the extra weeks. really. it is because of the HUGE study section bias for revised applications. you aren’t even in play until it is A1. So your PI simply has to revise. 2) write new grant for the PAR for October. yeah, you have to change some things around but if you can’t generate at least two proposals circling the same topic you aren’t trying.
    how’d i do? full marks?
    Normally I would ALWAYS – and I mean ALWAYS – recommend going with the A1 submission … but you didn’t see the summary statement or the correspondence from the program officer. And the same program officer would be assigned to both the revised & the new application and would toss them both out (justifiably so!) on principle alone. No, this is one case when there is no bias for resubmission, and the PI now agrees as well. So … I’d give you full marks for the recommendation to go with the A1 … but report you to your institution’s RIO (research integrity officer) for submitting duplicative submissions. – writedit

  2. drugmonkey said

    i’m just sayin’…. you have to be pretty dumb or autistically fixated not to be able to come up with two or three interesting proposals that don’t actually overlap but orbit the same topic enough to interest program…

  3. drugmonkey said

    …and speaking of program officers. it’s pretty rare, and i mean RARE for a program officer to tell you not to put in a grant or not to revise and resubmit (their zombie mantra) and try to improve your score. what i take from this is if a PO actually tells you not to put in a grant, well, the proverbial snowball has a better chance.

    had a colleague floating a program project a while back and the PO was saying some pretty discouraging things. the rest of the team was sitting around looking at the Proj Dir thinking “what part of NO aren’t you getting here???” luckily, after a few weeks of prepping the message finally got through…

  4. thanks

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