Planning the Big One

The NINR has put out an RFA for its first ever P01 (program project grant) award, with plans to fund 2-3 proposals. The letter of intent isn’t due until the end of October, the application itself until the end of November. The SON here already has 6 meetings on the books before the end of August at which at least 8 R01-funded PIs will discuss the P01 theme, compare data to select the strongest component projects, and assign proposal development tasks. They will talk with program officers every step of the way. They want this award. Bad.

I, who can best be described as a nattering nabob of negativism when it comes to grant applications, think they are likely to succeed. I think this without reading word one of the first draft. I think this because rather than waiting for the magic grant fairy, they are doing hard work right from the time of announcement to ensure they can draft and discard material ranging from pretty awful to not quite ready for prime time … and thus pull together a killer proposal before the LOI even goes in. These folks want the whole enchilada sent out for external review before it goes to study section for NIH peer review. These folks plan to do this right – and they will nail this award as a result.

I’ve worked on plenty of NIH proposals that were, in the pre-9/11 days, flown down and driven by taxi to Bethesda, arriving hours to minutes before the 5 pm deadline at CSR. These were the sorts of submissions that involved bonding experiences at the copier after 36 sleep-deprived hours of filling gaps in the text, squeezing the narrative within the page limt, running down forms not yet submitted by co-investigators, and (damn those people at sponsored programs) getting chairs and deans to sign off on the internal budget & research authorization forms. I do have the nattering nabob view of these submissions, though occasionally exceptional science (&/or a marquee PI) trumps a crappy application. Nothing anyone can count on these days though.

Bottom line – if your next grant application, whether for a P01 or an R03, is really, really important to you, start working on it yesterday and have a full reviewable draft ready in time for the LOI, not the receipt date.


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