The Scientist discusses a case study of a budget-crunch-induced lab closure, the personal and professional fall-out, and the concept of intramural bridge funding. In this case study, the PI (at Man’s Greatest Hospital) received a couple of Type 1 R01s during the NIH budget doubling that were not scored (article refers to them being returned without review – I assume she means without discussion/score) as Type 2s, resulting in funding loss … personnel loss … job changes … the works. Very interesting & engaging series of comments in response as well.
Historically, Type 2 R01s (competing renewals) enjoy roughly twice the success rate of Type 1s: 49.1% vs 24.5% in 2002 … 42.1% vs 20.0% in 2004 … 33.5% vs 16.3% in 2006. Hence the encouragement to pursue R01 vs R21 or R03 funding if possible (since the latter non-renewable mechanisms cannot take advantage of this higher success rate for Type 2s). In 2007, the gap narrowed a tad, with 36.1% success rate for Type 2 vs 19.2% for Type 1. As The Scientist points out, this meant 4,108 Type 2 applicants ended FY07 with out an award in hand.
I was pleased to see The Scientist feature institutional bridge funds. I strongly feel no research institution with a shred of integrity can get by operating without such a mechanism in place and transparent criteria for evaluating requests and distributing funds (distributive & procedural justice). These institutions gladly take the indirect costs their investigators bring in (70% at Dana Farber! and when I left another HMS teaching hospital in the late 80s, it was at … 92.3%!!! compared with a paltry 49% here at Baby It’s Cold Outside). In a cut-throat climate, they also dangle the damnedest recruitment packages to lure/buy funded researchers from other institutions. They better be ready to step up to the plate when the loyal productive PIs need help weathering the storm.
Apparently the Dana Farber will help those with scores within the 15th percentile that still weren’t funded. Baby It’s Cold Outside gives some weight to the percentile but just as much to the summary statement (some scores are outliers due to easily fixable application weaknesses rather than lack of productivity or scientific significance), the PI’s response to the critiques, and other funding sources. Budget requests must be prioritized, with students who need support in that particular lab for that particular project to finish up experiments for their thesis or dissertation receiving the highest priority. Maintaining a specialized animal model/pedigree or ensuring data collection continuity for a clinical cohort rank up there as well. Explicit reviewer requests for specific data to include in the amended application can qualify as bridge worthy. So, some strategies to consider for those of you trying to make a case for internal bridging monies at your home institution.
As discussed here last spring, NIH R56 bridge awards are also available, not via direct application by the affected PI but by recommendation of program directors and ICs. Last January, the Great Zerhouni reissued official notice of the NIH Director’s Bridge Awards. Usually program officers nominate their best & most worthy PIs without saying anything to said PI (so as not to get hopes up, especially when people’s careers are at stake in many cases) … but they shouldn’t mind if you send a quick e-mail reminding them that your A0 was really close and you could sure use a funding safety net until the A1 or A2 is awarded. Now, if your application was more than 10 percentile points above the current payline, probably not much they can do (don’t even think about asking about R56 support for an unscored application).
As I type this, it occurs to me that the case study in The Scientist was unscored but still received $50K a year for 2 years from the MGH as bridge fund grants, so clearly they have more liberal standards than the Dana Farber … or the NIGMS … as well.
Next week, I check out Life on Mars. Maybe it will look better on the red planet.