According to the NIH Roadmap Website, the Great Zerhouni (via OER) will be issuing a Funding Opportunity Announcement this summer for the Transformative R01 Program (T-R01) “designed to stimulate disruption of existing paradigms or creation of paradigms where none exists” by supporting “highly creative, ‘out-of-the-box’ projects.” Research priorities (“Special Areas of Highlighted Need”) include:
Understanding and Incenting Behavior Change 3-D Tissue Models Functional Variation in Mitochondria Transition from Acute to Chronic Pain Formulation of novel protein capture reagents Evidence for Pharmacogenomics clinical studies
“Incenting”? Also note that the “T-R01 Program represents a High Risk/High Reward Demonstration Project in which novel approaches to peer review and program management are to be piloted.” In other words, start thinking in 12-page essays.
Update: In fact, start thinking in terms of 12-page transformative essays today. The first T-R01 RFA was just released: Epigenomics of Human Health and Disease with a Sept 28 LOI due date and an Oct 28 receipt date. Details below in a separate comment.
As a reminder, the Enhancing Peer Review recommendations include modifying the rating system to focus less on methodological details and more on potential scientific impact. The 5 specific review criteria comprise: impact, investigator(s), innovation/originality, project plan/feasibility, and environment. So what might this look like in practice?
The obvious NIH model would be the EUREKA R01, which is due for re-announcement soon and which involves an 8-page essay focused “on the importance of the problem, the novelty of the hypothesis and/or the proposed methodology, and the magnitude of the potential impact, rather than on experimental details,” with reviewers told to evaluate “significance and innovation” and “the PI’s record of overcoming difficult scientific hurdles.” I definitely recall considerable difficulty coaching PIs on this application.
Then there are the DP1 and DP2 mechanisms. DP1s include the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Program and the NIDA Avant-Garde Award Program for HIV/AIDS Research. The DP1s involve an essay of 3-5 pages that addresses the PI’s “innovative vision for, and the significance of, the biomedical or behavioral problem to be addressed, and his/her qualifications to engage in groundbreaking research.”
DP2s include the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Program (aka “Junior Pioneer Award”) and the Type 1 Diabetes Pathfinder Award. The DP2s request an essay of “no more than 10 pages that addresses (1) the significance of the project, (2) what makes the approaches exceptionally innovative and how the applicant will address risks and challenges, and (3) the applicant’s qualifications.” I’m looking at a funded application, and, um, it reads like a traditional research grant (specific aims and the works), but this was the first year of the competition. The 2008 awards will be announced in September, so we’ll see if these essays are more transformative.
Outside the NIH model, we have the HHMI Early Career Scientist Competition. For this application, PIs could write up to 3000 words through which they would be “evaluated on their potential for significant research productivity and originality, as judged by their doctoral and postdoctoral work, their research plans, and results from their independent research program.”
And, of course, we have the 15-page NSF proposal, for which the project description should include “objectives for the period of the proposed work and expected significance; relation to longer-term goals of the PI’s project; and relation to the present state of knowledge in the field, to work in progress by the PI under other support and to work in progress elsewhere” as well as “the general plan of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken” and “as an integral part of the narrative, the broader impacts resulting from the proposed activities.” However, the NIH seems to be leaving off the NSF broader impacts for now (i.e., integration of research and education, infrastructure enhancement, dissemination, and potential benefit to society at large).
So, keeping these models in mind for now, I’d suggest you all start thinking about your work in terms of marketing catch-phrases rather than the staid and traditional scientific report format we all grew up with. Have at it – and have fun.