The NIH released a notice addressing its Revised New and Early Stage Investigator (ESI) Policies. I normally wouldn’t pull this out for emphasis except the NIH finally gives clear guidance on the mechanism of choice for new investigators: the R01.
I have always given this advice for a range of reasons, some of which we discussed previously in reviewing the presentation by an NCI program officer. Some ICs, specifically NIDDK, make it clear they don’t want to see new investigators turn to mechanisms like the R21 as a starter grant, while others, like NINR, set aside the R03 mechanism for new investigators. Two years? Restricted budgets? Not renewable? Who could possibly advise a new investigator with limited time (tenure clock ticking) and resources to invest in applications that face stiff competition yet do little to advance said new investigator on the road to independence? The notice provides a little data to back up this advice:
However, recent analyses indicate that a smaller proportion of individuals with initial R21 or R03 grant support subsequently apply for and obtain R01-equivalent funding. In addition, the initial success rate for R21 applications often is lower than for R01 applications. Since R03 and R21 grants are limited in scope and period of support, they may not be the most effective way to launch an independent research career.
According to the notice, for FY09, NIH expects to support New Investigators at success rates equivalent to that of established investigators submitting new applications. The majority of New Investigators supported in FY09 are expected to be ESIs. SROs will be asked to cluster applications from New Investigators during initial peer review to the extent possible, depending on reviewer availability. The expectation is that these applications will be more effectively evaluated when judged against other applications from individuals at the same career stage. We’ll see.