Pending Payline Pain

Update: NIAID has officially announced their interim payline at the 6th percentile (also confirmed by Anthony Fauci at the September 2009 Advisory Council, with the hope that this can be raised to the 8th percentile at the January 2010 Council meeting), with a 10th percentile interim payline for new investigator R01s.

So, for those non-ARRA applications submitted last February-March or thereabouts, what might your expectations be for the initial FY10 paylines?

Think low. Painfully low, at least at the outset.

First, we still don’t have an FY10 budget, though Congress probably will have something in place by October for a change. What will be in place for the NIH will be a minimal increase (~1.5%) in the base appropriation, so nothing to get excited about. {Don’t forget to ask your Congressional delegation to support an increase in NIH funding}

However, in addition to uncertainty about funding levels, ICs are also struggling with the changes in scoring and the lack of a percentile base on which to make award decisions. Plus, they realize hundreds or perhaps thousands of RC1s will come back this fall, swelling the pool later in the fiscal year … and then all the lucky ARRA awardees will start submitting their competing renewals soon after, particularly those with bridge awards or one-year administrative supplements essentially serving as bridge awards.

With a set (and limited) amount of money and uncertainty as to what scores will truly reflect the most highly meritorious applications and how many such submissions might come in, ICs will be erring on the side of caution to avoid setting a payline that cannot be sustained for the entire fiscal year – again, especially since they anticipate so many competitive applications in the pipeline. Imagine them subsequently reducing a payline mid-year … whereas it is possible to go back and pick up applications if the payline is relaxed.

So, how painful will these initially conservative paylines be?

The tentative interim FY10 R01 payline at one IC will likely be at the 6th percentile (which includes everything up to the 6.9th percentile in the new system), with the anticipation that this will move up to the 8-9th percentile once the NIH has its final appropriation and once data from at least 2 rounds of review are in. Program will have a smidge of wiggle room for discretionary awards such as bridge and select pay.

Now, if you have found it difficult to get clear advice in the past from your POs about whether to resubmit should your score be on the bubble, you can imagine how noncommittal they will be in the months to come.

Have fun and good luck.



  1. hannah said

    Just to clarify, are you saying that for the R01s to be awarded this Fall/Winter (2009) from the Feb submission cycle, the ~15th percentile cutoffs will be out the window? If so, what might this mean for New Investigators, 9th percentile?

    • writedit said

      Yes, the interim paylines would cover the Cycle 1 (Feb-March timing) submissions that go before Council in Sept for funding in FY10. I don’t know about the potential break to be given to new and ESI status applicants, but I assume the payline will be a bit higher, particularly in light of the funding goals set as part of the revised policies.

      • Suds said

        My RO1 reviewed june 2009 and scored 33/25 (impace score/percentile). NCI FY2009 payline 22% for new/early stage investigators. Is 25% percentile will be with in payline for the new and early stage investigator under FY2010 budget plan. As I discussed with program directors, 25% may be with in FY2010 payline for new/arlistage investigators. Please comment on this.

      • writedit said

        With so many unknowns, it is hard to comment on how NCI (or any IC) will convert the individual study section percentiles (all based on just one round of reviews) into a payline projecting forward to cover the full fiscal year. It could be the program people you talked with are confident they have cleared all the competitive grants out of their pipeline so may not feel as pressured to be so conservative at the outset of the FY. I really can’t say. I would be surprised if they raised the ESI payline 3 percentile points for the first round of funding decisions given all the unknowns (versus sticking with 22nd and raising it later in the year as able) … but I’m not the NCI. Now, cancer funding should go up thanks to Mr. Obama, so perhaps that also gives them a bit more breathing room – though again, I certainly cannot provide any definitive wisdom here. Perhaps others have heard better news as well from NCI and will share their glad tidings.

  2. I don’t think you mean that POs will be “prevaricating”. They aren’t hiding information; they simply don’t know for sure one way or the other.

    • writedit said

      Very true, CPP – I do not anticipate any active deception and would not want to suggest such activities on the part of NIH personnel. Thanks.

      • The only time I have known program staff to truly prevaricate is when they really do know that you are going to be funded, but they also know that they aren’t allowed to “make promises” in the absence of a Notice of Award. So they try to tell you, “Yes, you *are* going to be funded” without saying so explicitly.

  3. Pinus said

    So much for my plan about applying in the sweet spot of good paylines…before the horrible wave of ARRA renewals kills all hope. crapper!

    • writedit said

      Sorry to have killed hope so early … though perhaps other ICs will be a little less conservative (this is a high-volume IC with paylines typically on the lower end of the scale). Still, going after FY10 funding will likely be easier than in FY11, as suggested by NIAID.

      • Pinus said

        I knew it was false hope all along, no worries!

        I will keep on trying regardless of paylines…it was a nice fantasy that things would be better for a bit.

  4. DS said

    In the next council meeting in september are all regular grants will be discussed with RC1s??

  5. rrio said

    Any approximations what the RO3 paylines for FY2010 look like? Specifically for NIAID? The new scoring system has left me wondering…..

  6. tim said

    We received a score of 25 for a non arra submission and were told from someone inside NIH this would likely get funded as it was an equivalent to a 150. This was an sbir submission. Anyone else hearing what there non arra scores mean in relation to the old system.

    • writedit said

      I’d say a 25 on an SBIR is likely to get funded … and yes, the 25 is probably roughly equivalent to a 150, borderline of outstanding-excellent.

  7. shiraz said

    My r01 as new investigator got 10 percentile. This is a PA. Should I be hopeful?

  8. SM said

    I just saw the interim pay line fy2010 NIAID to be 6 percentile. Do anybody know what was the interim pay line in fy 2009. Does this spell worries for the actual payline to be this grim.

    • writedit said

      I think you can expect it to go up a couple of points further into the FY (& some Cycle 1 applications on the edge might get picked up later), but probably not more than the 8-9th percentile. Last year, they started at the 10th percentile and moved up to the 12th. This year, there are more variables in play – but no additional money. I guess the good news is that ARRA funding cleared out many near-miss applications that would have been resubmitted again otherwise. Of course, the last submission for FY10 will be the upcoming Oct etc. applications … then you could well face even grimmer news in FY11 unless Collins can work a miracle on Capitol Hill.

  9. SM said

    My grant has received a 10 percentile. Being new investigator I am hopeful. Just recently, I noticed that my program official (PO) has clanged. I do not know the exact reason, however, I guess that the specialization of PO was not in tandem with goal of my grant. perhaps, the new PO is more close to the area of my grant. Now, my question is this a good or bad sign. What are the consequences on funding of this grant, as the council meeting is already completed. Kinldy share your thoughts and experience.

  10. writedit said

    In Science, NIH Director Francis Collins maintains a realistic (ie, not optimistic) outlook for FY11 as well in terms of the funding crunch continuing …

    Q: Can you say anything about how NIH’s 2011 budget is looking so far?

    F.C.: There’s going to be a lot of people making the case for why their particular part of the government is a uniquely wonderful investment. At the same time, we have an economy that continues to struggle, we have a deficit that is now grown to something like $9 trillion. The scientific community should not in any way imagine that this is going to be easy.

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