Archive for the ‘CSR Peer Review Notes’ Tag

NIH Grantwriting Webinar Series Begins in February 2015!

We are happy to announce that in addition to one-on-one consulting, workshops, and seminars, we are now adding webinars to our menu of options to help NIH grantees. Upcoming webinars:

Mistakes Commonly Made On NIH Grant Applications
Benefit from the knowledge gained by a grantwriter who reads dozens of Summary Statements per year.

Wednesday 4 February, 11am-12:30pm EST or Thursday 12 February, 11am-12:30pm EST

NIH Submission Strategies
Take steps to optimize your chance of success before you write.

Wednesday 11 February, 11am-12:30pm EST or Thursday 19 February, 11am-12:30pm EST

How To Write The Specific Aims Of An NIH R01
Learn how to make the most important section of your submission compelling and persuasive.

Wednesday 25 February, 11am-12:30pm EST or Tuesday 3 March, 11am-12:30pm EST

Learn More!

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Top Ten Things NIH Reviewers Should NOT Say In A Review

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Credit: Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Center for Scientific Review publishes their Peer Review Notes three times a year, and the most recent issue came out yesterday. The news items are always interesting and it is worth subscribing, if you don’t already. This issue contained an item about things NIH reviewers should not say. I repeat the list in its entirety here—I thought it might be fun for my grantees to see reviewers critiqued for a change.

What do you think of this list? Have you seen one or two of these on your Summary Statements? Me personally? I have seen variations on # 2, 4, and 10 in Summary Statements, and have strongly suspected reviewers of #1 and 5. I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I read # 7, sometimes I think CSR is a little out of touch with what actually happens on Study Sections:

  1. “I didn’t read the application, but I scanned it and saw the applicant said XXX. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Damning statements like this can skew a review discussion over something that might be insignificant in the context of the overall application. It’s better for you to ask other reviewers who have read the application carefully what they think about XXX.
  2. “This New Investigator does not appear to be fully independent since he continues to co-publish with his fellowship mentor/department chair, or does not have designated lab space, or has not been promoted in the past several years.”  Academic research organizations have widely diverse policies for faculty advancements and lab space, and many PIs maintain productive and healthy collaborations with mentors for many years after establishing themselves as bona fide investigators. You should focus more on the investigator accomplishments, such as being the first or senior author on a significant publication or giving presentations at major scientific meetings.
  3. “This application is not in my area of expertise . . . “  If you’re assigned an application you feel uncomfortable reviewing, you should tell your Scientific Review Officer as soon as possible before the meeting.
  4. “I don’t see this basic science research affecting my clinical practice any time soon.” An application does not necessarily have to show the potential for clinical or timely impact—if the applicant doesn’t make such claims. Basic research often takes time to pay off, and you’re charged to assess the “likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved.” Absence of an effect on public health does not necessarily constitute a weakness in basic science.
  5. “I like this project but I’m giving it a poorer score because the applicant has too much money.” Other funding is not a scoreable matter. You should focus on the application’s scientific and technical merit. However, you can note an excessive budget request in the budget section for NIH to consider.
  6. “This application has 2 great aims and 1 bad one. I would recommend deleting Aim 3, and I can give it a 1 or 2.” You cannot trade aims with scores. The application needs to be evaluated as a whole.
  7. “This R21 application does not have pilot data, which should be provided to ensure the success of the project.” R21s are exploratory projects to collect pilot data. Preliminary data are not required, although they can be evaluated if provided.
  8. “The human subject protection section does not spell out the specifics, but they already got the IRB approval, and therefore, it is ok.” IRB approval is not required at this stage, and it should not be considered to replace evaluation of the protection plans.
  9. “This application was scored a 25 and 14th percentile last time it was reviewed . . . .” You should not mention the previous score an application got, because this could skew the review discussion. Focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the current application as well as the responses to previous critiques.
  10. “This is a fishing expedition.” It would be better if you said the research plan is exploratory in nature, which may be a great thing to do if there are compelling reasons to explore a specific area. Well-designed exploratory or discovery research can provide a wealth of knowledge.

Update on the New NIH Biosketch Format

Credit: adamr at  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Credit: adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are changes pending for the NIH biosketch format, and I think it is good news for NIH grantees. The new NIH biosketch format will allow up to five pages for the entire biosketch, as opposed to the current four-page limit. Even better, rather than simply listing publications, the new format will give researchers the opportunity to highlight the magnitude and significance of the scientific advances associated with their discoveries and the specific role they played in those findings.

Grantees will be permitted to describe up to five of their most significant contributions to science, the influence of their contributions on their scientific field, and any subsequent effects of these contributions on the fields of medicine or technology. This will help reviewers better focus on the applicant’s most important contributions to science. Researchers also will be able to include a link to their complete list of publications in SciENcv or My Bibliography.

NIH recently launched a new round of pilot tests (here and here) to make sure the new format will work well for both applicants and reviewers. The pilot will involve surveys of both reviewers and applicants to help NIH fine tune the application instructions and guidance to reviewers. NIH plans to roll out the modified biosketch for all grant applications received for FY 2016 funding and beyond (which generally refers to applications submitted in early 2015).

To learn more about the NIH’s new Biosketch format click *here*

 

The Center for Scientific Review Board Makes Grant Review Suggestions to NIH

The NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) publishes Peer Review Notes to inform reviewers, NIH staff, and others interested in news related to grant application review policies, procedures, and plans. The latest issue of Peer Review Notes was sent out last night (they publish three times per year). Here are items that caught my attention:

Dr. Nakamura (new Director of CSR) Lists Some Initial Priorities for CSR:
  • Become more scientific in assessing approaches to improve the efficiency and particularly the quality of NIH peer review.
  • Work hard to understand and address possible disparities in NIH awards.
  • Collaborate with the NIH and scientific communities to identify critical problems, such as the definition of a “new” application, and to develop solutions.
  • Help the public understand the role of NIH peer review in advancing science and health in the United States.

I certainly wanted more clarity on those first three bullets, some of which I found in another article in this issue of Notes, which I have copied below (my comments appear after each numbered suggestion):
CSR’s Council Suggests Five Ways NIH Can Help Applicants CSR’s Advisory Council recently asked NIH to consider five ideas for helping applicants with promising research ideas to stay in the game despite historically low funding rates. Because these ideas deal with trans-NIH policies beyond CSR, Council members asked CSR’s Director to share them with the appropriate NIH officials.

CSR Council Ideas

1. Treat all applications as new and let investigators instead of NIH decide when resubmission is futile. Council members suggested that the resulting reviews would be more independent and simplified since earlier reviews would not be considered. Reviewers might also be more focused on merit because they wouldn’t get sidetracked by considering how investigators responded to previous reviews. Our Council suggested doing a pilot where investigators who opt-in could resubmit any R01 application as many times as they wanted, but they could submit no more than two research project grant applications in any 12 month period. Reviewers would be encouraged to send strong messages about applications that need substantial revision.

          Meg’s comment: I suspect PIs would love to submit an R01 application as many times as they like, though some folks would balk at being limited to two RPGs per 12-month period (I assume they mean any RPG at any IC). Many PIs I know would appreciate a clear message from reviewers about whether they should resubmit. The grant score alone does not always help them decide, as I have seen applications go unscored because the reviewers wanted an entire aim added or taken away, but they were very favorable about the rest of the application (in this instance, clearly the team should resubmit even though the A0 is unscored.)
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2. Encourage more NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) to allow investigators to respond to their reviews prior to Council consideration so very promising applications that might slip through the system could be identified. Principal investigators (PIs) with “gray zone” applications would be asked to provide a response to their reviews. IC Program staff would submit these comments and applications to their Councils, which provide the second level of peer review.
          Meg’s comment: Again, I can imagine that most PIs would welcome the opportunity to speak persuasively about their project if they score near the funding line, though this strategy adds to the workload for both the PI and PO, which is something NIH has been trying to avoid.
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3. Enhance communications with PIs: Study sections and NIH program staff should do better at communicating to PIs about applications that are unlikely to be successful or, alternatively, are of potential interest.  [See our last PRN newsletter: Make the Best Use of the “Additional Comments to Applicant” Box]
          Meg’s comment: My clients and I spend plenty of time trying to read between the lines of pink sheets to figure out if the reviewers would welcome a resubmission. It can be exceedingly difficult for a PI to read his/her pink sheets, let alone accurately assess the subtleties of the comments. On the one hand, a clear message from the reviewers about resubmission would be welcome. On the other hand, if the PI feels he can address the problems, or feels the review was less-than-fair and s/he would like to wait it out and resubmit to the same study section after there has been some turnover, they should have the opportunity to do so regardless of what the study section said in the pink sheets. Note that this CSR Council recommendation seems to contradict their first recommendation above: “…let investigators instead of NIH decide when resubmission is futile.”
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4. Encourage NIH ICs to take full advantage of the R56 funding mechanism to provide bridge funding to promising investigators. These “High Priority, Short-Term Project Awards” provide 1 year funding for high-priority new or competing renewal R01 applications that score just outside an ICs funding limits.
          Meg’s comment: The little-known R56 funding mechanism is not one for which a PI can apply directly, it is awarded to a PI with a promising application to another grant mechanism. The award is made at the discretion of the Program Officer, which is one of the very many reasons I am a huge advocate of the PI cultivating a relationship with the PO. Note also that I had a client receive an R56 even though his original application was nowhere near the funding line. He had a great relationship with his PO, and the PO believed in him and his work.
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5. Provide longer-term funding for some PIs: For investigators with large and successful programs, NIH should consider offering funding for a longer duration but at a lower overall amount. The savings would be used to fund more applications. Restrictions on participating PIs would be necessary to ensure that the result would be revenue-positive.
          Meg’s comment: This is such a mixed bag I don’t even know where to begin.
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What do you think of the CSR Advisory Board recommendations to NIH?

How Cover Letters Aid NIH Application Reviews

I am often asked whether one should write a cover letter to accompany an application. Many of my clients feel it is a waste of time. I completely disagree. Here is a section on the topic from the May 2011 “Peer Review Notes”, a newsletter put out by the Center for Scientific Review:

NIH encourages applicants to submit cover letters to help guide applications to our review groups and give us other information that will help us review them. A majority of applicants now take advantage of this opportunity.

 

Popular Reasons to Use a Cover Letter

• Suggest we assign your application to a review group you think is best.

• Suggest we assign your application to an NIH institute(s) or center(s) you think would be interested in your research.

• Describe the kinds of expertise needed to review your application.

• Let us know about potential reviewers who you think might be in conflict with your application.

Our scientific staff members make the final decisions after they carefully consider your suggestions and explanations.

 

Suggesting a Study Section

We designed our study sections with a deliberate amount of overlap, so more than one study section may have the expertise to review your grant application. You may express a preference, and we will work to accommodate you if possible.

 

• Check our online study section descriptions to identify a review group you think is best suited to review your application. Last year, this area of our Web site registered nearly 1.7 million page views.

• Examine recent study section rosters to help you gauge the scope of our study sections. But note that CSR study section rosters can change significantly from round to round since we recruit reviewers for a meeting based on the specific scientific content of the applications to be reviewed.

• Consider seeking guidance from a CSR scientific review officer overseeing a study section you think could best review your application. Program officers can also give guidance on suitable study sections.

 

Requesting Assignments to NIH Institute(s) and Center(s)

You can also request that your application be assigned to one or more NIH institutes or centers you think would be interested in your research. It’s usually a good idea to contact one or more NIH program officer(s) to get guidance. You can identify program officers via the NIH Institute and Center staff listings on their respective Web sites.

 

Helping Ensure Your Review is Appropriate and Unbiased

 

• Note essential expertise needed to evaluate your application in your cover letter. You

should not, however, list the names of potential reviewers.

• Identify reviewers who you think could be in conflict with your application. Learn

about these conflicts here.

 

Your scientific review officer (SRO) will consider the situation and make the final decision. If he/she agrees there is a conflict, the reviewer will not be assigned to your application and will not be in the room when it is discussed. Rosters are typically posted online 30 days before your review meetings, and if you see a reviewer on it who could be biased, contact your SRO as soon as possible.

 

Notifying NIH that You Are a Reviewer Eligible to Submit an Application Without a Deadline

Learn more about this and other uses of cover letters by checking out our new cover letter Web page.

 

 

Center for Scientific Review’s “Peer Review Notes” is out!

I’m emerging briefly from my grantwriting fog to remind people that the NIH’s Center For Scientific Review, which oversees the peer review portion of the extramural grants, publishes a newsletter three times a year. The latest issue is out. If you don’t already subscribe, I strongly encourage you to do so.

I’ll be posting more when I emerge from the hell of impending Cycle II grant deadlines. (WHY do so many people apply for Cycle II grants? Does anyone know?)

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