Dirty Little Secrets

A couple of little secrets I learned recently:

1. A couple of days ago I was chatting with a senior colleague of mine about R01s that senior investigators have held for a long, long time. Like 20 something years. And he says to me- DrdrA…..you know that those grants are bigger than the 250K annual direct limit, don’t you? Say WHAT??? Ah, no esteemed colleague- I had NO BLOODY IDEA that some investigators get more than the allowable 250K in annual direct costs. Thanks for letting me in on that one. And for all you junior people- I’m letting you in now too…for whatever this is worth.

I would love to know how this works, how it is decided who will get MORE than the 250K limit.

2. NIH Extramural Awards by State and Foreign Site. This little gem of a site was posted by Physioprof over on a new post over at Drugmonkey (read the whole thing here). Lets you see the dollar amounts of each grant awarded in a given year- the amounts shown are direct costs plus indirect. Very interesting reading and I had no idea that this information was publicly available. Think of all the pie charts I could construct with that data using my favorite organism as the subject, or how much $$ junior faculty in my field are getting relative to senior faculty, or women versus men… I can think of 20,000 permutations.

But now, I have to work on a manuscript… I’ll save this fun for some late night blogging.

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20 thoughts on “Dirty Little Secrets

  1. http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/r01.htm

    Applications for an R01 award are not limited in dollars but need to reflect the actual needs of the proposed project. Modular applications are most prevalent with modules of $25,000, up to the modular limit of $250,000. U.S. applicants requesting more than $250,000 in annual direct costs and all foreign applicants must complete and submit detailed budget requests using the Research & Related Budget component found in the application package.

    a bit of the history here:

    http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-00-046.html

  2. also note that:

    Advance permission required for $500K or more (direct costs) in any year

    and also that:

    For all such renewal applications, the direct cost budget request for the first year cannot generally exceed an increase of 10% over the direct cost budget awarded for the last year of the prior project period (i.e., the last Type 5 award).

    This one is from NCI but most institutes have something similar. The actual allowable increase varies from time to time, this notice was decreasing the previously-allowed 20% increase.

  3. Hmmm … very interesting indeed.

    It seems that between them, my two mentors will rake in almost $4 million this year alone … but couldn’t/wouldn’t give 7 postdocs a 3% salary increase.

  4. And just to amplify on what BlechMonkey said, you may request up to $500,000 per year in direct costs without permission from Program, but if you are requesting more than $500,000, you need pre-approval from the relevant Instititute or your application will be rejected without review.

    All that being said, there is an important practical significance of the $250,000 direct cost modular budget limit.

    If you write a typical R01 with three specific aims and ask for five years at $250,000 per year, the study section will not even give one microsecond of thought or discussion to the appropriateness of your modular budget request. They will just approve it. And there is no itemized budget to even tempt their interest.

    However, if you go above the modular limit, you draw attention to your budget request and because you have to include an itemized budget, you are inviting scrutiny.

    Corollary to this: If you write an R01 with three specific aims using a modular budget ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the full five years and maximum $250,000 per year modular budget. It is complete abject fuckwittery not to do this.

  5. Okay onward from the information stage to the whinging!

    This is why the focus on “Oh, we need to cap the number of awards per investigator” is so stupid and was such a bloody transparent dodge on the part of the NIH. Another reason to view their public actions as a bit disingenuous and designed to fool the uninformed rather than to address that which they purport to be addressing.

    Three modular award (with the usual one-module cut) are a far different thing than three traditional-budget awards that flirt with the $500K limit…..

  6. PP-
    ‘ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the full five years and maximum $250,000 per year modular budget’

    This is just one excellent piece of advice- I know of people who have been actively mentored NOT to apply for the maximum. For the life of me I can not understand why one would not apply for the maximum if at all reasonable.

    And furthermore- this is one more reason why looking a the site you put up earlier (see #2) is so interesting. Looking at my institution I noticed that the women are getting A LOT less than the men (of course there are extremely few women)… is this because they are not asking for the max and no one has counseled them otherwise???

  7. However, if you go above the modular limit, you draw attention to your budget request and because you have to include an itemized budget, you are inviting scrutiny.

    ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the full five years and maximum $250,000 per year modular budget. It is complete abject fuckwittery not to do this.

    And this is yet another area of much anxiety on the part of the very junior investigator. On my part I was starting to become grant-aware in the transitional era when study section micro-critiquing the budget was a big thing, reviewers were trying to adjust to the modular thing, etc. And I picked up a fear (justified or not) that overall budget mattered. That looking too greedy on the first grant was a risky strategy.

    And it is indubitably the case that reviewers sitting around the table express views that touch on this appreciation, i.e., that youngsters should have “trial” and “starter” grants. Which leads some people to be conservative.

    My current view, having seen relatively untried and unproven investigators compete successfully for the just-under-cap budgets and having just about every application I see on study section adhere to 5yr/full Modular limits in recent times, is more like PhysioProf. Just go for the full mod, full duration. The current risk/benefit does not support any other strategy.

  8. I should have said “some reviewers”. Hard to tell but it seems like a minority. Discussions of budget hardly ever come up anymore. It has to be an egregious disconnect between the apparent plans and the $$ or duration of support for it to be mentioned. And any half-brained PI should be able to avoid obvious reviewer bait in this area.

  9. I know of people who have been actively mentored NOT to apply for the maximum.

    This is totally fucking ridiculous. Your budget is going to get administratively savaged anyway, and study sections know it.

  10. I know of people who have been actively mentored NOT to apply for the maximum. For the life of me I can not understand why one would not apply for the maximum if at all reasonable.

    It is because of a perception that young investigators should not be too greedy and overreach. As recently as in the past 3-4 rounds a slightly more-junior colleague has been getting the campfire word that this was used, in open discussion, as a critique. This may be a minority view but it can still kill you. And senior colleagues’ experience dates back to the traditional budget era when study sections apparently went after the line-item budgets with enthusiasm.

    I noticed that the women are getting A LOT less than the men (of course there are extremely few women)… is this because they are not asking for the max and no one has counseled them otherwise???

    I imagine some of this is relative career status, I’m assuming the women are on average more junior?

  11. The same site that PP referred us to has data on the size of awards given to men and women, and they seem to have balanced in recent years — that is there’s no difference in the size of the average grant. There are still a lot fewer women awardees, but well, that’s the bigger picture of women leaking, falling, being pushed out of the pipeline at every step along the way.

  12. neurolover- I want to look specifically at my field- not just the numbers across all of NIH… if that’s possible.

  13. I want to look specifically at my field

    You’ve touched on this before with your CRISPery. I’m wondering why? I mean can’t we assume the very dismal aggregate stats are probably reflected qualitatively in just about any sub-slice of science? So what would be gained by knowing that some relatively arbitrary sub-field was slightly more or less underrepresented with women? I’m not trying to be an ass, I want to know if you envision an audience for the information that might be able to use it to cause change?

  14. drugmonkey-

    I’m interested in the big and smaller sub-field pictures. It is easy for me to use my subfield as an example for this because I’ve been around it for a long time and know who is who- approximately same level etc. Now,- with that said- the audience for the information that might be used to cause change- I don’t have a plan for this at the moment- but – you just never know who you are going to be sitting down with at a University function (or meeting!) at any given moment and where the conversation will go. I like to be prepared.

    Second- there is so much about the funding system that I feel like I am playing catch up on. For example- today I found a list w/ $$ amounts that shows me that about 40 MILLION , (yes that’s an M) is given out in relative pork in my general area each year. I suppose I had to see the actual ##s on the page for that to really sink in.

    Furthermore, groups in which I function on a daily basis do not like to talk about money… they find it,…well… like poking around in people’s closets… I think this is a VERY VERY bad thing for junior faculty and especially women who tend not to want to step on anyone’s toes and just don’t generally ask for as much as they need. I think that this knowledge is a very powerful thing and unless people level with me I won’t ever really learn how this works. I don’t need them to level with me if I can see the ##S myself.

  15. good points. by “pork” do you mean real, congresscritter sneaks it into some odd unrelated bill pork? or are you talking more run of the mill funding agency shenanigans?

  16. Drugmonkey-

    The latter, and this is something specific that happens in my general field in an area that saw renewed prominence in 2001. As a consequence A LOT of $$s get spent there in only a sham-competitive way (as I understand it from various insiders).

  17. As a consequence A LOT of $$s get spent there in only a sham-competitive way (as I understand it from various insiders).

    Centers, U’s and certain incredibly specific RFAs (where the reading of it convinces you that they had one particular lab in mind who, surprise, wins the best score) fairly frequently give the stench of sham-competition in some of my favorite ICs as well. And when something of renewed interest pops up (SARS! Birdflu! Anthrax! Meth! are the new CANCER! AIDS!) because of world events or popular media, well the ICs need something quickly and tap their usual suspects. So I can understand what you are saying. Question is, how bad is the effect at each IC and does a given one stick out? Is the triggering event bad enough to justify bypassing the usual competitive funding cycles? Those are the kinds of questions that should be answered before assuming shenanigans, don’t you think?

  18. On the Q of whether to go for the ‘full’ $250K: I was advised (in the strongest terms, by my direct mentor) *not* to ask for $250K but to go at either 200 or 225K.

    As it happens, this was good for me – ymmv, of course – for two reasons: first, I gather that it was a positive contributor to my review and indeed convinced one of the three readers that I was ‘serious;’ second, I then got a hard-money position and right now I am in the odd postion of having slightly too much money (unless I want to risk *really* flaming out in four years when R01 and startup end together – not as big a deal for me but potentially very bad for lab folk at that time).

    Still, the first part is probably more generally applicable: yes, there are definitely reviewers who (possibly because of my first-time applicant status) did not think that I merited a $250K award.

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