Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Transitioning to NIH applications

I've always worked for people that were NSF/DOD funded and as a result I'm much more familiar with structuring research to satisfy those agencies and writing those types of proposals. I've had actually had very reasonable success at NSF, compared to real and published funding rates, even though each rejection feels like a dagger into my heart. I say real and published because if you look on the NSF site, they often claim about 15-20% funding rates, but this includes supplements, which are for tiny amounts and aren't peer reviewed. Panels I've sat on are routinely in the 5-10% funding range. My stats are 3 for 10 not including supplements, and 5 out of 12 with supplements, which is actually quite good so far if you look at it from that perspective. This also means that I've pretty much used up the charity of NSF. You can't run a decent sized (~6) research group on NSF funding alone, which is what I want to do.

DOD requires building relationships with program managers, which is something I'm working on, but no success there yet, partly because my research is evolving toward medical applications. I've put in a few DOD proposals for open calls, but there you don't get a score so there is no way to tell if you are close or not.

For NIH however, I'm 0 for 4, although I have yet to submit to a standard R01. I've done R21, RFAs, and special things like the "new innovator." I've yet to even get a proposal scored. My NIH funded colleagues aren't sharing their proposals and most of them hide behind the fact that they haven't received new funding since the change from 25 to 12 pages, which happened in early 2010, right before I started my TT position. This is part of the issue of not being at a top place. I've read a few books about NIH writing and looked at the examples on the NIH websites, but I still don't have a great feel for putting together great NIH proposals. Where NSF also helps is that they really try to get new PIs in on panels so you get exposed to a boat-load of proposals, which helps give you a feel for good vs. bad and panels. NIH has a mechanism for bringing in new faculty, but it is at the SRO's discretion and even though I've been actively trying to get on panels, I've yet to get invited. Any advice for how to break into this game? One of my biggest issues is that I'm having trouble drawing the line between what fits as an aim vs. what should be broken off into a separate proposal. My group works on a number of related by separate things. Can each aim attack a problem from a different point of view? Should that be three separate proposals? From the engineering side, you get the added challenge that you are never considered an expert regarding a specific disease or biological system. So when I proposal a set of experiments, based on our unique technology, that would give new insight or help doctors, I always feel like the M.D. and bio Ph.D. people just say what does this engineer know about our niche field, how can he possibly contribute to something we've spent our entire careers studying. Suggestions/help would really be appreciated. I need to start going after R01s and don't want to look like a fool doing it.