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Does my priority score mean I will get funded? Career development and fellowships

Does my priority score mean I will get funded? Career development and fellowships

Posted on July 10, 2013 by Robin Barr, Director of the Division of Extramural Activities. See Robin Barr's full profile.

Maybe you are a graduate student, a postdoc, or a new junior faculty member. You have carefully crafted a fellowship application or a career development application. Now, you sit on pins and needles hoping to hear that reviewers love what you propose and that the NIA will make an award.

But wait! I wish that happy conjunction (reviewers love it, the NIA funds it) were always true. But in these times, it can happen that reviewers love it, but the NIA does not have the money to fund it.

For fellowship and career development awards the unhappy conjunction (too much reviewer love for the money) also makes funding decisions particularly tricky.

I will try to explain.

Priority score is not the only factor influencing funding.

Help! How do I get my priority score?

Priority scores are typically available in your NIH eRA Commons account a few days after applications are reviewed.

Priority scores run from 10 (best) to 90 (worst). A fellowship (F, or NRSA) application considered in fiscal year 2013 and given a score of 10 has a 100% chance of getting funded. You really knocked it out of the park if you got a 10—congrats! Same thing with scores of 15 or 17 in fiscal year 2013: 100% chance of getting funded. For career development (K) applications the situation looks the same. Very low (good) scores have a 100% chance of getting funded. Yes. Most funding is by priority score.

But things change right around the payline. For fellowships in fiscal year 2013 to date, some folks with scores around 20 did not get funded, while those with of 21 or 22 did. And for fiscal year 2013 career development awards to date, about half of applications with scores of 17 or 18 got funded. Not all, not none, but half.

Why does that happen?

We award fellowships to predoctoral fellows, students in MD-PhD programs, and postdoctoral fellows. In tough times, when we are making relatively few awards, it can happen that going in strict order of priority scores would mean no grants to any MD-PhD students, or none to postdoctoral fellows. Program balance then means making awards a little out of priority score order.

Similarly, career development awards are a mix of different kinds. Funding decisions based solely on priority score might mean no pathway-to-independence (K99) awards or no patient-oriented (K23) awards.

Our fellowship and career development funding decisions also are influenced by the same research priorities that influence our funding for other kinds of grants. For example, health disparities is an important area for the NIA. So, our program staff may identify a close-to-the-payline application that focuses on health disparities and select that one to be paid over another application with a similar priority score.

So, we balance our awards by making difficult choices with applications that received scores very near the payline.

We try to even things out over the course of the fiscal year.

How many applications did the NIA fund?

Data for the past 10 years on applications reviewed, applications awarded, and success rates by NIH Institute and funding mechanism are available from NIH RePORTER.

Keep in mind that the NIA, like other NIH Institutes, has three rounds of funding every fiscal year. Within the constraints I’ve described, we strive for a cumulative distribution of funding in which applications with low (good) priority scores get the funding they deserve.

We hope that by the end of each fiscal year, we can find the resources to fund additional applications that might otherwise have been left out. But we do protect different kinds of training and different kinds of researchers. Sometimes these considerations mean funding a little outside of what priority score would indicate, even across the full fiscal year.

Have I answered all of your questions? Please get in touch with me by commenting below.


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Career development awards and fellowships: of paylines and priorities

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Posted by boycer on Jul 10, 2013 - 5:34 pm

Dear Dr. Barr, Does institute or center assignment have any influence on the chances of getting funded. For example, lets say a junior clinical research scientist's career development award (K01) received a priority score between 19 to 21. If the NIA were the primary assigned agency but the proposal was also assigned to two other agencies (e.g., NIMH and NINR). Would this help increase its chance of funding?

Posted by Robin Barr on Jul 11, 2013 - 11:15 am

Yes, this never hurts. Another Institute might fund your application if your score is within their payline but outside ours. If your application is assigned to more than one Institute, discuss this with your NIA program officer, who can help advocate for you.

Posted by hagakure on Jul 10, 2013 - 10:50 pm

Does the payline for Diversity F31 applications (PA 11-112) differ from regular F31 (PA 11-111) proposals for fiscal year 2013? I've always heard that they have similar paylines/success rates, but that the two proposals do not compete in the same application pool and thus could generate distinct paylines. I can't seem to find a distinction between these two FOAs when reviewing success and funding rates online, which leads me to believe the current metrics reflect pooled F31s. As someone "sitting on pins and needles" for a payline to go with my priority/impact score, I wonder whether my score is competitive for an Diversity F31 pool, or if my pool is indeed bigger. Thanks for any help.

Posted by Robin Barr on Jul 11, 2013 - 1:20 pm

At the NIA, we have a single payline for all Fs. Still, the program balance that I mention in the blog means that we track diversity applications so we can try to fund some if they are close to the payline. And, you figured correctly—those RePORTER F31 metrics are pooled.

Posted by ruckerc on Jul 23, 2013 - 12:06 pm

For career development awards, could you give more information about how many were funded for FY2013, and how many were in the borderline range of 17-18? Thanks.

Posted by Robin Barr on Jul 24, 2013 - 5:03 pm

A handful of career development applications have scores of 17 or 18. Confidentiality keeps us from stating the exact number. Final awards counts are not available yet as we are hoping to pay some more applications before the end of the fiscal year. And the final official tally will be available on the NIH RePORTER site in December or January.