Did you know? NIA receives somewhere around 4,000 applications for funding in response to new and existing funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) each year. And, each application is reviewed. With that level of interest, you can imagine that we are always looking for investigators who are willing and able to serve as peer reviewers.
A recurring question from readers after I post a new funding line blog post is: Does that line apply to my application? It usually does, bringing good news to those blessed with applications within that line. The normal caution applies—the line means that we expect to pay awards. Still, the funding line doesn’t apply to everything.
As most of you probably know, there has been a big influx of funds for Alzheimer’s disease research, with perhaps more to come. We recently issued several new Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) focused on Alzheimer’s. A burning question in the minds of many scientists is: Can a basic biologist not currently working on Alzheimer’s really expect to receive funds targeted towards Alzheimer’s research?
A few months ago, NIA decided to follow the practice of two other NIH institutes and arrange two-stage review of program projects. We have recently completed the first review cycle under this new review model. We launched this two-stage effort because of concern that the separate small committee reviews which each handled one program project lacked the context for scoring that is available to the customarily larger panels who review a substantial set of research grant applications in one meeting.
Several recent commentaries (Danthi, Wu, Shi and Lauer; Lauer, Danthi, Kaltman, and Wu;) have found that the percentile rank an application receives in peer review has little or no noticeable relationship to how productive (in terms of citation impact of publications) a subsequent award is, should the application be so fortunate as to be awarded. So, a first-percentile application is apparently no more productive than a 15th-percentile application. Is that outcome really surprising?
I am a Scientific Review Officer (SRO) and currently lead the NIA-N Review committee. I’m constantly recruiting grant application reviewers: I mean, All The Time! During the course of each year, I also run a multitude of meetings to review grants responding to Requests for Applications, Program Project Grants (PPG), and Institutional/Individual Training Grant opportunities. It’s a good thing that I don’t take rejection personally, because more than half of the reviewers I try to recruit say, “NO,” and about a quarter of them just don’t answer my emails. One time I asked 89 people to review a PPG and only 14 of them said yes.
As an NIA program officer for 11 years and counting I have the rare privilege of monitoring many study section meetings devoted almost exclusively to R03, R21, and R01 applications. One thing that leaps out of this experience is that a perpetually changing cast of peer reviewers raise the same basic criticisms over and over again.
Have you ever seen that old-time vaudeville act where the guy spins plates on tall poles? Well, that’s a little of the way it feels to be a new Scientific Review Officer, or SRO, at the NIH. You smile with three plates spinning smoothly—then, three more plates appear for you to spin.