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NIH R01 Grant Proposal Rejected

Posted by Paul Macklin

1 February 2008 at 9:27 am CST (UTC +?)

Well, I have some bad news on the professional/academic front. The huge NIH (National Institutes of Health) R01 grant that I worked on last October was rejected without scoring. This means that in the assessment of the panel, it was in the bottom 50% of the submitted proposal. We know that this wasn't the case; indeed, it was the culmination of some of our best cancer modeling over the past several years.

So, now it's time to self-assess what went wrong. Certainly some of it may well have been political--grant review panels are well known to be extremely politically charged, particularly as funding stagnates and/or decreases. However, it would be scientifically irresponsible and completely unproductive to blame politics and move on without learning.

The composition of the review panel is critical: from an initial review of the panelists, it appears to have been made up primarily of traditional biologists, medical doctors, biomedical engineers, and very few mathematicians. Our proposal, in contrast, heavily emphasized the mathematical modeling details and proposed calibration protocols. Thus, it was likely very unattractive to the panel, as it was outside of their areas of expertise. This really drives home the point that in grant writing, as in any other form of communication, you need to be keenly aware of your audience and tailor the presentation to that audience. We should have done a better job in emphasizing the biology of the proposal. We should have trimmed the amount of detail devoted to the mathematical model. And we should have spent more time emphasizing the clinical importance of the work.

So, we'll assess what happened, try to learn from the mistakes, and work to write a better R01 next time. -- Paul

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