Common critiques of NIH proposals (part one)

Update: More on this here.

These are a  couple of miscellaneous things. Actually one thing, as I am running out of time this morning.

“The Aims were not clearly stated” or “I am not sure exactly what this project is supposed to do”. Proposals with this critique tended to be triaged or not considered. I took a look at some, ones for which I was not a reviewer but I had some familiarity with the field. [Remember, everyone at the study section votes a score on the proposal, usually guided by the 3 or 4 reviewers assigned to it]. In some cases the SA’s were too broad and general “I want to cure cancer using optogenetics”. Or too specific “I want to study the little toe use in bunny hopping” with no context for explaining why I should give a damn about the little toe.

Aims should be general enough to require a project (1-2 papers per aim), but specific enough that they are a project. They should be flowing from justification that is the 1-2 para before you list the aims (and you should list them, see below) in the SA section/page of the grant.

One easily correctable reason for this comment is that the aims presented in one big block, or 3 big paragraphs, with the aims buried in the middle of the text. As reviewers, we always do our best to determine content even if presentation/style is not perfect. But if you don’t have a statement, preferably in its own para, set apart with 6pt spacing (don’t need a full CR or full line btwn para), the reviewer may miss the Aims. If you don’t start that para with in BOLD: Specific Aim 1: and then go on to state it clearly, even the most sympathetic reviewer can miss what you want to do. Your SA can be a phrase, like:

Specific Aim 1: to determine the role of the individual digit in bunny hopping. I will test the hypothesis that each digit functions as a “gear” adding to the efficiency of hopping. Alternatively digits function as a unit and the loss of a single digit will not impact on the biomechanics.

Side note: be careful with bold, italic, and bold italic, underlying, etc. Too much gives bluehairs and greybeards vertigo.




4 thoughts on “Common critiques of NIH proposals (part one)

  1. Pingback: Potnia Theron on Stock Criticism of NIH Grants | DrugMonkey

  2. Pingback: Random Thoughts of the Impact of the Shutdown on Reviewing | Mistress of the Animals

  3. I agree completely, very good advice for the specific aims. The sad part is that what you comment about the “bluehairs/ greybeards” is also absolutely true. It should not matter at all, but it does!
    I had a very “greybeard” scientist explaining me his approach to review NIH grants once that got me really in a bad mood…but hey this is what we have!…This greybeard said that he read the first few lines of the specific aims page, and if did not “tune in” he will just don’t pay attention to the rest…unbelievable?…well, this is what is happening with many people reviewing grants while visiting their grandchildren, while on a train, jet-lagged in some airport in the middle of nowhere between conferences…etc

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