Last Submission Deadline for Collaborative Science Supplements

NIGMS grantees have one final opportunity to introduce new collaborations into their ongoing research projects through the Supplements for Collaborative Science (SCS) program. The submission deadline in response to NOT-GM-11-105 is May15, 2014. Investigators can request supplements of up to $90,000 per year in direct costs for two collaborating labs or up to $135,000 per year for three collaborating labs.

The proposed research must be within the original scope of the project and should propose approaches not used previously by the principal investigator. All collaborators should be able to make significant intellectual contributions, and we especially encourage proposals that involve less commonly combined areas of expertise.

To be eligible, an NIGMS parent R01 or R37 award must be actively funded through November 30, 2015. Proposals may request support to cover a period up to the end of the parent project. The application now requires that collaborating investigators provide a letter of commitment and “other support” page countersigned by their institutional official. Send any additional questions to me at andersonve@nigms.nih.gov or to Sue Haynes at hayness@nigms.nih.gov.

The SCS program is very competitive, so if you are interested in submitting an application, we recommend that you first discuss your potential proposal—and its new and novel aspects—with the program director of your grant.

Hypothesis Overdrive?

Historically, this blog has focused on “news you can use,” but in the spirit of two-way communication, for this post I thought I would try something that might generate more discussion. I’m sharing my thoughts on an issue I’ve been contemplating a lot: the hazards of overly hypothesis-driven science.

When I was a member of one study section, I often saw grant applications that began, “The overarching hypothesis of this application is….” Frequently, these applications were from junior investigators who, I suspect, had been counseled that what study sections want is hypothesis-driven science. In fact, one can even find this advice in articles about grantsmanship Exit icon.

Despite these beliefs about “what study sections want,” such applications often received unfavorable reviews because the panel felt that if the “overarching hypothesis” turned out to be wrong, the only thing that would be learned is that the hypothesis was wrong. Knowing how a biological system doesn’t work is certainly useful, but most basic research study sections expect that a grant will tell us more about how biological systems do work, regardless of the outcomes of the proposed experiments. Rather than praising these applications for being hypothesis-driven, the study section often criticized them for being overly hypothesis-driven.

Many people besides me have worried about an almost dogmatic emphasis on hypothesis-driven science as the gold standard for biomedical research (e.g., see Jewett, 2005; Beard and Kushmerick, 2009; Glass, 2014 Exit icon). But the issue here is even deeper than just grantsmanship, and I think it is also relevant to recent concerns over the reproducibility of scientific data and the correctness of conclusions drawn from those data Exit icon. It is too easy for us to become enamored with our hypotheses, a phenomenon that has been called confirmation bias. Data that support an exciting, novel hypothesis will likely appear in a “high-impact” journal and lead to recognition in the field. This creates an incentive to show that the hypothesis is correct and a disincentive to proving it wrong. Focusing on a single hypothesis also produces tunnel vision, making it harder to see other possible explanations for the data and sometimes leading us to ignore anomalies that might actually be the key to a genuine breakthrough.

In a 1964 paper Exit icon, John Platt codified an alternative approach to the standard conception of the scientific method, which he named strong inference. In strong inference, scientists always produce multiple hypotheses that will explain their data and then design experiments that will distinguish among these alternative hypotheses. The advantage, at least in principle, is that it forces us to consider different explanations for our results at every stage, minimizing confirmation bias and tunnel vision.

Another way of addressing the hazards of hypothesis-driven science is to shift toward a paradigm of question-driven science. In question-driven science, the focus is on answering questions: How does this system work? What does this protein do? Why does this mutation produce this phenotype? By putting questions ahead of hypotheses, getting the answer becomes the goal rather than “proving” a particular idea. A scientific approach that puts questions first and includes multiple models to explain our observations offers significant benefits for fundamental biomedical research.

In order to make progress, it may sometimes be necessary to start with experiments designed to give us information and leads—Who are the players? or What happens when we change this?—before we can develop any models or hypotheses at all. This kind of work is often maligned as “fishing expeditions” and criticized for not being hypothesis-driven, but history has shown us just how important it can be for producing clues that eventually lead to breakthroughs. For example, genetic screens for mutations affecting development in C. elegans set the stage for the discovery of microRNA-mediated regulation of gene expression.

Is it time to stop talking about hypothesis-driven science and to focus instead on question-driven science? Hypotheses and models are important intermediates in the scientific process, but should they be in the driver’s seat? Let me know what you think.

Funding Opportunities: Big Data Science, Initiative for Maximizing Student Development

You may be interested in the following funding opportunity announcements:

Big Data Science

Purpose: Research and develop new technologies in biomedical computing, informatics and big data science that will support rapid progress in biomedical research

  • Early Stage Development of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R43/R44)
    (PA-14-154)
  • Early Stage Development of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R01)
    (PA-14-155)
  • Extended Development, Hardening and Dissemination of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R01)
    (PA-14-156)
  • Early Stage Development of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R41/R42)
    (PA-14-157)

Application due dates: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contact: Peter Lyster, 301-451-6446

Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) (R25)
(PAR-14-121)

Purpose: Develop new or expand existing institutional developmental programs at research-intensive institutions that prepare undergraduate and graduate students from diverse backgrounds for attaining the Ph.D. degree in biomedical or behavioral sciences and subsequent competitive research careers and leadership positions
Application due dates: May 1, 2014; January 26, 2015; January 25, 2016
NIGMS contact: Daniel Janes, 301-594-0943

Moving to a New Institution? Contact Us Well in Advance.

Each year, an average of 65 NIGMS-funded principal investigators move to new universities or other institutions. With everything else they need to do, they sometimes neglect to consider how the move will affect their grants, or they start the process too late. When they try to hire staff or purchase supplies in the new location, they may discover that grant funds are not available. Remember that your grant is made to an institution, so you will need to involve your current and your new institutions early on to make sure that your transition is smooth.

You also need to be in touch with NIGMS staff early, allowing enough time for us to review any move-related change that requires NIH approval and, if approved, process it. When you begin plans to change institutions, contact your NIGMS program director and grants management specialist to discuss the timing of your move, options for managing your grant through the transition and the possible impact of the transfer on your research. Some situations don’t require the transfer of your grant at all. NIGMS staff can help you find the right solution for your circumstances, including the management of consortium arrangements and the involvement of animals or human subjects.

If you do want to transfer a grant to a new organization, you should contact NIGMS staff well before the anticipated start date at the new institution. Both your former institution and your new one will need to submit information to us before the grant can be moved and you can draw funds. We recommend providing all required materials at least 3 months in advance of the move.

Here are some NIH resources on transferring grants:
PA-14-078 Change of Grantee Institution (Type 7 Parent)
NIH Grants Policy Statement, Section 8.1.2.7 Change of Grantee Organization

Career Transitions Workshop for Postdocs

2014 Postdoctoral  Preparation Institute: Career Transitions WorkshopRegistration is now open for the 2014 Postdoctoral Preparation Institute: Career Transitions, a workshop we’re funding for postdoctoral fellows who will soon be seeking positions in a variety of career sectors. The workshop, which is being run by FASEB, will take place near NIH on June 5-6. It follows two successful prior NIGMS postdoc workshops in 2010 and 2012.

The meeting will cover a range of topics related to making a successful transition to the next career stage, including career planning; communication, leadership and other interpersonal skills; grant-writing; applying for positions; and navigating the interview and negotiation processes. Participants will also have an opportunity to learn about a number of scientific career options.

Among the featured speakers are NIGMS director Jon Lorsch and NIH’s first chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, Hannah Valantine.

If you know of postdocs who would benefit from this career development event, please encourage them to visit the registration page (link no longer available) for details about eligibility, travel support and application materials. Applications are due by April 18.

While the event is open to all eligible postdocs, we especially encourage applications from members of groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical or behavioral sciences. If space is available, the FASEB meeting organizers will also consider applications from new assistant professors who are within 1 year of the completion of their postdoctoral training and 5th-year Ph.D. students who are near degree conferral.

NIGMS Participation in Additional NIH Individual Predoctoral Fellowship Programs

We are now supporting two additional Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award individual predoctoral fellowships in basic biomedical sciences relevant to our mission: the F30 fellowship for M.D.-Ph.D. or other dual-doctoral degree students and the F31 fellowship for Ph.D.-degree students. We will continue our support of the F31 fellowship to promote diversity in health-related research.

NIGMS predoctoral fellowships, which generally provide up to 3 years of support, promote fundamental, interdisciplinary and innovative research training and career development leading to independent scientists who are well prepared to address the nation’s biomedical research needs.

An applicant for an NIGMS predoctoral fellowship should:

  • Be an advanced Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. student.
  • Demonstrate high academic performance in the biomedical sciences and independence in his or her research.
  • Have identified a research sponsor and a dissertation project that includes a novel approach to the problem and has strong training potential.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to a career as an independent scientist.

We expect the funding for F30 and F31 fellowships to be highly competitive, and we anticipate funding only a very limited number of these applications in any year.

We will give priority to outstanding applicants with sponsors who are currently supported by NIGMS research grants. In addition, we strongly encourage F30 applications from students in combined M.D.-Ph.D. (or other dual-doctoral degree, such as D.O.-Ph.D., D.D.S.-Ph.D. and D.V.M.-Ph.D.) programs at institutions that are not currently supported by our Medical Scientist Training Program.

For more details on F30 and F31 awards, see the NIGMS NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships Web page or contact Peggy Schnoor.

Final Funding Opportunity Announcement for “Genomes to Natural Products” Research

Natural products are a prolific source of therapeutic drugs because they have been selected through evolution to be biologically active. New opportunities for natural products development made possible by genomic discoveries are poised to rapidly expand the utility of this critically important resource.

To further stimulate studies in this area, we have just issued the final funding opportunity announcement for Genomes to Natural Products (U01) research. Applications are due by June 10, 2014.

We’re looking for multidisciplinary teams of experts in natural products, synthetic biology, bioinformatics, genomics and analytical chemistry to develop high-throughput natural products discovery platforms based on a synthetic biology approach that leverages genomics and metagenomics data. The goal is to deliver broadly applicable, context-independent (i.e., independent of organism and/or natural products class) and game-changing tools, methods and resources in natural products discovery. The funded research also should lead to a deeper understanding of the regulation of natural products biosynthesis.

In addition to talking with potential collaborators, I encourage you to discuss your application with me.