The Importance of Your Input

This is the 500th Feedback Loop post. We’ve made numerous changes since the blog launched in 2009, but one of the things that’s stayed the same is the importance of your input. Your responses to our posts have given us valuable information and insights on our policies and plans. They’ve also helped us identify topics that interest you or that we could clarify.

If there’s a topic you’d like us to write about—or if you have any other feedback for us—please leave your suggestions in the comment section below or email me.

MIRA Status and Future Plans

Now that we have completed the review process for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) applications from the first eligible cohort of established investigators, I would like to update you on the program’s status and plans for its future. I shared this information with our Advisory Council at its recent meeting in January.

Screenshot of video
My update on the MIRA program at the January 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 26:06.

The first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) we issued (RFA-GM-16-002) was for established investigators who had either two NIGMS R01s or one NIGMS R01 for more than $400,000 in direct costs. In either case, one grant had to be expiring in 2016 or 2017. Out of the 710 investigators who could have met these criteria, 179 submitted applications, corresponding to 25% of the eligible pool.

Among the eligible investigators, 80% were male and 20% were female. This ratio was unchanged among those who applied, as were the percentages across racial and ethnic groups (Figure 1). Thus, although the demographics of the group of investigators that was eligible for this first FOA were skewed in several ways, the skewing was not exacerbated in those who chose to apply. Continue reading

Analysis of NIGMS Funding Rates for Early Stage Investigators and Non-Early Stage New Investigators

NIH and NIGMS have policies to promote the successful entry of junior investigators into independent biomedical research careers. NIH classifies investigators who have not previously had a major NIH grant into two categories: new investigators (NIs) and early stage investigators (ESIs), a subset of NIs who are within 10 years of completing their terminal research degree or medical residency. The goal of these policies is to support R01-equivalent awards to both of these categories of investigators at success rates (the percentage of new Type 1 R01 applications that were funded) similar to those of established investigators (EIs) who submit new R01 applications.

Given that the NI and ESI policies have been in effect for some time, we wanted to update and extend an analysis of success rates by investigator status performed in 2010 to see if NIGMS has been able to meet these objectives. While we found that the success rates for all NIs were comparable to or greater than that of EIs, our new analysis also revealed that the subset of NIs who completed their terminal research degree at least 10 years ago (non-ES NIs) had consistently lower success rates in obtaining R01s relative to both ESIs and EIs.

We focused our analysis on NIGMS Type 1 R01 applications for Fiscal Years 2011-2014. Figure 1a shows the success rates for EIs and NIs. During the time period analyzed, success rates for both EIs and NIs were comparable. However, when the NIs are separated into ESIs and non-ES NIs, the data show a more nuanced result (Figure 1b). ESIs consistently had higher success rates than either EIs or non-ES NIs when applying for new R01s.

Continue reading

Webinar on Training Grant Supplements

NIGMS Staff Participating in the February 8 Webinar

Jon Lorsch, Director, NIGMS

Alison Gammie, Director, Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

Shiva Singh, Chief, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch, Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

Kris Willis, Program Director, Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

UPDATE: To join this meeting, visit Webinar on Administrative Supplements to T32 Grants, PA-16-060 and click “OK.” The site is compatible with mobile devices. For a voice-only presentation, call 1-888-469-2151 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and enter the access code 8911526.

We’ll field your questions about the recently announced Availability of Administrative Supplements to NIGMS Predoctoral Training Grants during a webinar on Monday, Feb. 8, from 3:15-4:15 p.m. EST. Details about how to access the webinar online will be available soon. You can send questions to me ahead of time.

Since announcing this funding opportunity, we’ve received many inquiries. The following points address most of the common questions:

  • The supplement is designed to provide support for the development and implementation of curricular activities aimed at providing graduate students with a strong foundation in research design and methods in areas related to conducting reproducible and rigorous research.
  • To be eligible, your training grant must be active through at least June 30, 2018. Thus, training grants that might have received outstanding priority scores and are expected to be renewed effective July 1, 2016, are NOT eligible.

Continue reading

The Feedback Loop As a Resource for Your Grad Students and Postdocs

This blog is one way that we reach out to the scientific community with information about research and research training policies, funding opportunities, analyses, resources, meetings and other useful news. It’s also a key way in which we get your input on our activities and plans.

When I looked back at some recent posts, I was struck by how many of them are relevant to the graduate students and postdocs in your labs. For example, the post describing our plans to modernize graduate education is a must-read for graduate students, whose ideas and perspective will further inform our efforts. The post on talking to NIH staff about your application and grant provides essential information for postdocs who will soon be independent investigators.

Please encourage your students and postdocs to subscribe to the Feedback Loop as well as to send us their suggestions for topics to cover in future posts.

Apply for the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials Network Program

NIH has launched a major new initiative called the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program to investigate environmental exposures on child health and development. An important component of the program will be the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials Network (ISPCTN), which the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is leading in collaboration with us. 

The ISPCTN will give medically underserved and rural populations access to state-of-the-art pediatric clinical trials. The network’s clinical trials sites, which will be located in states eligible for funding through our Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, will receive support for the development of appropriate research infrastructure as well as supervised professional development in all aspects of clinical trials research and implementation. We expect the ISPCTN to help strengthen pediatric research opportunities and capacity in IDeA states, which historically have not received extensive NIH funding.

If you’re in an IDeA-eligible state (including Puerto Rico), we encourage you to apply to either or both of the ISPCTN FOAs:

Applications proposing studies on all pediatric diseases and conditions will be considered, but priority will be given to those on the focus areas and core elements of the ECHO program, which include upper and lower airway disease; obesity; pre-, peri-, and postnatal outcomes; and neurodevelopment. The application deadline for both announcements is April 15, 2016, with optional letters of intent due by March 15, 2016.

For more information about the ECHO program and its various FOAs, you can participate in webinars scheduled for January 14, 2016, and February 1, 2016, or contact one of us (douthardr@mail.nih.gov, gorospejr@mail.nih.gov).

Dorit Zuk to Direct Genetics and Developmental Biology Division

Dorit Zuk, Ph.D.I’m very pleased to announce that Dorit Zuk will be joining us in early 2016 as the new director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB). Dorit is a molecular biologist whose research has focused on muscle development and RNA metabolism. She also has a strong background in science policy and communications.

Dorit is currently director of the Office of Policy, Communications and Strategic Alliances at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Previously, she was the science policy advisor to the NIH deputy director for extramural research. And prior to serving in these and other government positions, she worked in scientific publishing as the deputy editor of Cell and then the editor of Molecular Cell.

Her expertise in genetics, developmental biology and other scientific fields; knowledge of policy areas ranging from financial conflicts of interest to the future of the biomedical research workforce; and ability to engage effectively with scientists and other stakeholders make Dorit an ideal choice for this key position and a valuable addition to our senior leadership team.

Please join me in welcoming her to NIGMS.

For more about Dorit, see our news announcement.

Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education

A major overhaul of how we educate graduate students in biomedical research is long overdue.

Science has changed dramatically over the past three decades. The amount of information available about biological systems has grown exponentially. New methods allow us to examine the inner workings of cells with unprecedented resolution and to generate expansive datasets describing the expression of every mRNA or metabolite in a system. Biomedical research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative, and the questions we seek to answer are more and more complex. Finally, as the scientific enterprise has expanded, Ph.D.s have pursued increasingly diverse careers in the research and development, education and related sectors.

Despite these major changes, we educate Ph.D. students in biomedical research in essentially the same way as we did 25 or more years ago. As Alan Leshner put it in a recent editorial Exit icon in Science magazine, “It is time for the scientific and education communities to take a more fundamental look at how graduate education in science is structured and consider, given the current environment, whether a major reconfiguration of the entire system is needed.”

Problems related to the reproducibility and rigor of scientific studies Exit icon are likely driven in part by the inadequacies of an outdated system for educating our trainees. When nearly any student can sequence hundreds of millions of bases of DNA in a few days, does it make sense that all of our students are not given a significant amount of training in quantitative and computational analyses? And as we delve into more complex biological systems, shouldn’t students be receiving in-depth training in rigorous experimental design and data interpretation before they embark on their thesis work?

Continue reading

Talking to NIH Staff About Your Application and Grant: Who, What, When, Why and How

During the life of your application and grant, you’re likely to interact with a number of NIH staff members. Who’s the right person to contact—and when and for what? Here are some of the answers I shared during a presentation on communicating effectively with NIH at the American Crystallographic Association annual meeting. The audience was primarily grad students, postdocs and junior faculty interested in learning more about the NIH funding process.

Who?

The three main groups involved in the application and award processes—program officers (POs), scientific review officers (SROs) and grants management specialists (GMSs)—have largely non-overlapping responsibilities. POs advise investigators on applying for grants, help them understand their summary statements and provide guidance on managing their awards. They also play a leading role in making funding decisions. Once NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) assigns applications to the appropriate institute or center and study section, SROs identify, recruit and assign reviewers to applications; run study section meetings; and produce summary statements following the meetings. GMSs manage financial aspects of grant awards and ensure that administrative requirements are met before issuing a notice of award.

How do you identify the right institute or center, study section and program officer for a new application? Some of the more common ways include asking colleagues for advice and looking at the funding sources listed in the acknowledgements section of publications closely related to your project. NIH RePORTER is another good way to find the names of POs and study sections for funded applications. Finally, CSR has information on study sections, and individual institute and center websites, including ours, list contacts by research area. We list other types of contact information on our website, as well.

Continue reading

Lab Size: Is Bigger Better?

In a new video on iBiology, NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch discusses the relationship of lab size and funding levels to productivity, diversity and scientific impact.

In a new video on iBiology, NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch discusses the relationship of lab size and funding levels to productivity, diversity and scientific impact.

The talk covers information detailed in previous Feedback Loop posts:

Read the Molecular Biology of the Cell paper mentioned at the end of the video for more discussion of lab size and other topics related to maximizing the return on taxpayers’ investments in fundamental biomedical research Exit icon.