The NIH has thrown a lot of us into disarray over the new, shorter R01 grant format.

I’m hearing reports of scores that are wildly variable and all over the map. I’ve also had quite a few questions from people about how to deal with the new format.

The theory behind the new format is that by shortening it re-labelling the sections, writers would be forced to focus less on minutiae of their experiments, and more on the “big picture” role of their proposed project.

Here are a few observations from the field:
1. Reviewers haven’t yet figured out how to consistently review for the new format. Scores seem to be distributed with much less consistency than in the old format.

2. Some reviewers are still looking for the level of detail that went into the old, longer-format R01’s, even though that is impossible to do in 1/2 the space.

3. Some reviewers are still focused on the “feasibility” aspect (that was the predominant paradigm with the old format), while some have bought into the notion that we should have more “innovation” (according to the NIH) and so are looking more at that. This may be the core source of inconsistency, hanging in the balance between these two issues.

4. Your credibility as an applicant is really important. Reviewers have less to go on in terms of “preliminary results.” However, younger investigators should not despair – I know plenty of senior investigators who are having challenges with funding now. And I know some young investigators who’ve received funding through the new format.

It seems that study sections haven’t yet settled on community standards for what makes a fundable vs non fundable project, but those are converging.

The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep doing what has always made a great proposal work:
1) Great project
2) Great team
3) Great job of “marketing” your project & team by being really clear about why the project is relevant, who it benefits, and keeping the reader’s attention.



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