A frustrating grant critique

Mar 09 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I am writing a proposal with a wonderful young scientist. She has lots of skills I don't. I have lots of skills she doesn't. In a system with two parts, she does all of the beginning up through the interface. I pickup at the interface and carry through the second part. The problem we are addressing has a lot to do with sex differences, and things that NIH should be very interested in funding. We've been working up a feasible joint project for nearly 18 months now. We've met at meetings, and skyped for hours. We wrote an R21. I was PI because she was still a (albeit very senior) postdoc. We got scored, but not funded (I was so relieved not to be triaged).

She got a job that starts this fall, but wanted to resubmit after reading the critiques. Which were, btw, good critiques, things with which we could work, things that we could clarify, and not off-the-wall irritating comments. I offered to wait on the resubmission and let her be PI from her new institution. She said that we were ready to resubmit, and we should just go ahead and do it. I was happy to do whatever she wanted.

One of the critiques is "there is no evidence of collaboration between the two investigators". Well, we haven't published together as these are very expensive experiments for all sorts of reasons. We thought about combining data and doing something just to prove we "can work together" but neither of us felt good about that. It seemed like something that you do to please someone else, not anything that would advance science. In the end, I'm not sure that a male PI would get this critique, or that a big dog would. The assumption is that they would make it work. Maybe I'm just sensitive. Its a great project. It has the potential to make a big difference.

10 responses so far

  • Dave X says:

    Grr. You /can't/ work together if you don't get funded.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    One way I have dealt with this is to provide explicit description of exactly how we have worked together to generate ideas and experimental plans, even though we haven't started generating data together yet.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This, in my experience, is one of the common StockCritiques for collaborative grants. I was trained, by both male and female mentors, that you had to hammer this down in the application or face dire consequences. From this I conclude your presumption of a sex bias may be too....specific.

    Could you write a review article? One of the tried and true strategies of people I trained around.

    To expand this to a theme we've discussed before about collaborating PIs being "put on" papers....this right there is one of the reasons your PI, DearAngreePostdoc, may be looking to involve another person at the manuscript writing stage.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    I have a new collaboration with a rockstar investigator at another institution and am anticipating the same critique. To head it off, I have given him a small, inexpensive portion of one of my current projects and he'll be a co-author on my next paper.

  • Dave says:

    I got dinged in an R01 for having a computational biologist collaborator in another country, despite the fact that we have worked together for years and have published together recently. We are in contact almost everyday when working together, have shared Dropbox accounts, have visited each other, collaborate on other grants etc so his physical location is and has been completely irrelevant.

    Strange world out there. I just put it down to reviewer dislike of the proposal overall really. Easily addressed in revision

  • eeke says:

    If it is a multi-PI application, make SURE you write a detailed leadership plan. With subheadings and all. Fill the page. I did this with another investigator that I had never published with before, and we got a great score and comments that the lack of pubs was not a barrier since the leadership plan was so well thought out. We also happened to be in the same department and got a letter of support from the chair.

    Even though you are no longer in the same dept (if you ever were), evidence of frequent communication or familiarity, collaboration, etc is helpful.

    Good luck.

  • Ola says:

    I know from personal experience that this happens to men too. As DM says, it's a StockCritiqueTM. I had it when trying to "snag" a big dog in the field for my lowly little project.

    We took a multi-pronged approach...
    (i) We published a review article together. Just anything to get names on the same paper quickly.
    (ii) I got the other person over here for a named/endowed seminar, 2-3 day visit kinda thing, which the institution made a big fuss about., press release etc.
    (iii) We co-chaired a session at a big conference, where the audience could see our camaraderie on stage.
    (iv) Whenever either of us did a talk anywhere, we thanked the other in our acknowledgements slide and made a point about mentioning what we were working on together.
    (v) We each listed the other, and a description of the collaboration, on our respective lab websites.

    This stuff finds its way back to reviewers through the grapevine.

    • potnia theron says:

      All are good ideas; all take some effort. There are always things one can do, but not in the month before the grant is due.

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