Serving on a Study Section

Dec 19 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

As it does, there was some discussion on the tweets about serving on study section a bit ago. I've been busy with end of term stuff, so didn't get around to finishing this off till just now.

Firstly, serving on a study section, any study section, is about the best thing you can do to enhance your grantsmanship. The learning is relentless. I, funded now for many years, still learn something new every time I do. Furthermore, the landscape of funding/grant success  changes. You can get some sense of that change from blogs, from NIH, etc, but study section is ground zero for promulgation of that change. You can learn grantsmanship elsewhere (there are wonderful courses - take one), but information and watching the process is dense information. It is efficient for education.

But, I hear you say, I know that Potty. I've done it once or twice (as the NI, or ad hoc'd), but what about long term membership? This is what the tweets discussion was about. I'm being asked to serve on the section that funded me, you say? What to do

[As an aside, I was talking to the SRO for the study section where my stuff mostly goes. He told me that for CSR sections you must have an R01 to serve. In-house, IC specific sections may or may not have different rules.]

I still maintain that serving on a section, doing the four year term is a vastly valuable experience. Some people recommended ad hoc'ing. Some people pointed out that if you are on the section your proposals go to a Special Emphasis Panel (SEP) which is usually a more difficult review (because it's smaller number of people, it's usually on the phone, it's usually a small number of proposals, sometimes only yours). I think this drawback is of less importance than the value from sitting on a study section as a full member.

When I was younger, during my first R01, I sat on a study section for two terms. That meant my 2nd R01 was reviewed elsewhere. I really don' t remember, although at the time it was incredibly important to me. Things were different then, and I don't know that this is possible now. I think I got my first funded by chance? Ha. It was good, but probably would get triaged today. What sticks with me, lo these many years later, is that I learned and benefited tremendously from that experience.

There are other lesser benefits. You get a snapshot of pre-publication science. Where the field is going. You learn about related fields that aren't yours,  but fall in the same general area. You make friends and colleagues and will get input that you just won't get anywhere else. Yes, yes, you can get this at meetings, but the community and social sense that arises here is intellectually much more intimate. If you are young, you are much more likely to have time to talk with people who wouldn't notice you at those meetings. And you may find that your science, your perspective on science changes, grows, evolves. Mine certainly grew, in ways that I did not expect. Being exposed to different ideas and work is valuable. Finding how to be exposed is difficult, and one can waste a lot of time being exposed to stuff that doesn't change you.

A brief word about logistics. When you are appointed to a panel, there is an approval process. After the SRO asks you, and you agree, you send a CV, and Important People Somewhere (depending on the SS) approve you. This process is usually not for the next section, but for 2-3 down the road. So if you've got a proposal in the pipeline queued up for the next round, your appointment isn't going to impact on it.

So, why in the words of the tweet, "mess with something that's good", i.e. Your relationship with the SS, the SRO. So, if they are asking you to be on it, chances are one of the people who liked your now-funded proposal is rotating off. They need your expertise, right? Even if that that person doesn't rotate off now, they will, and probabilisticly sooner rather than later. Approximately 25-30% of a SS turns over each year. Lots of ad hoc's can't or won't serve a real term, so no guarantee that you'll have anything like the same study section on the next submission, anyway, or the same expert reviewing your proposal. That relationship? It's fleeting.

In the end, the benefits (to you, for you) of being on a panel far far outweigh the drawbacks. If you're asked to serve, chances are you are already funded, so moving your proposals elsewhere may not be such a big deal (do you really need 3 or 4 R01's?, but that's a different post).

There have been lots of posts to this end, not just from me, but from DM, etc. But right now, I'm writing this in my corner breakfast place, and there is not Internet. Just do a search on study section and scientopia and get more input.

8 responses so far

  • BEN says:

    Wow, are you actually disadvantaged by submitting to SEPs? I had naively assumed that study section members were given a (presumably small) edge in review. I would consider a small edge, maybe a pay line a couple percent higher, to be a reasonable thanks for the service.

    • potnia theron says:

      The only edge is some flexibility on submission date. Proposals are (allegedly) judged on content, and not on membership.

      They deficit of a SEP is that they are not in the context of other proposals, that it is smaller group reviewing, and that its usually on a phone call, which is limited in terms of reviewer interaction.

  • drugmonkey says:

    There is really no simple answer to whether getting member conflicted out of a target study section is good or bad for your grant's chances.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Aren't SEPs percentiled using the average for all panels? That can either help or hurt your grants chances, depending upon how you normal study section spreads scores. Everyone has to do their own calculus about whether it's best for them to serve.

    • potnia theron says:

      yes, but if you believe/perceive (as in other comments) that a phone interview, a smaller pool of proposals and reviewers can hurt, that is considered the downside.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    I love having my grants reviewed by conflict SEPs.

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