Uncharacteristically Bad Advice From NIAID

NIAID has done an amazing jobbe of posting all kinds of detailed information and advice on their Web site for NIH grant applicants. New PIs should be spending literally hours there reading and thinking. However, they have provided some *bad* advice concerning the grant abstract.

First, they grossly inflate the importance of the abstract to the review of your grant:

All your peer reviewers read your abstract and narrative.

The implication is that the unassigned reviewers on the review panel will read your abstract while the discussion is going on and base their opinion on it. No. I have asked a substantial number of my colleagues who serve regularly on study section, and almost all of them do the same as I do: completely ignore the abstract and look at the specific aims page and the biosketch while the discussion is going on.

Second, they give affirmatively bad advice about what to include in the abstract:

* Use your Specific Aims as a template — shorten it and simplify the language.

* In the first sentence, state the significance of your research to your field and relevance….

* Next state your hypothesis and the innovative potential of your research.

* Then list and briefly describe your Specific Aims and long-term objectives.

This is way too much detail, and the last thing you want to do is actually list your specific aims in the abstract. Why is this? Because when you apply for a competing renewal, the only parts of the originally funded application that the reviewers of the renewal will see are the abstract and summary statement. And the last thing you want is for the reviewers of the renewal to start comparing what you have actually achieved to your original specific aims.


  1. says

    …and surely you aren’t forgetting their five sample grants? This ain’t the only NIAID misstep.

  2. says

    The five sample grants got the amazing scores they did mostly due to special circumstances that are independent of their grantsmanship, and thus are not very useful templates for the majority of applicants who are not subject to those special circumstances.

  3. says

    what’s wrong with the five sample grants? Could you elaborate??


    are not very useful templates for the majority of applicants who are not subject to those special circumstances.

    This really is what bothers me about “advice” on grant-winning that comes from Program staff at the NIH. They seem completely oblivious that PIs of different career status and stature are treated very differently by the system. And therefore that “advice” based on the success of greybearded types has very little application to youngsters. Particularly when it comes to concluding that excellent scores for highly accomplished and active luminaries are related only to the grantsmithing in the actual application.

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