Imagination, Creativity, and Grantsmanship

Whenever I get the NIH Guide, I swear half the fucken FOAs my first reaction is all like, “Shitte. I could apply for that motherfucker.” I think this is the mindset that the people lack who are all like “If this one R01 application I submitted doesn’t get funded by the first resubmission, my career is over and I will never be able to submit another one again, because the science is so special and unique and different, and all my hypotheses and approaches are DEAD, KILLED BY FACTUAL ERRORS OF INCOMPETENT REVIEWERS.”


  1. Another mothefucker says

    Hey CPP,

    I totally agree with you that most, if not all, applicants should say: “Shitte, I can apply for that motherfucker”. Except that saying: “Yes, I can” does not necessarily result in: “Wow, I got the motherfucker”. Other than creativity, imagination and grantsmanship, there should also be creative and almost continuous release of RFAs in biomedical areas of national interest. That will give continuous opportunities to investigators with a specific expertise to inventively apply their knowledge to unexplored questions. It will also compensate for the now missing A2s. And it should energize and synergize efforts to tackle unresolved questions.

    Good luck motherfucker CPP !

  2. DrugMonkey says

    One of the reasons I advise trainees to subscribe to the weekly email of the NIH FOA and Notices. It always helps to jog your creative juices to think about what your take would be on a defined research area that you don’t normally think of as your own.

  3. anonymous says

    Why should we waste our time on “creativity” with word-playing to “cheat” NIH?

  4. says

    I don’t think “creativity” here means “trickery,” anon. Like DrugMonkey says, I interpret it to mean that you need find ways to stretch your general ideas into new realms of research. If there’s one thing that can kill a career, it’s tunnel vision.

  5. Fred says

    In theory, this is good advice. But hipster reviewers on the study section would likely look at the applicant and say “this PI does not have a background in disease/model X” and would probably score the app in kind.

  6. PKA says

    Yes Fred, that’s a real difficulty which could be circumvented by:

    a) an explicit policy/commitment by NIH to stimulate application of knowledge/expertise to unexplored areas, including “not having specific background on a disease/model X”(For example, for R21s the policy was/is not to require preliminary data for high scoring)

    b) the applicant should justify, in rationale section or a section designed for that purpose, why s/he feels qualified to tackle the question in the absence of “background in disease/model X”.

  7. says

    an explicit policy/commitment by NIH to stimulate application of knowledge/expertise to unexplored areas, including “not having specific background on a disease/model X”

    NIGMS has done this kind of thing, such as in this FOA:

    Here’s are relevant snippets:

    The use of molecular and/or genomic approaches can greatly facilitate mechanistic analyses of behavior, but many behavioral scientists do not have the training or expertise that would enable them to utilize such approaches. Conversely, the vast majority of investigators with expertise in molecular biology or genomics have little or no experience analyzing behavior. One objective of this initiative is to stimulate collaborations between behavioral scientists and investigators with molecular and/or genomics expertise. It is anticipated that engaging in these collaborations will enable the investigators to address questions about the mechanisms of behavior that neither alone could tackle, and to become familiar with aspects of each other’s disciplines.

    In accordance with these objectives, NIGMS and NICHD require that at least two collaborators be significantly involved in the project. Multiple principal investigator (PI) applications, with each major collaborator as PI, are encouraged. One of the major collaborators must be a behavioral scientist who has little or no experience doing modern molecular or genomic analysis of any phenotype, in any organism. Another major collaborator must be an expert in state-of-the-art molecular biology and/or genomics who has little or no experience analyzing any aspect of animal behavior, in any organism.

  8. DrugMonkey says

    Re Fred:

    although it is possible that this sort of criticism will be leveled, it is not inevitable. If you let this fear paralyze you, not good.

    My thought is that you should strive for a mixture of applications. Some in your wheelhouse, some that are a stretch. Let the reviewers tell you that it is too much of a stretch…

  9. says

    Totes PP. Totes.

    I’ve been liberally splashing around your advice to PIs to have several R01s going out the door each year. A friend of mine got a twentysomething on his last R01 sub and is all despondent. “I’m re-writing it to send it to a foundation.”

    I was like, “dude, yeah, whatever, but where’s the next R01?” etc.

    He was pissed but couldn’t fault the logic.

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