Directing A Research Program

I basically let people in my lab work on whatever they want within extremely broad conceptual and methodological outlines, and then I figure out after the fact how to explain the relationships of what they have done to the specific aims of my various grants in writing renewals and make up new specific aims on the basis of what they have done for writing new grants. This organic emergent strategy works very well for me, because I get bored very easily and it means we are always moving in new unexpected directions.


  1. Namnezia says

    I basically do the same thing, and its been like this in all the labs I’ve worked in. It’s worked well in my lab in that we have a bunch of cool new projects and have had nice pubs. But now I am having problems reconciling these with the original aims for the renewal. They are thematically related but it’s hard to come up with new aims for a renewal that are coherent, and aren’t necessarily robust enough for each of them to spawn off their own new grant. Or maybe they are. I don’t know.

  2. Miles says

    Speaking of renewals: Does anyone have some general advice on how to write a renewal for an RO1?

  3. physioprof says

    I have a fuckeloade of advice for writing renewals. Do you have any specific questions, or you want a fucken renewal handbook? (Which I could potentially write.)

  4. DrugMonkey says

    Handbook Chapter 1:

    Publish a fucktonne of papers in high impact journals.

    Chapter 2-11: See Chapter 1.

  5. Loquaxe says

    I am just bored, really bored. I want sex, no grants. My wife only worries about grants and pubs in high impact journals. WTF!

  6. anon says

    CPP – How do you handle data from post-docs who would like to write a grant application of their own? Can the SAME data be used for two grant applications that may or may not be competing with each other in the same study section? As you mention, you “basically let people.. work on whatever they want”. If this is their own independent idea, how do you reconcile this with renewal vs new application from a senior post-doc/new faculty?

  7. Namnezia says

    Allright, I have a renewal question for you. Actually several related ones.

    After our grant got funded some experiments based on this project took off on a very productive and interesting tangent of their own, but with a somewhat different focus. These experiments were funded in part by the current grant and in part by other (non renewable) sources. We also made progress towards the original aims, but not as much as we made with the deviant aims. Furthermore, my grant got cut from 5 years to 3 years so some of the proposed experiments were never even started, yet they are still very viable and good experiments and especially interesting since the original aims panned out quite nicely.

    So what should be my strategy? Should I (a) Write a new grant using the stronger deviant aims, use the new data from the original aims to write up the renewal even though we only completed about 50% of the proposed work due to the cut budget and recycle some of the same (uncompleted) experiments as part of the renewal plus a few more based on their logical extension, or (b) use the stronger deviant aims as the basis for the renewal and forget about the original aims, or (c) use a no-cost extension to bring the original aims further along and then put in the renewal. Mind you that the reason the experiments from the original aims are weaker is because they were building blocks for the really cool experiments we haven’t done yet. So is it sensible to re-propose them as the first aim of the renewal (tweaked a little bit of course)?

  8. Chebag says

    I think CPP just admitted to stealing all his ideas from his postdocs!!!!!111!!!!

  9. Adam says

    I have a broadly similar approach with those whom I think can make good use of that freedom. I try to give more direction to those who seem to really need it. But I still have an emergent approach, with foci that keep changing.

    I do admire some senior scientists who have really kept a sustained focus on certain questions over many years, in some cases directing large teams (which are not so necessary or even typical in my field, not a lab-based one) in multi-decade campaigns. I don’t seem to have what it takes to do that, and I guess that’s ok (I am pretty successful by most standards) but I do think that there are benefits to a long attention span.

  10. wtfnih says

    Has anyone else seen this? Is this true?

    60% of NIH grants won’t be renewed in 2013.

    When congress failed to agree on debt reduction in November 2011, automatic budget cuts kicked in effective January 2013. These cuts will amount to about 9% for NIH’s budget. How can this result in 60% of NIH grants not being renewed?

    There are two complicating factors. First, the NIH budget year starts on October 1. It is expected that NIH will be operating under a continuing resolution this fall when October 1 comes around. This instructs NIH to operate assuming they have the same budget as the previous year. So, for one quarter of the fiscal year: October, November, and December they will be spending just like this year. When January rolls in, they will have to take a 9% cut to the budget, retroactive to October 1.

    The second complicating factor is that most of NIH’s extramural
    budget is already committed. The typical length of an NIH grant is 4 years. All the grants awarded for the past 4 years will still get paid. This means that the entire 9% cut will have to come out of this year’s renewals!

    Let’s put some numbers in. Assume the NIH extramural budget is $100 in 2012. They have already committed to spend $80 based on grants awarded in past years. $20 is available for renewals AND newly awarded grants. So, NIH starts in October 2012 spending at the same rate. By January, they have spent one quarter, $25, of their budget with $75 remaining. Of this $25, $20 was spent on preexisting commitments and $5 on new or competing renewals.

    In January 2013, the automatic cuts kick in, removing $9 from the budget. The only place to take the $9 is from the money allocated for new/competing renewals. But by this time, this budget only has $15 in it. Thus, $9/$15 or 60% of the grants (by dollar) will not be renewed in calendar year 2013.

    It’s likely to be even worse for R01’s, because many of the big dollar grants (for NCI the comprehensive cancer centers) are too big to fail and will have to be renewed. It also assumes no (zero!) new awards. Any new awards will further reduce the rate of renewals.

  11. Namnezia says

    @wtfnih – Isn’t the funding rate for competitive renewals and new grants the same?

  12. DrugMonkey says

    This means that the entire 9% cut will have to come out of this year’s renewals!

    This isn’t true. They can (and frequently do*) impose cuts to noncompeting renewals. They could put through a 9% whack on each and every renewal if they chose to do this to deal with the trigger.

    *in fact, the reason NIH frequently puts through budget cuts is to prop up the number of new grants that they can fund.

  13. Anon says

    Generally works, but you have to look out for some people who just can’t f***ing work without direction to save their lives…

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