Half the reason for writing this time is to allow you a forum on our site to comment on what the new NIH resubmission policy means for the NIA community. But the other half of the reason is to explain what it might mean for us at NIA. As a refresher, the new resubmission policy means that after an unsuccessful A1 submission (or A0 submission) investigators may submit a similar application as a new (A0) application. NIH will not review the new submission for similarity to the prior application. The policy is available here and Sally Rockey has a blog on it here.
The policy change has solved one major problem. Investigators may continue to seek funding for their major research area without fear of crossing what was always a subjective judgment—from well-meaning people—that the “new” application was really the same line of research. That is a very healthy change. It is particularly meaningful for training grants, career awards, fellowships, and centers where, for an application to be considered new, much more needed to be changed than the aims of the research.
It has not solved another major problem. Like all of NIH our funding line is too tight. For too many Institutes, including NIA, success rates linger in the low to mid-teens. We will make no more awards with this new policy.
One nagging worry here is that it might create a new problem—reviewer burnout. When investigators submit new applications reviewers are supposed to assess the application as written using the criteria that we provide. How well will reviewers be able to do that when the application is familiar? Can we trust ourselves to ignore that past mental record and whether consciously or unconsciously assess this application as improved or not from the past submission? I suspect that the effort to disengage from the past review may prove frustrating.
NIH and NIA will be looking closely at how the change in policy affects submission numbers, review outcomes, and reviewer experiences. So, we may see further tweaks to the policy in the future. Together with most of you, I hope we do not go back to that mentally tortuous state where investigators had to “sell” their science as different when they are really trying to maintain a consistent research direction and program staff somehow had to divine what another group will see as “new” when advising applicants.
Anyway, this time we REALLY want your comments! What does this change mean for you?