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New resubmission policy

New resubmission policy

Posted on April 23, 2014 by Robin Barr, Director of the Division of Extramural Activities. See Robin Barr's full profile.

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?


Read Next:

A Change in Our Resubmission Policy - Sally Rockey

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Posted by Leon Kassman on Apr 23, 2014 - 3:36 pm

Perhaps a little old fashioned democracy might help. Since some small proportion of those submitting proposals to each Institute, will be selected, a certain element of 'trust' for their integrity and intelligence automatically attaches. As such, why not institute a criterion at each and every Named PI, or the 'Authorizing Person' named on Page 1 MUST, in addition to the other 424/R&R, grade 4 other submissions to that Institute on the same criteria used by appointed reviewers. Perhaps, the resulting grade and acceptability quotient should be considered 25% of the eventual final score. In this way, 'reviewers' would not only have 'fresh eyes', and consequentially less burn-out, but the entire program would be revitalized and made to appear more fair and less arbitrary. A second concept might encourage a one-page/followed by a 15 minute presentation by conference line for any PI whose proposal was not funded but scored within 10% of the funding line. Reconsideration and the ability of researchers to underscore important benefits that may have been overlooked will permit those very passionate about their work to instruct reviewers, who, when hearing salient aural argument, may change their scoring.

Posted by Arlan Richardson on Apr 23, 2014 - 9:58 pm

Finally, NIH did something that made things better. Why so complicated, go back to the system where you had three strikes. I felt this system was better, although the administrators seemed not to like the policy. As for reviewer burn-out, I suggest the best thing to prevent this is by increasing the funding line. Researchers are submitting multiple grants in large part because they know the chances of hitting on a grant is slim. A lot like buying lottery tickets, you increase your chances of getting funded by increasing the number of grants that are written. IT WOULD BE INTERESTING IF NIH WRESTELED WITH THE QUESTION OF HOW TO INCREASE THE FUNDING LINE WITH A BUDGET THAT IS FLAT. It is possible, but it would take some creative thinking.

Posted by Donald D, Burke on Apr 24, 2014 - 9:38 am

My main question is when did the policy change regarding resubmission on A1s? >>> My recent proposal on its resubmission was rejected without ranking after addressing, as advised, all concerns on the original, adding additional supporters, and completing a concept proving prototype on my own as well. The first submission was within 13% of the funding level at that time. On my resubmission there were new, never before posed concerns, and new arguments raised, some of which were clearly not associated with or relevant to either submission, and this is aside from my having no additional resubmissions available to me. I simply loose with no recourse. You are moving the target while the arrow is in flight. My detailed appeal which pointed out numerous factual errors in the review is now refused support and for all the money and time spent I am left with an unsupported appeal to be presented to the council. >>> I think you need to stop evaluating the innovators since they are the ones inspired to actually do something new, and concentrate on the value of the proposed development in terms of quality and term of human life provided by the innovation times the potential in numbers of individuals benefiting from its working divided by the anticipated time to implement and deliver the benefits proposed. That way you only have one formula or criteria, the benefit to people now for the dollars needed. >>> At this point I am completely disillusioned by the entire process. Best regards, Don Burke

Posted by Robin Barr on Apr 24, 2014 - 11:25 am

The policy went into effect April 17, 2014. Unfortunately, any NIH policy change will catch someone's arrow in flight. The new policy does give you the option of submitting a similar application to your unscored resubmission as a new application. Whether that is a sensible use of your time is something you may want to discuss with your program officer.

Posted by Sei on Apr 27, 2014 - 12:44 am

Over the short term, I worry about the deluge of applications that are going to be submitted. It feels like there is absolutely no downside to re-submitting applications. So, all recent applications that were close (and many that were not) will likely be resubmitted. This is going to be a huge burden on the review process. Over the longer term, we'll reach a steady state, but I suspect there will continue to be many more submissions. I agree with the first commenter that this will likely require some overhauling of peer review process. Many investigators who have been on study sections for many years have talked about how unpleasant reviewing has become--long hours, no coffee and the realization that many meritorious applications that you feel strongly about will ultimately not get funded.

Posted by Robin Barr on Apr 28, 2014 - 9:49 am

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sei. Like you we are in “wait-and-see” mode at NIA and NIH. Will that deluge appear? One possible side-benefit on review that has received some discussion here is that the not-quite-perfect score to an amended application no longer seals the investigators’ fate. The possibility of a new application may not only give hope to the investigators but relief to the reviewers that their comments are not quite so significant for the research as they were previously. Perhaps a little of the burden will be lifted by that.