increased scientific independence therefore requires a variety of arrangements that do not stigmatize a particular type of award and that are palatable not only to the investigator but also to his or her institution.
After NIH abolished the R29 award, it developed a one-page sheet that provides guidelines for reviewing applications from new investigators (see Box 2-3 and related discussion). If these guidelines were followed in a robust and uniform manner, some of the problems faced by new investigators in applying for funds would be ameliorated. But the distribution of study section scores to new investigators (see Figure 2-12) and the experience of reviewers show otherwise.
As explained in Chapter 2, study sections currently review an application in terms of the significance of the project, its approach or methods, the innovation of its concepts, the investigator’s qualifications, and the probability of success due to environment. Applications can be deferred (rarely), unscored, or scored. An unscored application is one that is deemed noncompetitive, and a scored application is one that has enough likelihood of funding that it merits further discussion. Having a proposal unscored (“triaged”) appears to be a particularly discouraging event, as evidenced by the lower rates of resubmission for unscored proposals than for unfunded—but scored—proposals. This may be especially discouraging for new investigators who do not have a history of grant applications and grant success.
Leaving a new investigator’s application unscored deprives him or her of valuable feedback on the proposal and harms morale. Data provided by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) suggests the importance of allowing new investigators the opportunity to revise and resubmit their applications after complete feedback, including assignment of a priority score (see Box 2-5).
U.S. biomedical science would benefit if beginning PIs were encouraged to follow opportunities distinct from the area of their postdoctoral project, and even important areas not much pursued by anyone. Yet the current reliance on preliminary results further discourages branching out into high-risk, high-reward areas.
6.1 NIH should establish and implement uniformly across all of its institutes a New Investigator R01 grant. The “preliminary results” section of the application should be replaced by “previous experience” so as to be appropriate for new investigators and to encourage higher-risk proposals or scientists branching out into new areas. This award should include a full budget and have a 5-year term. NIH should track new investigator R01 awardees in a uniform manner including success on future R01 applications.