Thursday, May 26, 2011

NIH Grant Proposal Appeal: The Double-Edged Sword

So, you successfully submitted your first grant application and- miraculously!- it wasn't bottom-halved or unscored (look up those old school terms here). Congratulations! What's that, you say? A terrible score? A reviewer who clearly didn't "get" your application? He/She doesn't seem to understand your project? Before you fire off an angry email to the program officer requesting an appeal, stop and take a breath.

NIH recently revised its appeal policies. All principal investigators do have the right to appeal reviewer decisions on certain specific grounds. However, just because you have the right to do it, it is not always the best choice.

Before proceeding with any contact with the program officer, clear your head and pull out the original application. Read it critically, keeping in mind the reviewer's specific criticism of the project. If, after reading the appeal guidelines, you feel that the reviewer made an error that can be the basis for appeal, call your program officer and speak to him/her calmly and rationally. You will get more direct, better advice on the phone than by communicating via email with the PO, and it will help to ensure that your tone is not misconstrued as whiny, angry, or otherwise. If the program officer believes you may have grounds to appeal, discuss the impact of the flawed reviewer on your overall score. Ask for a direct assessment of whether he/she believes that an additional review would result in a fundable score. If this is not likely to happen, an appeal could be a waste of time. In addition, it may create a bias in reviewers' minds that causes them to be more critical in your additional review. I once worked with a PI who appealed successfully and was granted a review at the next round. In the second review, reviewers were critical of things that were not even mentioned in his first review, and the new score was even higher (i.e. worse) than the old one.

If you are in this situation, you may be best served by preparing a resubmission. In your Introduction section, you can address any concerns that were brought up by the "flawed" reviewer and explain your reasons for not addressing them.

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