More Age Data from NIH: Surprising Award Rate Data

Mar 27 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

In the context of recent discussions of NIH age group data, @dgermain21 pointed to some interesting data in a recent NIH report on physician scientists regarding NIH R01 Award Rates as a function of age group (as well as degree, race/ethnicity, and gender. These data are quite surprising as shown below:

Award Rate graph

These data are for all individuals in the analysis. I have omitted the curves for individuals 30 or less and 71+ since these data are relatively noisy, presumably to relatively small numbers of individuals in these groups.

The term Award Rate is defined by NIH as "the number of awards made in a fiscal year divided by the absolute number of applications where we don’t combine resubmissions (A1s) that come in during the same fiscal year." Thus, Award Rate is lower that Success Rate since the denominator is higher.

Of course, the surprising observation is that these rates are highest for the 31-40 age and declines monotonically so that it is lowest for the 61-70 age group. This is certainly counter to what I would have expected where I would have anticipated the opposite trend or perhaps a peak for the 51-60 age group. This observation begs an explanation.

Digging into the report, the Quantitative Analysis Methodology section indicates that

"The NIH awards and time period selected for inclusion in the system from IMPACII (the large internal NIH database) were:

  • Research Project Grants for the following 25 activity codes between 1993 and 2012, Type 1 applications,..."

The term "Type 1" applications refers to new (as opposed to competing renewal) applications. This suggests that the above data may be only for these new applications. Competing renewal applications (Type 2) applications come predominantly from more senior investigators and have substantially higher success rates than new applications. Thus, the restriction to Type 1 applications would be expected improve the importance of younger relative to older investigators. This may be an important contributor to these data, although I still find it surprising that the reported trends still apply to new R01 applications.

Interested readers should look at the report and help try to understand how to interpret these data.


I contacted the individuals responsible for the data in this report. The missing data (zeros for PIs between 61 and 70) have been filled in, the the NIH believes that the other data are correct as posted. Thus, it appears that award rate for new (Type 1) R01s appears to decrease monotonically with increasing PI age and this was true for every year from 1999 to 2012.

7 responses so far

  • AScientist says:

    Could be the older you are the more likely a Type 1 is your second R01 to complement the continuously renewed bread & butter R01 that you already have; and that it is therefore your "B" project, less love & attention; or maybe the ease of renewal of your main R01 leads one to assume a certain laziness in the writing since the quality bar is perceived as lower than it actually is. Together means the grant quality of the Type I applications from older applicants is, in fact, worse. Or reviewers penalize PIs who already have an R01 or other funding, more likely for older applicants. Curious

  • drugmonkey says:

    Is this unique to MD holding scientists? I seem to vaguely recollect seeing NIH-wide data for Type 1 by experienced/inexperienced status. Not divided by age but it should be useful to consider.

    • datahound says:

      These are data for all scientists (MD, PhD, MD-PhD, etc.). The data for the groups separated look fairly similar (although there are some glitches in the post).

  • DJMH says:

    I'm blanking on where but I could have sworn DM had posted success rates by age and showing those worse for the youngers. Was that for all grants rather than just Type I?

    • datahound says:

      This is why I am finding these data so hard to understand. The NIH ESI policy to intended to equalize Type 1 success rates for ESIs compared with established investigators; without the policy the success rate was lower for ESIs.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    If a postdoc presented me with data this counter-intuitive, I would check that there wasn't some error, like the row labels being flipped.

    If you check Appendix A4-3, there is something weird going on in the breakdown by age for individual degree types. There are 0% values across the board for ages 61-70 for both PhD's and MD's. This must be an error, no?

  • Anne carpenter says:

    I bet the results are surprising because it conflates the age issue with the bias of reviewers against PIs who are already funded "sufficiently". The youngest cohort is almost certainly asking for their first R01, whereas the older cohorts are a mixture of unfunded labs and labs already holding an R01 and asking for another.

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