Maximizing Investigators' Research Awards for Early Stage Investigators: A High Percentage of Administratively Rejected Applications

Sep 29 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) recently launched new program the ‘Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award’ (MIRA) program including a variant for New and Early Stage Investigators. The initial results of this program have recently been released. The beginning of this announcement states (bold added):

“We received 320 applications in areas related to NIGMS’ mission, and they were reviewed by four special emphasis panels organized by the NIH Center for Scientific Review. We anticipate making 93 awards, which is more than we estimated in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA); the corresponding success rate is 29.1%.”

This language of this announcement struck me since I have heard from some early stage investigators that their applications had been administrative rejected.

Even though the fiscal year is not quite complete, I decided to request information about this program through FOIA. NIH replied promptly (within four weeks) with the requested information.

The bottom line is that is appears that 83 out of 403 applications that we submitted were administratively rejected. Of the remaining 320 applications, 93 have been or are expected to be funded.

One possible basis for administrative rejection is lack of eligibility as an early stage or new investigator. Another likely basis, given the language in the announcement noted above, is that the applications were deemed to be more appropriate for NIH Institutes or Centers than for NIGMS. This is a problem for Funding Opportunities that are specific to a single Institute or Center. Even though an application may be highly meritorious (although one does not know this since the application was not peer reviewed), it is rejected since it would normally be assigned to a different Institute or Center. With funding opportunities with broader institute participation (such as the parent R01 announcement), an application that does not fit into the areas of interest of one institute can be assigned to another, more appropriate, institute. Since this was an NIGMS-only announcement, that option was not available in this case.

Based on these data, the actual chance of having this type of MIRA application was funded was 93/403 = 23.1%.

The new Funding Opportunity Announcement for this program has been released.

Potential applicants should be very mindful of this comment in the announcement:

Research that involves a major change in scientific focus or that migrates away from the mission of NIGMS and/or into an area of major interest of one of the other NIH Institutes or Centers would warrant a discussion with NIGMS program staff.

Contact the listed program officer

Peter C. Preusch, Ph.D.

National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)

Telephone: 301-594-0828


to ensure that your chosen plan meets that criterion before you spend your time preparing a full application. Be very explicit about your concerns. Of course, this is good advice for any grant application.

There are more data in the FOIA response. Stay turned for more analysis.

17 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    Various scenarios occur:
    1) Aims only go so far. PI may not have communicated intent/direction all that well.
    2) PO may not have been direct enough about their criteria.
    3) Severe filtering may have been decided upon by NIGMS long after this PI chatted with the PO
    4) PI may have heard PO perfectly fine but decided to risk varying from what was intended. "If I get study section to give a fundable score it will change their mind" is generally a risky but perfectly viable strategy.
    5) PO is pure evil and likes wasting the time of potential applicants

    Look, it is very clear that MIRA was intended to be really *different*. This bleeds off the page. It is always hard to read the tea leaves for the first round or two of a brand new weird/novel FOA. I'm just not seeing your implication that the rejected applicants were screwed over.

  • Barbara Golden says:

    Were they administratively rejected before or after review?

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    The point of these administrative refusals to accept assignment of grants--whether special shit like MIRA on ordinary R01s--is to increase the IC's apparent payline and success rate at the expense of other ICs. Combined with the forbidding of MIRA awardees from submitting additional grants to the awarding IC, but not other ICs, this creates a clear tragedy of the commons/race to the bottom situation. If it continues to escalate, OD will have to step in and regulate such matters from the top down.

    • drugmonkey says:

      I don't see why this is a race to the bottom. This is the pirate stronghold strategy that you laud when it comes to elite private Universities collecting faculty during a downturn in the NIH budget. In this case, NIGMS wants to provide minimum sustenance for as many of "their" people as possible so that they can then launch raids on the other ICs' budgets. It is brilliant!

  • Anon says:

    It was indeed a very fun go for that first time. They also bundled some off NIGMS beaten path topics in there (e.g. trauma medicine was included in the RFA, but from the two trauma people I know who submitted, their grants were poorly reviewed "pretty obviously based on comments" by basic scientists). By also making it a one PI grant (no collaborators written in), it threw multi-disciplinary proposals into some murky waters of how to show feasibility.

    Nobody knew what to expect from the format.

    On conversation with two NIGMS POs, they were pretty straightforward on what was acceptable.

    I'm actually shocked by the high funding rate. Can't wait to see Reporter and next round.

  • crazytrainmatt says:

    Would this include applications rejected for overlap with other pending apps to NIGMS? Some people even got told their MIRA overlapped with a pending DP2. I bet the onerous non-overlap criteria were the major source of withdrawal.

  • Another possible explanation is the requirement that you do not have a pending or submitted (or submitted in the future) grant (partly) assigned to NIGMS. That is pretty stringent, because it includes submission you made the round before. Basically you loose at least 3 rounds of applications by applying for this program, as far as I can see.

  • Newbie(ish) PI says:

    In all honesty, my MIRA application was much better suited for a different institute and it was still reviewed. It got a terrible score because reviewers couldn't see past the fact that I wrote it like an R01. But how was I supposed to know how to write for a brand new grant mechanism? This year's submission will be written in a completely different way, though this post gives me something new to worry about.

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