Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Should new investigators apply for NIH Challenge Grants (RC1)?

I am looking more into the NIH Challenge Grant (RC1) opportunities that are part of the US stimulus bill. The specific question in my mind right now is: "Does it make sense for new investigators (like me) to apply for RC1 grants?" The reasons I ask are (a) because winning an RC1 removes the "new investigator" status from a PI, and (b) there is no "new investigator" preference in RC1 reviews.

The NIH has a specific definition for "new investigator", which is any investigator who has not been PI on any PHS-supported project other than a "small" one, such as a K-award or R-21 grant. New investigators get many benefits in review of R01 grants, including:
  • Instructions to the study section to go easy on the new investigators (again, see the link from the Center for Scientific Review).
  • Center-specific practices to increase paylines and grant duration for new investigators. For example, the NCI in the past extended the payline from the 11th percentile to the 16th percentile. The NHGRI was not as specific, but they also increased the payline and also strive to support new investigators for 5 years.
These new investigator benefits are a big deal, and I am counting on them in any hope I have of getting an R01 in the next couple years. According to the RFA for the Challenge Grants:

New PIs and Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) are invited to apply for Recovery Act Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research. Because the awards made under this program are substantial competing NIH research grants, recipients will not be considered New PIs or ESIs when they apply for NIH research grants in the future.

Thus, if I were to win a two-year RC1, I would no longer be considered a "new investigator" for future R01 applications
. This is a serious issue to consider. Two years of funding would be great, but five years of funding would be much better. Furthermore, this rule, combined with other language in the RFA makes me wonder whether new investigators will be frowned upon overall in the review process?

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this issue? I am heavily leaning towards not applying for RC1. But I also know that I'm biased by the fact that I just submitted a couple grant applications (to other agencies) and the thought of doing another one in the next three weeks is really not appealing!

SJK Note added 8:06 PM: Another negative is that there are no resubmissions of RC1s, since it is a one-time program.

SJK Note 4/2/09: Friendfeed comments.


  1. the odds of you getting an RC1 are incredibly low...... just submit what you were going to do in the RC1 as a new investigator R01 in June....

  2. Why is "no resubmissions" a negative? It only affects your status of early investigator if you get the grant. If you don't get the grant, you can turn around and submit it as an R01, with its two resubmissions.

  3. Melalvai, I'm by no means an expert. But what I have been told by mentors in NIH grant writing is that it's a very big advantage to be able to resubmit a grant application to the same study section. If I were to submit to the RC1, and then submit to the R01, it would not be the same study section. Thus, all of the advice from the reviews would not be helpful. You're right that it's not necessarily a negative for the R01 (except that the formatting is different) -- but it makes the effort of the RC1 less worth it.

  4. Attention Melalvai,
    You can no longer resubmit a grant application twice (A1 and A2) to the NIH after it's first (A0). The NIH killed the second (A2) resubmission mid January 2009.

    See NIH NOT-OD-003 at

  5. i respect everyone's opiion but think this is too much perserveration. In tight financial times, you should take every opportunity you get to win more funding. If you win an RC1, you have just bought yourself two years of security during one of the biggest financial crises in modern history. i would gladly be willing to surrender my 'early investigator' status for that. who says wining an R01 will be any easier?

  6. That may work for some PIs, but I don't think it works for me and many others. 2 years of funding is not enough to start a project with any kind of stability. As a colleague of mine was saying earlier this week, the RC1's are a bit like pouring gasoline on a fire. You're going to stimulate a lot of stuff for a couple years, but then what? How will you pay for those graduate students after the RC1 is over? Won't all those people now be competing for R01s, reducing that success rate even further?

  7. Has anyone heard of any changes to the rule "an RC1 award 'consumes' New Investigator status"?

  8. Great blog post.Really looking forward to read more.


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