Grant strategery: NSF vs. NIH

So, I decided not to resubmit my CAREER award.

It had been reviewed reasonably well, but there are a lot of other things going on that made it hard to get the best possible revision ready in time this year. On the one hand, both me and the reviewers were pretty excited about my Broader Impacts project, and I really want to see that program happen at some point soon. Our preliminary data is coming along nicely and this project is looking really exciting. On the other hand, that data isn't quite to where the reviewers seemed to want it to be. Plus, my Program (which is new this year as it is) is going through a lot of upheaval and almost comprehensively changing staff, meaning there will be no continuity in pretty much the only place you GET continuity in NSF revision review (since the reviewers are almost always a different set of people, unlike NIH where your grant usually goes back to the same group).

Another major issue for me is that trying to shoehorn biomedical research into an NSF-appropriate framework is really difficult. The entire theme of my lab is disease-related. Sure, we develop technology towards understanding disease, and development of the technology itself can be extracted out as a non-health-related goal aimed towards basic understanding of biology. But to reach its full scope, this work really needs to be focused on addressing the needs in human health research. AND to reach its full scope, this work costs a lot of money to do. NSF budgets just don't go big enough to support the kind of work that would need to go into this project. We do everything from chemical synthesis to expensive analytics to molecular biology to cell culture. Each ONE of those aspects requires about an NSF-level budget total. So, to really do this project justice, I think we're gonna have to go with NIH where even with the standard modular budget we will already be at twice an amount that is pushing the limits of reasonable for NSF.

Sometimes no matter how in-the-hand a bird seems, you have to face up to the facts that you can't feed your family on a chicken when there are two turkeys in the bush, at which you have a pretty good shot if you just let go.

8 thoughts on “Grant strategery: NSF vs. NIH

  1. Naive question that won't really help you (sorry): Have the NIH and NSF ever issued a joint request for applications? In Canada, the CIHR (NIH equivalent) and NSERC (Science/Engineering Research Council) occasionally pool their resources to support this kind of cross-over project.

  2. I'm not sure--I am pretty sure you can simultaneously submit them to NIH and NSF if you are in the BIO directorate, but you can't accept funding from both. And because of the new Program I got moved into, I'm not in the BIO directorate anymore so I am not sure what would be allowed...

  3. I second Arlenna's comment. You are certainly allowed to submit the same or similar grants to multiple agencies. If they are both recommended for funding, then you can negotiate with both agencies regarding what gets funded under which. The only thing I don't know is if getting an NSF award messes with your young investigator status at NIH (I am in a field where NIH funding is not applicable). Another option to explore is DOD. I know DOD fund a fair amount of biomedical research, e.g. breast cancer detection and treatment. Not sure if they fund what you do (again, I am in a very non-bio field) but DOD is always worth exploring.

  4. Yup, we have a DOD award :)I wasn't thinking so much of submitting the same grant to multiple agencies, but more of agencies getting together to jointly fund projects such as ones where you're developing new technology towards a health-related research goal. We are collaborators on two jointly-funded grants from the two agencies I mentioned, to develop new microscopy methods and new microfluidic methods, both towards a cancer cell research goal.

  5. I have a DOD Concept award for breast cancer research (a one year deal). I like their funding opportunities and many are relevant to my work, but their paylines are crazy (less than 10th percentile) and their post-notice-of-award paperwork details are EXCRUCIATING. I went through several months of fairly severe stress to get my budget negotiated after having my grant awarded but before they would activate it. I totally understand that they have to be particularly specific for the taxpayer, but WHOA was it difficult. We had to send everything, down to catalog #s and a justification of why we chose that particular vendor, for pretty much every item we budgeted for.The Concept award isn't renewable, but we're hoping to leverage our experience with DOD into other DOD awards that might be longer term eventually. I'll just keep applying with various sub-projects. Hey, I could easily spend NIH, NSF AND DOD money if I had it all!!

  6. One of the things that frightens me about one day being a PI is that I want to make new materials for biomedical research applications. This requires money for a materials lab PLUS money for a biology lab. I don't know where the money is going to come from, esp. in the early years.

  7. Big start-up wishlist, baby!!But seriously. It is a reason why you'll want to make sure you end up in a department that can afford to get you started up with what you need for a few papers, in order to get you to the point where you can get an R01.

  8. I second Arlenna's comment. You are certainly allowed to submit the same or similar grants to multiple agencies. If they are both recommended for funding, then you can negotiate with both agencies regarding what gets funded under which.Actually this is not entirely true when it comes to Federal agencies. You can submit the same proposal to both NSF and NIH if, and only if, you have never had funding as a PI from either agency (I know the NSF guidelines are very clear about this). And of course if both proposals are funded you can only accept one. Depending on the grantmaking agencies' guidelines, you can submit the same proposal to more than one private funding source (but again can only accept money from one).

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