Friday, January 23, 2015

The beginning of the R01 twin strategy

Parents of twins will probably laugh at my naivete, but as someone who always wanted two kids
Mother with twins
I always thought that twins were the most efficient way to achieve that goal: you have two of them at once and you're done. So I didn't bat an eye when one if my senior faculty mentors outlined what I will call the "R01 twin strategy" to me.

His reasoning was that getting a first R01 with early investigator status, a good funding history and good productivity should be doable, but the big ordeal is then getting that second R01, which is orders of magnitude harder that the first one. If my first R01 goes in in June and the second in October as planned, the Just In Time update for the second grant will include a funding decision for the first one...the unlikely chance that the first one gets funded could kill the second one. The alternative strategy is to develop them as fraternal twins, separate in all fashions (topic, approach and study section) and send them out into the world, i.e. the CSR, together. Then the JIT will say "pending" for both. If they get rejected, you resubmit together. If one gets funded, mazel tov! If both get funded, double mazel tov, golden confetti, and a serious discussion with the dean about lab space!!

It's bold and some will say it's suicidal. The huge issue is planning, because splitting the time to work on two major grants means half the writing effort and, in this funding climate, that could mean disaster. Yet, this is very appealing to me. I thought some of my other senior mentors would yell at me for proposing this, but they actually were intrigued and thought it was a viable idea as long as it was carried out correctly. Anyone who ever knew me in college knows my multitasking schedules to be the stuff of legend (and cause of endless teasing)... I have 19 weeks: if split in alternating 4 weeks intervals for each grant, that gives me 2 full months each, plus 3 extra weeks. So I'll commit to a pilot run: 1 week to outline 2 sets of specific aims, 4 weeks for each grant, then I'll decide whether to drop one or keep going on both. I've been on break from grant writing since August and this is an exciting new challenge.

I'll try and blog through it. Just as a preview of what's to come, today I had an experiment planning meeting with the co-PI on one of the grants and I started working on the new biosketch that will be used starting in June. This last endeavor caused a minor meltdown. You see, the new biosketch gets rid of your publication list and asks you to point out your major accomplishments and contributions to science, and I had nothing to say. What have I done that is really significant? I don't have a single major discovery that pushed science forward. No Science, Cell or Nature paper. How do I fake this? After a moment of panic and some soothing rounds of Candy Crush, I started writing possible contributions and grouping papers under them. I have been at the forefront of next-generation sequencing identifying multiple novel disease genes. I have defined guidelines for genetic testing in different population. I have pioneered blah, blah, blah. I have made sure healthy babies were born, goddammit! Okay, maybe R01 #2 will have a presentable biosketch...but that's the one with the least preliminary data. Where are the cell biology and mouse genetics pubs for R01 #1? Crap, that's the R00 conversion. This paper we're writing better be going out pronto!...And as you see I'm rapidly spinning out of control.

What do you think, readers, am I a) insane, b) ridiculously cocky, c) just right? Will I survive?

PS: I think the twins need names...


  1. Wow! OK I think you're maybe a little insane, but maybe that's because there's no way in hell I could write 2 R01s from scratch for the same deadline. I would for sure get burned out, and would worry that alternating between working on the two would make me lose focus on both. But from reading your blog, I get the impression that you've got your shit together way more than I do, so if you feel you can do it, it's always better to have more stuff in!

    That said, I'm just not sure if the risk that's making you want to do this is real. I've never heard of someone getting back to back fundable scores and the 2nd one getting not funded because of the first one. If anything, as you know, funding begets funding, and you're maybe more likely to get a better score on the 2nd one if the first one hits (provided they're completely distinct projects, like you say).

    Also, you mentioned that one of the grants has a co-PI. Is that PI ESI too? If not, then that trumps your ESI status and the grant doesn't get ESI consideration, so then it really doesn't make much sense to worry about each grant being considered simultaneously.

    Anyway, whatever you do, good luck!

  2. Does being a co-PI trump NI status too? I am planning an RO1 grant with my ex-mentor, but I am going to stay as a Co-I so as to keep my NI status. However, if the NI is not counted when you team with an established investigator, I might as well become co-PI on the grant.

    1. Well, my question is answered by NIH here:

      How is my New Investigator status changed if I am part of a multi-project award?
      If the new investigator is assigned a PD/PI role for the overall multi-project application, the individual will lose their NI status when the award is made. If the new investigator is the lead of a project or core, but not the PD/PI for the overall application, the individual will retain NI status when the award is made.

      I have ESI status but I plan to submit a Multiple PI application. Will my application be flagged as ESI?
      As with applications from New Investigators (see the Definition of New Investigator at, a multiple PD/PI R01 application will be flagged as an ESI application only if all the listed PD/PIs have ESI status at the time of submission.

  3. See you in the summer, as you won't see daylight until then.

  4. I dont agree with the advice you are getting.
    I dont think you can trick NIH into giving you two grants if they dont think you can handle it by submitting them at the same time, and if they do think you can handle it, they prefer the awards to be at least a little staggered.
    I think the only benefit to submitting two applications if is you have the ideas, the preliminary data, and the time/energy to write them, and dont want to wait.

  5. I wrote about this topic last May: