NINDS's Building Up the Nerve

Episode 8: Council Review

January 24, 2020 NINDS Season 1 Episode 8
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
Episode 8: Council Review
Chapters
00:00:00
Intro
00:00:21
Introductions
00:03:01
Q&A
00:28:50
Advice
00:36:38
Outro
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
Episode 8: Council Review
Jan 24, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
NINDS

Learn about NINDS Council and their role in the grants process from Dr. Bob Finkelstein, Director of the Division of Extramural Activities, and Kelly Baker, Committee Management Officer.

Building Up the Nerve is a podcast from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the life cycle of a grant from idea to award at NINDS with the people who make it happen. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Learn about NINDS Council and their role in the grants process from Dr. Bob Finkelstein, Director of the Division of Extramural Activities, and Kelly Baker, Committee Management Officer.

Building Up the Nerve is a podcast from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the life cycle of a grant from idea to award at NINDS with the people who make it happen. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

Lauren Ullrich:

Welcome to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke's, Building Up the Nerve, a podcast for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the life cycle of a grant from idea to award at NINDS with the people who make it happen. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we're here to help. It's our job. Hi, I'm Lauren Ullrich, a scientific program manager at NINDS.

Marguerite M:

and I'm Marguerite Matthews, a health program specialist at NINDS and we're your hosts today.

Lauren Ullrich:

Last episode we discussed program review and recommendation. Today we're going to talk about the national advisory neurological disorders and stroke council and that process,

Marguerite M:

and as always, we want to remind you that everything we talk about may only be relevant for NINDS and if you're applying to different NIH institutes or centers, it's best to check with them about their policies.

Lauren Ullrich:

Joining us today are Dr Bob Finkelstein, director of the division of extramural activities and Kelly Baker committee management officer for NINDS. So let's start with introductions.

Bob Finkelstein:

Hi Lauren. Well as you said, I am the director of the division of extramural activities, which means I oversee the entire grants process. In a month or so will be my 20th anniversary of working at NINDS. I started as a program director for about five years. And then I transitioned into my current job. I was a professor in the neuroscience department at the University of Pennsylvania medical school. I had actually just gotten tenure there and renewed all my grants, but I decided I wanted to do something different, which was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Lauren Ullrich:

And a hobby or passion outside of work?

Bob Finkelstein:

Um, I have a lot of hobbies. I have, I would say music is a major hobby. I play piano and guitar. I've lately I've been sort of playing in a rock band.

Lauren Ullrich:

What's it , what's it called?

Marguerite M:

Yeah, what's it called?

Bob Finkelstein:

Well, we don't really have a name and attendance is kind of spotty, but it's all people kind of in my age range. So it's...

Lauren Ullrich:

I feel like the name is the most important part though.

Marguerite M:

I agree

Bob Finkelstein:

We'll work on that.

Lauren Ullrich:

And Kelly?

Kelly Baker:

Um, so I am the committee management officer at NINDS and I've been doing council related stuff for about 10 years, a little over 10 years at NINDS. Um, before that I was , um , working in the scientific review branch at NIMH for a couple of years. And before that I was not in the federal government.

Lauren Ullrich:

And , uh, one of your hobbies or passions outside of work?

Kelly Baker:

I like to be outside, so I like to run, hike, walk, that kind of stuff.

Bob Finkelstein:

Kelly is being modest. Kelly is an ultra marathoner.

Lauren Ullrich:

Oh wow.

Marguerite M:

I wish

Bob Finkelstein:

A very impressive runner

Kelly Baker:

So I guess I love to run?

Lauren Ullrich:

I think you have to, to do that. Okay, well let's get started then. So if you guys just want to sort of set the stage and talk about what is the role of council in this whole process of applying for a grant award?

Bob Finkelstein:

So council performs a variety of functions. So council is--the most important function is that it's called the second level of review. So, as most of you know, when you submit a grant application, it goes to a study section where it's--merit is assessed and that's the first level of review. Council is the second level before we can fund any of these grants that needs to be approved by council. So that's the core function, but it has many other functions as well. We bring important policy questions to council and they advise us on what to do, whether it be about grant mechanisms or training or diversity or many other different topics. And they're also what's called a FACA group, which perhaps Kelly can talk about next. But ultimately council advises the NINDS director on what to fund. It's, it's an , they don't really make decisions. They make recommendations to the director of the Institute with whom the buck stops.

Lauren Ullrich:

So do you want to talk about FACA?

Kelly Baker:

Sure. So that is the federal advisory committee act and it's all of our laws and regulations for running any type of committee in the government. Um , and council is one of those FACA committees. We have a lot of rules that we have to follow. And we also--getting into the membership of council, we have to charter each one of our committees and that will lay out pretty much all the details for how that committee operates. And for council, in our charter, we have 18 voting scientific members and two federal ex-officio members. And for us we've got one from VA and one from department of defense. And that's all in our charter. Our 18 scientific members are made up of 12 people from scientific institutions and then six people who are members of the public. So they, all of them are , um, they have to be leaders in the field of neurology, stroke, that kind of stuff. And our public members have to be, have some type of um, legal background, economics background, public policy background, something like that, so.

Bob Finkelstein:

And when Kelly said that council has to follow the rules of FACA, the federal advisory committee act, that makes it very challenging to put together a group of council members because not only do they have to be top scientists or important members of the public with expertise in neurological and neuroscientific questions, but we also have to make sure that we have geographical distribution. We couldn't, for example, have all our council members from UCLA or something like that, so that we need geographic distribution, we need gender distribution. There's many different parameters that come into play when we're picking council members and it's a lot of work. Kelly does a lot of it. Um, she's responsible, you know, for organizing this process, which is a very challenging one.

Lauren Ullrich:

And they can't be , um , standing members of study sections.

Kelly Baker:

Correct. There can't be two levels of peer review.

Lauren Ullrich:

Right. So that also narrows it down.

Bob Finkelstein:

Sometimes when we see a really good member of a study section, we lie in wait until they're off the study section. And then we ask them if they'll be on council.

Marguerite M:

Very strategic. Can you paint a picture for us, what the council meeting actually looks like? Where's it held? Who can attend? Um, what's discussed in the actual meeting?

Bob Finkelstein:

That's a big question. Why don't I talk about sort of the outlines of what happens in a council meeting? Uh, so we've experimented with various different formats; for a while we had a one day format, now we have a basically a day and a half format and it's held in , on the NIH campus in a, in a room that can accommodate a lot of people. And essentially it's divided into two parts in terms of the NINDS council . First is the open session and then there's the closed session. And in the open session, which the public is welcome to attend. Sometimes we run out of room and there's places where they can listen in an overflow area. But in the open session we discuss important policy matters as I mentioned earlier, that we want council's input on. And it's not just when we want their input. A lot of times council members would say, you know, I'd really like to discuss how to promote diversity among graduate students or, or whatever the question is. So we discuss important questions. Sometimes there's presentations from our staff to sort of tell council how we're currently doing things. Um , so we have different associate directors, we have an associate director for clinical research and associate director for translational research, et cetera . And sometimes they'll make presentations discussing how we decide what grants to fund, what applications to fund. So, so that's the open session

Lauren Ullrich:

and that's video cast.

Bob Finkelstein:

And that's video cast . You can tune in. It's incredibly exciting viewing.

Kelly Baker:

[laughter]

Lauren Ullrich:

Now, don't lie to our listeners.

Bob Finkelstein:

Oh well, actually, you know , it's funny, it can get a little dull sometimes, a little wonky sometimes, but sometimes it can be incredibly interesting. There are moments of, you know,

Lauren Ullrich:

No, it's true, it's true.

Bob Finkelstein:

So, so then we move into the closed session where the members of the public need to leave. Um, so in the closed session we look at specific grant applications. Um, so for example, if there's a clinical trial that's going to cost millions of dollars a year that we really want input on, even though it got a really excellent score, we'll discuss that in detail in the closed session of the council meeting. But we discuss many other different types of grants. Um, so do you want to talk, you have anything more to say about that Kelly?

Kelly Baker:

Just for setting up the meeting from like a logistical standpoint, you know, we do conference rooms that are government conference rooms. We reserve them years in advance, about three years out and there's only a certain number of conference rooms at NIH that can accommodate council meetings. So a lot of the ICS have counsel around the same dates and we're all vying for those same dates in the same spot. So that's a little bit of a process that my office has to deal with. Um, and then it's just, that's it.

Lauren Ullrich:

And council meets three times a year, right, with every cycle.

Kelly Baker:

Correct.

Lauren Ullrich:

So how does council make decisions? Obviously you guys aren't on council, but having seen and sort of heard the deliberations that go on, what are the sort of big picture things that they're thinking about when they are making decisions?

Bob Finkelstein:

Um, well I , I just want to be a little picky here. So they don't really make decisions they make recommendations.

Lauren Ullrich:

Recommendations.

Bob Finkelstein:

and that is an important difference. However, I don't want to in any way minimize their role because when council suggests something, we usually do it or at least consider doing it very seriously. So , um, and then the other caveat is that a lot of times council will have discussions in the open session. We're not really allowed to discuss policy issues in the closed session , um, because there's a fresh air in government or whatever it's called, where if we're discussing--

Kelly Baker:

Oh government in the sunshine act

Bob Finkelstein:

government in the sunshine, fresh air, sunshine, it's all the same to me.

Kelly Baker:

It goes with FACA.

Marguerite M:

Of course. Kelly, knows that, she's like I have fresh air when I run, that's what I know

Bob Finkelstein:

To be honest, I should know that phrase too, but I'm easily confused. So , um , sometimes they'll just have discussions which don't necessarily involve making recommendations. We'll discuss an issue and we may say, well, we really need to discuss this more. Um, the, the way they make decisions is, is kind of what you might expect that any, how any group would make...recommendations is the word. So, for example, let's say we're trying to decide , um, let's say one of our staff proposes a concept for a new initiative. So one of our staff will present the idea to council , just the concept, not the details because until it's approved, we don't flesh it out with details. And then council will discuss it and sometimes there will be some back and forth where they will ask us for additional information and they'll discuss it and, and raise pros and cons. Sometimes we realize that something we thought was a good idea, might not be practical at the present time where they might tell us, Oh, you know, that's already being done in the extramural community where we already have enough research on topic X, so they're less enthusiastic. So it helps us to, to decide whether these concepts that we're putting forward make sense. Now it's worth explaining, and this is I think, important for people to know, that when our staff suggests particular initiatives, for example, RFAs, which I think many of you know what those are: requests for applications that involve set aside funds, we don't really just cook these up in our offices. So NINDS interacts extensively with the outside community. We have workshops and many other kinds of meetings. So for example, if we had a workshop on um, Parkinson's disease and somebody suggested at the workshop , uh, that really we need new imaging modalities to look at the brain of Parkinsonian patients. Um , so there'll be a lot of discussion about that internally, some ideas will come up, we'll present them at council as new concepts that we're trying to decide whether to move forward on. So then just to oversimplify, whatever the issue that we're raising, whether it's a policy question or a specific initiative, council discusses it weighs in on it, and in some cases they vote. So the case that I just brought up, if we literally want to do an RFA, request for new grant applications, that involves several million dollars of set aside funds, we use council for concept clearance. So we ask them to formally vote as to whether that idea should move forward or not. Now again, this occurs in the open session. The public can watch this, listen to the discussion. Um, so you know, so they'll either discuss things and make recommendations for further discussions. They'll discuss things and say, we really think you should do that. And they may vote on that recommendation. One thing I didn't mention is that although these are all recommendations to the Institute director by council , there's one thing that council can do unequivocally that we can't change. If they vote against us doing something, whether it be a new policy initiative in the open session or against funding a particular grant application, in the closed session we cannot fund it. No matter how good we might think an idea or an application is, if council , literally the majority of council members vote that we shouldn't do it, it cannot be done. We could potentially bring it back at a future date. But that's the one recommendation that is binding on the Institute. So the short answer is that council, like any group , um , and it's a very diverse and often very lively group, I can tell you from past experience, they discuss things and um, there's back and forth. And because it's deliberately a very diverse group of people, economically, gender, ethnically, et cetera, um , we get lots of different perspectives and everything that we discussed , which I think is a good thing. It makes the discussions a lot richer.

Marguerite M:

How does NINDS determine the payline ? How do we set , um , a standard for what will get funded and what doesn't?

Bob Finkelstein:

Okay. So there's two questions embedded in what you're saying. One is how we set the pay line and the other is what we do with it once we set it. So let me talk about the first question. Setting the pay line. So setting the pay line is an incredibly important decision. So for example, last year the pay line was the 16th percentile, which to over-simplify means that roughly 16 % of applications will get funded. It's actually higher than that. But that's a simplified view. Um , and one of the reasons it's so important is not just because it reflects the funding rate for applications that people submit, but it also, in the eyes, I know, of a lot of trainees or professors in the extramural community or members of the public is kind of an , um, an indication of how the field is doing. If our pay line is, for example, the ninth percentile, which I remember it once went down to , that's basically saying when you submit a grant application, you have, what is it, a one in 11 chance of getting it funded, which is not so good to a young person who's considering whether to go into, into biomedical research. So setting the pay line is important decision. How do we set it? Well, obviously we need to know how much money we have. So the first step is we need to know what our federal budget appropriation is , um , from Congress and signed off on by the president. And that's very tricky because as you know, there's been a lot of budget turmoil for some time now. So sometimes we don't know our pay line, you know, in time , um , for a particular council session. Sometimes we operate under continuing resolutions where Congress essentially tells us you have as much money as you had last year, but we don't know whether that's going to go up or down. So the first thing we need to know in setting the pay line is how much money we have to spend. Then the next thing, which I think a lot of people don't fully understand is that most of our money is tied up in commitments. If we give a five year grant award, an R01, a lot of you know what that is. That means that the , the four out years are basically committed, assuming that reasonable progress is made on the grant. So at any given time, three quarters or more of our money is involved, is tied up in future commitments to grants that we've already funded in previous years. But , um, with the money that's not yet committed, we call that our competing budget. Um, we, that's what the pay line applies to. So, first of all, we, we make an attempt to keep the pay line as high as we can for reasons that I said, but there's many, many other pressures on our budget. For example, we might have a congressional mandate to spend money on a particular disease or a particular scientific area. Um, we might have , um, any number of other things that we're being told to do or that there was strongly recommended to do. You know, Congress for example, told us 20 or 30 years ago that we should fund , um, Parkinson's centers. They're called Udall centers , uh, which we did and they're , it's a wonderful initiative, but that means a certain amount of our money is spent on those Parkinson's centers. So with the money that's not already committed in either out years or committed to these kinds of initiatives, we look at it and we make a computation about, you know, how much we can afford to fund. And that's essentially what the pay line comes from.

Lauren Ullrich:

And how do we use the payline and what grants are determined by payline?

Bob Finkelstein:

Okay. So not every NIH Institute is the same. We are more on the side of funding according to the payline . So we believe that, you know, peer review is incredibly important. You know, whether it occurs at NIH central through the center of scientific review or study sections that we run it at NINDS for, for example, for phase three clinical trials. So once we set a pay line , let's say the pay line is the 16th percentile , um, essentially, to slightly over-simplify, all applications that got a percentile, we fund according to the pay line . So if you wrote an R01 application, your score translates into a percentile of 15, then you will get funded. If it's 17, you won't. So we are a, what we call a payline Institute. We make the very large majority of our decisions based on score. There are other institutes that don't do things that way. They may establish a zone, let's say, let's say they could afford to pay up to the 15th percentile. Some institutes might establish a zone between the 10th percentile and the 20th percentile and they'll pick and choose about half the applications from that zone. That's another interesting model. And I'm not really arguing for one model of the other, but we have traditionally gone primarily by scores. And the answer to your question is that whatever applications are percentiled, the pay line applies to. Now this is not true of all the funding decisions we make. We don't want to be too rigid and we don't want to miss opportunities. So for example, we have what's called our high program priority process. So if the pay line is the 16th percentile, we usually look about 10 percentile points beyond the pay line. And we look to see if there are applications which address important areas that are, for example, not being funded very much. So let's say that something is an emerging area and it's struggling a bit in peer review, we might decide to fund a particular application in that area. Sometimes when we have a congressional mandate, that will encourage us to fund some things in response to that mandate. Or for example, let's say the application brings a new investigator into a field that, you know, has a limited pool of investigators, a fresh perspective, we might consider doing that. Um, but we don't just, it's not just our staff who make this decision. We nominate applications in that 10 point percentile point zone for high program priority consideration. And then they're discussed at council and council members can also nominate applications from that zone. So we spend some fraction of our money on funding things beyond the pay line . And I'll just mention, just to wrap up the discussion, we don't fund 100% of applications within the pay line . If there's some, if we identify some real red flag for an application, let's say it's scientifically overlapping with another application the investigator already has and that person didn't mention it, then we're not going to fund that. Or if there's some ethical issue or you know, human subjects issue, you know, we take all this into account, but we do make most of our funding decisions in accordance with the payline .

Lauren Ullrich:

And do you want to talk a little bit about the ESI policy and how the payline differs if you're an ESI?

Bob Finkelstein:

Yes. So an ESI, I don't know if you discussed this in a previous meeting, but an ESI is an early stage investigators. So an ESI is a person, this is an NIH definition, who has never gotten an R01 grant from NIH or R01, we call it an R01 equivalent. There are other grants that are sort of like R O ones in terms of the resources that they give you. So, and they're within 10 years of their , I don't like to use the word terminal position, but they might be within 10 years of completing their postdoc or completing their residency. So an early stage investigator, they've never gotten a major grant from, from NIH. And , um, the 21st century cures act mandated that we give special consideration to these investigators. But we were all doing it long before that we believe, you know, we want new investigators in the system. It's incredibly important not for it to continue to be the same old people getting funded. So for a long time , uh, for many years we've been funding ESI applications up to about 10 points beyond the payline and we fund almost all the ESI applications up to--so if our payline for example, is the 15th percentile, almost every ESI application to the 25th percentile would get funded. Um, I say almost every, if we identify, for example , um , an ESI who we think is in not in a very good environment that will allow them to succeed, then first we'll look into it a bit. But if we think they're an environment where it's just not good for them , um, then we might make an exception. But generally we fund ESIs up to 10 points beyond our percentile pay line.

Marguerite M:

Is there anything else that you all wish that our audience understood about the advisory council or how it's used to make funding decisions at NINDS?

Bob Finkelstein:

Well, I think one thing is that they should understand what a hard job Kelly has. [ laughter]

Kelly Baker:

Well, I was going to kind of say something not about me, but um, just all the work that goes into getting a council meeting done, whether it's like peer review and then the pre council meetings and program staff input and then, you know, afterwards , um, FMB and then our grants management branch. Um, it's like a well oiled machine and there are so many moving pieces and it comes together every time , um , with a lot of hard work. But I think it's just one piece of the big puzzle

Bob Finkelstein:

Organizing and implementing a council meeting is very complicated, very challenging task. And like in many other areas of life, things come up like the night before the last minute , some--one of our program officials will say, Oh, I forgot to tell you this and then we'll have to scramble and.

Kelly Baker:

That definitely happens.

Bob Finkelstein:

We'll have to re-Xerox a hundred page handout to insert something or whatever. Um, in terms of what happens at council, I think it is important for people to know that we mostly go by score. And not always. Um, well what I didn't say, I didn't talk about, and you asked this, I think what things are not funded according to the pay line. So there's a whole large number of grant applications that don't get percentiled. So for example, if we do an RFA , um , we don't percentile the grants. So let's take that as an example. Let's say we did an RFA on, let's say it's on a particular disease, it can also be on an area of basic science. Um , we , we have a little more, we're a little more flexible in terms of what we pay. So if we do an RFA and we want to get sort of a scientific range of applications funded , um, we might not fund exactly in score order. So let's say we funded everything up to a score of 28. Again, they're not percentiled, but we noticed that something that got a score of 33 is really good and it would be a whole new area of research that has never been undertaken before or like I said, a new investigator in a field we'll discuss with council funding something that would be called a reach or we might occasionally skip an application that we see problems with. So an RFA is just one example. Large clinical trials, most clinical trials do not get percentiled and they're not funded automatically according to the pay line . If something has human subjects and is high visibility we're very careful and do a lot of due diligence before discussing it. So we discuss virtually every clinical trial application that we're considering , um , funding with council because we want to make sure that no one is being treated unethically, for example. Even it's also true with animal studies, a lot of those applications might not be , um , percentiled. So we do a bunch of initiatives. We have a category of sort of expensive or visibility applications that don't get percentiled and get discussed by council . And there's a little more flexibility. It's not a quote unquote automatic decision the way the payline is. So , uh , another thing that we do that doesn't happen automatically through the pay line is choosing our Javits awardees. So quite a while ago we established a certain award, the Jacob Javits award in honor of a distinguished Senator from New York state. And these are awards for outstanding investigators who've made cutting edge contributions to neuroscience and neurology for many, many years. It's not for new investigators. Um, so these, the way this works is if an R01 application comes in and gets a good score, we look through all those R01 applications and we look to see, find ones that are from investigators who we believe are, you know, that good. And if so, we nominate them for Javits awards and discuss them with counsel . A Javits award just means that instead of getting a four or five year, R01 grant, they get a seven year award. So we're looking for people who we know that even if we extend the grant without additional peer review, that they have a track record of doing great things. It's not just that they have to be great scientists, it's also that they have to be really model citizens. So we don't nominate somebody for a Javits award if they never serve on study sections. Um, we look for people who, you know, play important roles in building the neuroscience slash neurology community. So every council round, we consider , uh , usually two or three or sometimes more Javits nominations and give them to a small pool of investigators. And it's , it's a real honor which we publicize and their institutions often publicize. And it's a real vote of confidence in these people.

Marguerite M:

Thank you all for sharing your wisdom with us today. Can I ask each of you for one last piece of parting advice for our listeners?

Bob Finkelstein:

Well , um, I am often asked by people who are newer to the system , uh, let's call them trainees , what my advice is to them. And I actually do have a piece of advice that I believe in very strongly. So as a preamble, I'll just say that right now, NIH and NINDS are doing all kinds of incredibly important initiatives. So for example, NIH has been given a very large amount of money from Congress to , to do research to combat the opioid epidemic. So we've started what's called the HEAL initiative. And this is incredibly important. We're trying to get the best investigators cross the research spectrum to study pain and look for non-addictive pain treatments. Other institutes at NIH are involved as well. We have the BRAIN Initiative that was started under President Obama. That's, we're now spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on that is being allocated to this by Congress. And finally, there's a lot of money for research on Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, which is, you know, is reaching the proportions of the national epidemic and is incredibly important. So for these kinds of areas and for the RFAs we do, we're really trying to encourage people to work on specific topics. And I , I, we hope that that happens, but for generic advice to trainees, my biggest piece of advice is that you work on what you want to work on. Now, there used to be in the 60s uh , a famous--Lauren is laughing at me--

Lauren Ullrich:

Now you're dating yourself.

Bob Finkelstein:

Well, I was, I was two years old, but...Well, a little older. Okay. But there used to be in the 60s a very famous man named Joseph Campbell, who studied mythology, who studied myths and analyzed them. And he's the one who coined an expression that was very popular in the 60s called "follow your bliss." And he used to encourage people when they're choosing what job to do or making major decisions to go in the direction of what they really are interested in and what they think is important to follow their guts in that direction. Um, a lot of trainees who I talk to in my job , um, try to figure out what NINDS is interested in or what NIH is interested in . They worry, some of them worry that NIH isn't interested any more in basic research, which is completely false; we're still extremely committed to basic research and it does extremely well in peer review compared to other types of research, but they're often trying to figure out what they should work on to get a competitive edge. And my advice is that that approach does not work very well. That the approach, particularly in the long run, that works the best is to work on something that you're most interested in. So for example, if you want to work on spinal cord injury, one of the diseases or disorders that we cover, of course you should work on spinal cord injury. That's a wonderful way to , to spend your research time. But if you really want to work on axon guidance, the basic questions of how nerve cells find their way, for example, in the spinal cord, and you're not really that interested in in spinal cord injury, you should work on axon guidance. You shouldn't sort of pretend in your application that you're really working on a medical condition when you're, you know, or vice versa. If you're interested in a disease, you know, you don't need to spin it as a basic research project. So, you know, biomedical research is an absolutely wonderful career, but a difficult one. We're just like being a budding creative author; you're going to get lots of rejections. And the people who succeed in the system are the people who persevere, who write a grant application, maybe the first time they get it, it's triaged, doesn't even get a score. There are people who quit at that stage, but the people who don't quit, who keep trying are the ones who become often the most successful. So in order to have that kind of perseverance, it only works if what you're working on is something you enjoy. If you're just going through the motions and working on something that you think NIH is interested in but you don't find that exciting, in the long run, your career has a high probability of fizzling out. So I would say, you know, if you can find out what you really want to work on, that's a real gift and you should stick to your guns and work on it.

Marguerite M:

Not always try to fit yourself into other boxes that people have created.

Bob Finkelstein:

That's right that's right. I think people on the outside, not just trainees, but often experienced investigators, spend too much time trying to figure out how they can sort of manipulate the system. Often if you spent that time on identifying what you want to work on and just writing as good an application as you could, your track record will be better.

Lauren Ullrich:

Kelly do you have any advice?

Kelly Baker:

So maybe not necessarily advice, but a helpful tip if anyone's interested in seeing one of our council meetings, all of our video casts for the last, I'd say five years or so, are archived on the NIH video cast website forever. So you can always go back and take a look and see what the kinds of things that we talk about there.

Bob Finkelstein:

Now the video casts, as Kelly has said, are of the open session,

Kelly Baker:

Only open session.

Bob Finkelstein:

The closed session, there's not a recording of and it's--what happens there is confidential, for obvious reasons.

Marguerite M:

Lauren, do you have any advice?

Lauren Ullrich:

So I think my advice is to , um , I think I've said this before, but be an informed citizen and to, you know, check out the agenda for council, which Kelly will post on the website before council happens. And if there's anything that piques your interest, tune in or, or watch the recording. Because we really do try to be transparent and have the sunshine or fresh air or whatever it's called. [laughter]

Kelly Baker:

We're in the sunshine!

Lauren Ullrich:

And we do that because we want people to know what's going on. But also we want input from the community and we can't get input from you if you don't know what's going on. So I think as part of being a good citizen of the neuroscience community is making sure that you take advantage of the opportunities to be informed. What about you, Marguerite?

Marguerite M:

Along those same lines, I think it's important to appreciate the work that goes in. Oftentimes, people speak of NH as if it's some robot place where decisions are made and nobody cares about what's going on with the researchers. And it's very clear from many of the discussions we've had in previous podcasts , but also perhaps most sort of notably, our council, that people making recommendations , um, and , and things that we will focus on for our funding often comes from the extramural community. This may be managed and sort of driven by the vision of the director and supporting leadership of each Institute, but really the things that we're trying to fund and the research that we want to highlight often comes from you: from our listeners, from your mentors. And you will be that , that leader in the field who may be making decisions. So try to tune in and just watch a little bit of the discussions that happen because the things that affect our listeners are coming from the people that they work with, the people who are at their institutions. So we are not robots, [laughter]

Bob Finkelstein:

We check that box: not a robot

Marguerite M:

We are not robots, we are humans! And we do really take seriously what the extramural community finds important.

Lauren Ullrich:

Well, that's all we have time for today on Building Up the Nerve. So thank you again to our guests this week for sharing their expertise. And also thank you to program director, Dr.Bob Riddle for our theme song and music. We'll see you next time when we tackle resubmission of your application. You can find past episodes of this podcast and many more grant application resources on the web at ninds.nih.gov

Marguerite M:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NINDSdiversity and @NINDSfunding. Email us with your questions at NINDSNervePod@nih.gov. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast app so you won't miss an episode. See you next time.