I submitted my first ever R01 application a few weeks ago and indicated that it be assigned to a specific study section (let's call it study section A). Yesterday, I received an email from the chief of an integrated review group (IRG, let's call it IRG 2) but not the one in which study section A belongs to (I'll call this one IRG 1). This IRG 2 chief tells me that the IRG1 chief felt my application was not a good fit and redirected my application to IRG 2 chief who assigned my application to study section B. I have a problem with this reassignment because - my application does not contain any of the keywords that are in the description of study section B - when I searched for the best study section for my application using the ART tool on the NIH website, study section A was of strong relevance (though study section B was too, surprisingly) - when I look at the funded grants that are similar to my application using the "LikeThis" search engine, I see that most of these funded grants were reviewed by study section A. - most of the people in my field have their grants reviewed by study section A.

I've asked around what's the best thing to do in this situation and I am getting mixed advices. One of my mentor recommended that I let it go and not piss anybody off at the NIH. I should wait for the reviews to come back, and if I notice that they didn't "get" my proposed research, then that would give me a reason to ask for a reassignment. This person also said in passing that it's so hard to get a grant on first submission nowadays that it won't make a difference if my application is reviewed by study section A or B (or any study section for that matter). I have a problem with this advice because the way I see it, if I get reviews back and ask for a reassignment, then it means I'm basically starting from square 1 with new reviewers and I've lost 6 months, in a way. Plus, I think it may annoy the SRO and/or the IRG chief.

Other colleagues advised me to reply to the email received from chief of IRG2 and ask for reconsideration. There is another study section (C) in this IRG2 that would be a good fit for my application (I had considered it before but ended up favoring study section A).

Has anyone ever been in this situation? Would anyone have any recommendation?

Thanks academic friends!


I think the problem is that you "misunderstand" the sections, and whether that is right or wrong, you have to change that perception. I have a PI with a similar problem, and she decided to resubmit and "play along". R01s are hard to get funded when you're new. Plan on that -- average age of new PIs in the 40s -- not 30s. That said, I would say if you can ask for clarification (playing coy), that might be your best option. The PI I support said, "we had X-topic expert on our proposal and they still said we didn't have enough expertise on x-topic!" Sure, she could misunderstand what expertise in that topic looks like, but I think in general, if she wants the funding, it behooves her to ask the relevant NIH person more specifically what expertise one needs to be convinced that this PI knows what she is doing and how to get the proposal funded. Sometimes you have to bend (who you include, how you write them in); other times, we have to convince the agency. Do your docs help convince the agency of your POV?

In general, I don't advise faculty to antagonize the PO, but they are supposed to be the public face of a program, and they should be able to answer some of these questions. Asking questions about submitting is not too much. That is the job of the agency, to answer your questions on the application process. Forge ahead there!

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