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Background: I am a graduate student in neuroscience at a US institution. I have a specific aim that I wrote into an NIH grant back when I was less knowledgable, and as I have grown better versed in my field, I realized that there were related experiments that were technically not described in the aim, but are logically necessitated to happen before even executing the proposed grant aim. Key members of my thesis committee agree that I need to do preliminary experiments before getting to the proposed research.

Further, depending on these preliminary results, there is a small chance that the original grant aim would be inadvisable to execute as it is written. In so many words, the aim might have been written using too many assumptions in the underlying hypothesis due to my naïveté.

A couple questions:

  1. Is it bad to do these necessary experiments even though they are outside the aim?
  2. Assuming the preliminary experiments do not scientifically justify the grant aim, can I provide a report to the NIH describing what I did and possibly modify the aim and hypothesis appropriately; e.g. pursue a different but related direction?
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    Was the grant funded? – iayork Mar 11 '16 at 18:24
  • Yes, the grant was funded. – anonymousPhdStudent Mar 13 '16 at 5:03
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The answer somewhat depends on the grant mechanism and whether or not it has been funded. If the grant has not been funded yet, do whatever you want. If you are talking about modifying a submitted proposal, you will want to talk to the program officer.

The mechanism also matters. As you are a graduate student, if the grant is an F31 or T32, then you are not technically incharge and you will want to talk to the PI (likely your advisor). If it is truly your grant, then you may want to talk to the NIH program officer. They are your friends and have a good enough understanding of the field to see if something is truly needed and if it would require some sort of amendment.

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  • But keep in mind that (at least in biology) it is very, very common for researchers to perform work under grants that wasn't described in the grant application. What you're describing is a very normal thing, and the program officer will almost certainly say it's fine. Granting agencies (again, in biology at least) know that biology is fuzzy and that unexpected challenges inevitably appear, and they expect you to use the grant money to do the best research possible, not merely step through an outdated plan by rote. – iayork Mar 13 '16 at 13:38

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