Top 10 Tips for Getting an R01 Funded by the National Library of Medicine
I just returned from serving on the Biomedical Library and Informatics Review Committee (BLIRC) for the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Here are 10 important things to keep in mind when writing an R01 for the NLM. These are all based on my experience serving on BLIRC over the past year. My bias is bioinformatics and computational biology. A clinical informaticist or library informaticist might have a different perspective. It is always a good idea to talk with your program officer before writing and submitting a grant.
1) Articulate an important and timely informatics question. Be forward-thinking. Know what is hot and what is going to be hot. Make sure that answering your particular scientific question will have an impact on biomedical research or clinical practice.
2) Propose new and novel informatics methods. Innovation very important. Know the literature and where your new method fits in. If you are havng trouble coming up with a truly innovative approach you might try combining existing methods in innovative ways. This is less exciting but much better than an incremental improvement on an existing approach.
3) Avoid purely applied software engineering projects. In other words, don't focus your grant only on building a database, web server or software package. The majority of the grant must be focused on new and novel algorithms or methods. NLM is looking for new informatics methods. They sometimes have separate RFAs for resource development grants (e.g. G08 mechanism).
4) Compare your algorithm or method to state of the art in field. Don't just propose a new algorithm or method. You need to have a baseline approach to compare it to. How do you know that your novel method is going to work better that what people are currently using?
5) A solid plan for how you will evaluate your novel informatics method is critical. How will you know whether your approach is truly working better than the state of the art in the field? Be very specific about how you will evaluate your approach and what the criteria are for concluding it is indeed working.
6) Application to real data is important. Simulation studies are necessary but not sufficient. Describe the biomedical data you will analyze and how you will improve your method based on results. Don't forget the details of how you will actually do the analysis. What significance criteria will you use?
7) Provide as many details as possible about your new and novel informatics algorithm or method given space constraints. Reviewers are unlikely to give you the benefit of the doubt, especially if you are a junior investigator with a poor track record. Tell the reviewers exactly how you are going to develop, extend, modify, apply and evaluate your informatics approach.
8) Be productive! Reviewers want to see a good paper trail from your previous faculty, postdoc and graduate student research. Your reviewers need to be convinced that if you are awarded a grant that you will actually make a contribution to the literature. It is well worth those extra evenings and weekends to get your papers submitted.
9) Innovation and approach have the biggest impact on your final score. The NLM did a factor analysis of scores for significance, innovation, approach, investigator and environment and their relationship with overall impact score. Innovation and approach had the highest correlation with the overall score. I agree with this completely based on my experience serving on BLIRC.
10) Make sure you have good collaborators with real effort budgeted to cover your weaknesses. It is often the case that a junior investigator will add a well-established senior investigator to the grant thinking the name recognition will help. This does not help and is seen as a negative if the senior person does not have real effort budgeted on the grant. Make sure your senior collaborator can contribute at least 5% effort and preferably 10% or more. Otherwise, noone will believe that the senior person will actually do any real work.