Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NIH Paylines

What's a payline, you ask? At NIH, your grant is ranked as a percentile (based on what is known as the priority score which I won't discuss in this post but you can wonk out here). What is considered a good percentile may deviate from a FUNDABLE percentile, and at the individual institute level there's a great deal of variation. However, generally speaking a good percentile these days is around a 10 (i.e. 10th percentile, meaning your proposal is in the top 10 percent of all grants reviewed by that study section that cycle. Bask in its awesomeness.) You should feel good about that score. However, it's the payline that determines whether you get funded, and this keeps dropping. In some institutes, the payline is set at the 6th percentile so even though you might have a super-awesome score, you are not going to hit the NIH jackpot this time around.

Or maybe you will: my R03 placed in the 10th percentile on first submission and we were told by many folks in the know to be cautiously optimistic. And we were until they set the payline that year at the *9th* percentile. I'm not even kidding. So imagine our delight and relief when several months later we learned that the payline had been reset to the 13th percentile and we were in! That's not very common, but it can happen, and sometimes you can speak to your program officer about the likelihood of this (after you receive your score and do some homework on recent paylines.)

This site compiles recent data on percentiles and paylines across the institutes. Most institutes have reported their Fiscal Year 2012 funding strategies and paylines, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has already reported its FY13 payline (6th percentile! eeeek). For you early career people, there is a teensy weensy silver lining, and that is you are scored more generously than more established researchers (e.g. already a PI on an NIH grant) so you might get funded at a slightly higher percentile. For example, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) set its regular 2012 payline at the 10th percentile and at the 13th for New and Early Stage Investigators, a potentially game-changing differential. (Do you qualify?) Typically, you need to be within 10 years of your terminal degree and not have been a PI on an R01 (R03s and R21s are fine). So if you've been contemplating developing an R01, keep an eye on the clock so that you don't lose those extra points.

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