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So… in 2010 the K paylines at NHLBI were 40; in 2011 they dropped them to a 30, which some people felt was shocking. Therefore it was presumed the 2012 paylines would be similar. In the words of many senior faculty, from many institutions, with investment in my grant ranging from the full to zero: “they simply can’t drop them any lower”.

But. They did. To 19. When a ‘perfect’ score is 10 – this is amazing. My reaction to this has been to sit tight for a minute, collect my thoughts, and quietly consider my options.  Others have spoken to their PO s. Apparently, NHLBI are only funding 5, or less, K awards this cycle, and received well over 100 applications. Their priority is to maintain funding for current projects. But, they may reconsider paylines in May, and consider current applications for funding at the end of the fiscal year, if there are leftover funds.

So… what is going on here? The official line is that no budget has been received, NHLBI are expecting cuts and this is all they can guarantee to fund. My UNofficial, UNexperienced, UNeverythinged view? Well, I can’t find another institute that has released their budget – they seem to be operating under a continuing resolution until the actual budget is received. Clearly, for whatever reason, NHLBI have decided not to do this. It seems to me, looking at the changes in paylines across the board, they have been extremely conservative. I *hope* but do not know, that this will actually open the door for them to re-issue their paylines when the budget is received. Or, at Council Review, to fund way above the paylines, at their discretion. That is not NHLBIs stated line, but it seems a sensible option to me.

So… what do I do? Well, I didn’t cry, amazingly. I didn’t even get angry. I did drink 1/2 a bottle of wine (shhhh…. don’t tell Amy Layne 🙂 ) and I did finally get a full night’s sleep. I had an initial depression-reaction “Well, at least that is it for grants for me until I become faculty. That horse is off my back” and now I am clawing my way out of it. I am realising that I can submit a grant before then, and probably should. So… my plan is:

-To pick a new mechanism (this is tough, as I do not quite know when my US resident status comes in, and I need to ask NIH if that is needed at the time of application, or the time of award activation). Given that one reviewer wrote ‘there are no weaknesses’ and the combined score from Reviewers 1 and 2 was a fundable 15 (evil Reviewer 3 took it all the way to a lowly 28) I feel I still have a good grant there somewhere.

-To address the gaps I need to address to be more competitive. Publish more in lipids. Publish in higher quality journals (this is not my personal belief is a good target, but it is apparently NIH’s as they let the criticism of “low-impact” journals for some of my papers stand.

-WORK WITH MY PO. This is what I didn’t do much of last time, and I wish I had. Several of the criticisms by Reviewer 3 were, I felt, unjust. Therefore, I must see it as a failure of myself to negate them with my writing. These relate to:

-Publishing in “low impact journals” when I have actually published in several of the top journals for that field. AND, have a pretty respectable h index for a 2 year postdoc, who works in odd phenotypes (9) and a respectable h-10 index.

-People just not liking epidemiology as opposed to bench Science

-Being able to include abstract in the biosketch for a K, then being told that these are wrong, because the paper (since published elsewhere) is not in that journal

-How to come around the problem that a K-to-R mechanism involves some training in the K, to learn to do the stuff in the R. Yet, you have to write what you will do in the R as if you already know it. For my K, I said I was going to learn all about epigenetic technology, spend time at HudsonAlpha and do some didactic courses in such. Then I was going to use this to collect data in the R. Now, when I described what I was going to do in the R I made some mistakes about the technology and they were accurately pointed out. But my question is: how do you write accurately about something you argue you need to learn, if you haven’t already learned it??

So – onward and upward. Get some more papers (come on, I have so many under review. And so many co-authors who just ‘drop off the face of the earth’ after demanding analyses and drafts from me, which drives me insane), get some data. Collaborate more. Focus on so many positives at the moment (I am beyond excited about collaborating with the CHARGE Consortium, and have 3 faculty interviews for positions I really want). Work Hard. Repeat David Allison’s beautiful words over and over again “No matter what NIH do with the K awards, the stars will always twinkle”. Learn from the AHA Early Career Day:

“Grants do not go to the smart. We are all smart. They go to the persistent”.

Hole up in Donna Arnett’s office, periodically, until she says something positive like “Well – I haven’t given up on this one yet”. Run. A lot. Hike. Even more. Accept all commiserations and offers of support. Especially if they come with dark chocolate. Enjoy my trip to FLIP burger boutique today (and yes, still eat ‘on plan’).

I have recently discovered this blog on being a postdoc. It is wonderful. And so scarily apt. Wes even saved the post forming the header picture. He has seen stage 2. Worryingly, after hearing me go on and on and on about being accepted to speak at the AHA 2011 Scientific Sessions (come on! It is an honour! They accept ~18% of abstract for posters + talks combined!) he says he has witnessed the descent to stage 3. Eeep.