NIH TO NRSA POSTDOCS: REVISE AND RESUBMIT!
I'm heading up to NBER next week to spend a month working with Richard Freeman. One of the things I will be looking into (assuming I can get some data sets) is what's going on at NIH with the falling approval rates for R01 grants. Expect lots of interesting things.
One symptom of the current troubles that I recently learned about (this PowerPoint presentation is quite informative) is that more and more R01 applicants are having to send in amended proposals. I got curious and decided to see if the same thing was happening for other types of grants.
It turns out the same thing is happening to postdocs. The NRSA applications that are accepted are increasingly likely to have been amended. Back in the good old days before the NIH budget doubling, about 10% to 15% of NRSA applications had to be revised before they were accepted. Now it's up to 34%. Is the review process getting harsher all around because of what's going on with R01s? Or is the number of NRSA applicants increasing in tandem with the R01 applicants?
Another weird thing: as best I can tell from CRISP, there were 800-850 new NRSAs per year back before the doubling. Now there are only about 650-700 NRSAs per year. So while the NIH budget doubled, the number of NRSAs went down by about 25%. Now there's commitment to training! The decrease in numbers might explain in part the increased scrutiny that applications appear to be receiving.
Why are these numbers going down at all? NRSA fellowships are one of NIH's premier forms of support for the training of new researchers. Postdocs are incredibly cheap, too -- maybe 10% of the cost of an R01, tops, so it's not like a lot of money is saved by cutting them.
Maybe the money was reallocated to Career Transition awards (K22 awards)? While K22s are nice, they're considerably more expensive than NRSAs. Maybe 200 NRSAs have been replaced with 50 K22s? If so, then what looked like an increased allocation of resources to postdocs was really just a relabeling of funds.