Should I Resubmit?

Seasoned grant seekers know that thick skin and abundant tenacity often separate the funded from the unfunded, and resubmission is just part of the process. Of course, getting comfortable with the concept of the sunk cost fallacy and being willing to walk away from untenable (read: unfundable) proposals is also a skill that will optimize your return on your valuable time.
The question I often hear from those new to grants is, “How do I know whether to resubmit or move on?” Less-experienced PIs tend to take the review of their initial submission as the final word on the matter and abandon an unfunded proposal, whereas seasoned PIs know that resubmissions generally have a much higher success rate than new submissions. At the NIH, the success rate for new (A0) R01s in 2015 was just 13.1%. That same year the success rate for (A1) resubmission applications was 33.5%.
R01-equivalent success rates by submission number
Source: National Institutes of Health

So how do you know if you should resubmit? The 10 questions I ask to assess whether a proposal should be resubmitted are:

  1. What score (or percentile) did the proposal receive? What was the payline? This provides a quick assessment of the proposal’s competitiveness.
  2. Does the funding opportunity allow for resubmission? If not, does the proposal align with another funding opportunity? If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” then, unless something changes, your time is probably better spent pursuing other projects.
  3. What are the team’s thoughts on the reviewers’ comments? If the proposal is a multiple-PI/PD proposal, the question of submission has multiple primary stakeholders, but feedback from the whole team (not just the PIs) is incredibly valuable in judging if a proposal is worthy of resubmission.
  4. Was your application triaged or streamlined? Often funders will triage applications that clearly do not align with the funding opportunity. Many review processes then involve reviewers scoring applications and streamlining (i.e., removing from the process) the bottom 50% of applications from the process. If your proposal was triaged or streamlined for misalignment, you may want to consider if the proposal would fare better with a different funding opportunity with which it is in better alignment.
  5. Was the reviewer response generally enthusiastic? Reviews of proposals can be harsh (even when the proposal earns a good score!), so much so that Reviewer #2 has become a meme on social media frequented by the academic set. I advise applicants to read the summary statement once, put it down for a while, then read it a second time with an eye to assessing the level of enthusiasm and important issues that impacted the score. Regardless of the technical issues which may or may not be addressable (see below), if the enthusiasm for the project isn’t there, you need to assess if that is because the project is not a good fit for the opportunity or if it has a likeability issue that can be addressed in a resubmission.
  6. Are you willing to fully address reviewers’ concerns? Sometimes it is apparent that there has been a misunderstanding of a part of the proposal and a simple clarification will clear the matter right up. Other concerns may require a change to the design, personnel, or budget.
  7. What would be the new timeline, and will it work for the research? If a resubmission were to be successful, when would it be funded? At that point, would the team be available? Will other elements of the research (space, support personnel, community collaborators, etc.) be available? Remember to consider the timeline of other, complementary project funding.
  8. Have you spoken to the Program Officer (PO) about the proposal? In addition to providing advice about a possible resubmission to the same opportunity, the PO may know of other opportunities for which your proposal is better suited.
  9. Has very similar research been funded in the interim? If so, your proposal may have become unfundable.
  10. Are the other members of your team still enthusiastic about the proposal? The time between a proposal’s submission and receipt of the Summary Statement can be long, and sometimes a year or more may have passed since the team began work on the proposal. A frank discussion among the members about possible resubmission should include a discussion of commitment to the project moving forward.

Many times, what it all boils down to is this: Are you willing to fully address the concerns outlined in the Summary Statement? If there is reviewer enthusiasm for the idea and you are willing to fully address the concerns, then moving forward is feasible. If you are not willing to address reviewer concerns articulated in the Summary Statement, then there is little point in resubmission. Remember the Golden Rule.

Still undecided? NIH advice on resubmission can be found here.

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