From the Editor: Addressing rigor and reproducibility in NIH grants

As part of the department’s ongoing Research Seminar Series, Christine Blaumueller, PhD, Director of the CCOM Scientific Editing and Research Communication Core, addressed the somewhat puzzling concepts of “rigor and reproducibility” required in NIH grants. Blaumueller and her team are scientists as well as editors who use their considerable experience to interpret guidelines and predict what NIH reviewers are likely to be looking for when scoring grant applications. (Blaumueller’s presentation is available for viewing here.)

02smIn 2016, the NIH issued enhanced instructions for addressing reproducibility of research findings through increased scientific rigor and transparency. Four areas were the focus of this new effort: 1) the scientific premise of the proposed work; 2) a robust and unbiased approach to the proposed work; 3) relevant biological variables, including sex; and 4) authentication of key biological and chemical resources.

New guidelines for 2019 applications instruct investigators to replace the term “scientific premise” with “rigor of the prior research,” and also to add discussion within the Approach section of how weaknesses in the rigor of prior research (as identified in the Significance section) will be addressed by the proposed research.

Collectively, the changes in instructions from 2016 and 2019 mandate that investigators explicitly: discuss the strengths and weaknesses of rigor in the key prior studies upon which their proposal is based, thus providing a strong basis for their own work; identify any gaps due to weaknesses in prior research and explain how these will be addressed in the proposed research; address how sex as a biological variable, which can have profound effects on animal and human systems, will be accounted for in the proposed study; and explain how key resources will be validated in the proposed study.

Blaumueller’s presentation provides examples of each of these areas as well as discussions among grant writing professionals and NIH reviewer comments. These insider tips are valuable for investigators who may be struggling with precise wording in their applications.

03smAs the department’s in-house scientific editor, I would encourage any of you seeking funding to take the time to watch this presentation. For those who have been writing grant applications for years, this may be an opportunity to break out of the old molds and refresh your approach. For those who are new to grant writing, the new guidelines and Christine’s experienced interpretations will make what may feel like an overwhelming process become less mysterious.

And as always, I am ready to review grant applications or any other academic writings!

The department will continue this theme of examining some of the practicalities of research in next month’s Research Seminar, when Donna Hammond, PhD, professor in the Departments of Anesthesia and Pharmacology, will present “Statistics for Researchers.”


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