So what the heck is an R21?

Dec 12 2013 Published by under Careers

In my previous post I tried to make the point that the R21 mechanism probably isn't a good bet for newly minted assistant profs to use for a starter grant. I linked to this handy-dandy "Should you apply for an R21?" page from NIAID in order to point out some shortcomings of this approach.

This sparked some interesting discussion in the comments and on the twits about how R21's are perceived not just by applicants, but also the reviewers and even the NIH. Seems like there's very little consensus on how to treat this mechanism. It's certainly not always used for "exploratory/developmental research" (preliminary data not necessary!*) as outlined in the Parent Announcement.

So dear readers, in your opinion, what the heck is an R21? And perhaps more interestingly, what do you think it should be?**



** Aside from a mechanism that benefits ME! ME! ME! ME!

16 responses so far

  • large variation from IC to IC.

    Impt point: gets reviewed in CSR study sections, not IC specific ones (as is true for R03s, K-awards). Means that they will talk about these right after they finish with the R01s.

  • Bill says:

    small well defined projects without the need for renewal

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think it should be viewed as exploratory, developmental OR both. IME the "developmental" part is typically ignored.

    Viewed this way, it can be appropriate for a junior person w/o award OR a senior person developing a significant new direction.

    I'd like to see even more of them and a bonus bump given to the consideration of any R01 that arises from a successful R21 effort. In a context where prelim data are required for R01 success this just makes sense.

    If some notion of "risk" is damaging the chances for a given R01, a prior interval of support could address many concerns.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    On the "exploratory" side I am nearly of the opinion that Preliminary Data should not be permitted. Or reviewers re-educated to focus on the payoff, not the feasibility (dream on, I know).

  • Dr Becca says:

    FWIW, I got one with no prelim data for a straightforward exploratory project. I know someone else who got one to develop a new tool.

    And PT - Mine was reviewed by a normal standing study section, not a CSR, so that may vary as well.

  • Ola says:

    R21 should be like an espresso - hot, quick, sweet

  • BrainyOne says:

    R21 = completely not worth the time and effort applying for.

    Strike 1: the amount of money and time is minimal for most projects. You get two years, $275,000 total. What if your potential groundbreaking discovery requires more money or more time?

    Strike 2: you only get six (6) (!!!!) pages in the research plan to present your proposal. There isn't a grant in the world, no matter how great in itself, that I couldn't find a reason to trash if there were only 6 pages to present it in.

    Strike 3: reviewers DON'T follow the guidelines about reviewing R21s, and SRAs DON'T insist their reviewers do so. Reviewers, in my experience, review an R21 just like it was an R01, and doncha know, there are all these "weaknesses" regarding lack of publications, lack of preliminary data regarding feasibility, etc.

    So, regarding R21s, don't do it, don't it, JUST SAY NO.

  • Y says:

    R21s are good for drug discovery. Also everyone uses them over 3 yrs w the no cost extension