Summer Application Totals Give Clues to Pandemic Productivity

Funding News Edition: November 17, 2021
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In September 2020, Dr. Michael Lauer, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research, presented data on the number of research project grant applications received across NIH between April and August, including demographic breakdowns of the principal investigators (PIs). His aim was to assess whether the impact of pandemic-related shutdowns was reflected in the quantity of applications NIH received.

Last month, October 2021, Dr. Lauer published a follow-up blog post “More Data on Applications Submitted During the Pandemic” to provide matching data for summer 2021. We recommend you review the charts and direct your attention to a few key takeaways.

First, summer 2020 saw a jump in research project grant applications relative to both the preceding summers and summer 2021. NIH has documented ways in which the pandemic harmed individual scientists’ careers and biomedical research generally; however, it’s clear the extramural community collectively managed to write and submit a higher volume of applications amid pandemic shutdowns in summer 2020.

Second, despite general evidence that the pandemic placed a disproportionate burden on certain demographics (e.g., women and underrepresented minorities), the application counts do not portray an amplified disparity in summer 2020. Rather, the data show a steady increase in the share of applications that include multiple PIs of different genders or races. As biomedical research shifts toward collaborative science, the number of projects with diverse groups of PIs is increasing, and that trend transcends any one-year variances brought on by the pandemic.

Third, the number of applications NIH receives from underrepresented minorities exclusively remains low, hovering around two percent of all applications.

This information is not accompanied by any policy changes or announcements, although we encourage you to read our August 21, 2021 article “Know Which Pandemic-Related Extensions Are Still in Effect” for a discussion of ongoing pandemic-related administrative flexibilities. For advice on shifting to team science, check out our October 8, 2020 article “Writing a Winning Application—Build Your Team.” And to better understand the impetus for diversity actions at NIH, read our November 20, 2019 article “Seeking an Explanation for the Funding Gap Between White and Black Researchers.”

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