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Consider the R21 for Innovative Research

Posted on January 15, 2009

For mid-career researchers, Valerie Maholmes (bio) says, there is funding that supports innovative approaches.


We also like to encourage mid-career investigators to look at some of the new initiatives in the scientific areas as well, and to focus their research on bringing together researchers from other disciplines. Once they have achieved tenure and have developed a track record of research, they might feel that they have more latitude to then collaborate with other investigators from other disciplines, and to propose new, innovative scientific research questions and new methodologies; and new novel approaches.

And so, using the R21 mechanism allows them to do that. And I would say the same for the senior investigators, to think about how they might be able to help advance the science and shape the field by taking, doing what we call high-risk/high-payoff research. And taking those steps toward thinking about how you bring, as we were talking earlier, how you bring about these disparate disciplines, these systems theories, these disparate ideas, and bring them together to ask the question that might address an important public health concern.

I'd like to say that the hallmark of the R21 is innovation. And every institute uses that mechanism differently. But, for us [NICHD], we like to encourage investigators who are doing highly innovative work to think about that R21 mechanism. It's for two years, $275,000.00 over the two-year period. And it's a sufficient amount of funds to help an investigator kind of crystallize their ideas and their hypotheses, to put them in a good position then to propose a study that they might, a line of inquiry that they might study in more depth, and over longer periods of time.

So for mid-career investigators who have a track record, for example, of doing projects that are innovative and that might be a little risky in nature; where they published on their prior research, and where the reviewers can have some degree of confidence that that investigator has the wherewithal to carry-out that project as they proposed it, really is important for the R21 mechanism as well.

Using the R21 mechanism for feasibility to test ideas, the feasibility of ideas is critically important, because you wouldn't want to use the R01 mechanism as your test-case for your new idea. Number one, because pilot data are required for the R01, so you want to show that you've got some preliminary data, and you're building your R01 on a solid foundation; that the study is being motivated, has been motivated from some research, some prior research, and that's where the R21 really can give you the impetus for studying those ideas, and fleshing them out more.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2008 Leadership Training Institute in Bethesda, MD.


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