August 20, 2004

Comments from NIH!

The NIH program director sent me the comments of the study section on the net-flow grant proposal. On the whole, they were very encouraging, in two ways. First, they generally agreed that the approach I had in January (when I submitted the proposal) was sound and interesting, and there was nothing inherently problematic. Second, their criticisms were all about mildness—it seemed a mild innovation, and with a few mild weaknesses. I had applied for an R03 grant, which is for pilot projects with some innovative promise, so obviously that plays an important role in the evaluation of projects within the study group.

What to do? With NIH, I can revise and resubmit two times, so I will. My first instinct is to change the followng:

  • Update the methods section to what I have now
  • Address whether or how I'd estimate the net flows for specific schools, and how this might be accomplished. (This was a specific weakness addressed by the study-group comments.) If I decide it's impractical at this point, explain why the research is still valuable without it. (Why is it okay to look at districts? Many small districts only have one high school. So then I can discuss large-district issues.) Or discuss the hope that modeling retention rates might allow the choice of retention rates for a high school based on an aggregate figure (which is often available). This last will be acceptable for demographers, who often must choose a set of model mortality rates when estimating population parameters or projecting populations.
  • Change the focus of the proposal to something that emphasizes the innovation and the immediate intellectual results, which may compensate for the innovation. The historical materials here might be very useful, since a number of schools have either age-grade tables (Delaware) or have both age tables and retention data for grades (Boston, from 1884 through the 1950s). Thus, there might be some real hope for establishing relationships between the age-derived estimates and grade-derived estimates.

The trick, I suspect, is not to overpromise. I can't promise to look at all districts for multiple years in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, make school-level estimates for a large state, estimate many series of data from historical records, and also conduct the analysis I've proposed to NSF. I've embarked on a potentially long-term series of research projects stemming from this method. So the question is how to frame it as a good pilot study.

I sometimes plan articles and other pieces from the reaction I want to get from a reader. Usually it's "I hadn't thought of that and, with a few seconds' reflection, it makes a lot of sense." Here, I need something different: "Wow, he's continued to work on this project, he's addressed our concerns, and I'd give my next sabbatical to see the results." Well, not really the last one, but I do want to give them the impression that this is an incredibly promising idea.

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Posted in Research on August 20, 2004 5:50 AM |