NORDP 2021 Plenary

NIH’s Mike Lauer Shares Multiple Perspectives at the Intersection of NIH and RD

Mike Lauer, Deputy Director
for Extramural Research, NIH

When Mike Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research for the National Institutes of Health, delivers his plenary presentation to NORDP, he’ll address research development from a variety of perspectives.

The title of his talk, to be delivered from 11:00 a.m. to noon on Tues., May 4, is “Extramural Research in the Era of COVID-19: An NIH Perspective.” In this context, he says, with three vaccines and effective treatments available, the perspective is that “in some respects science working exceedingly well.”

Lauer uses a sports analogy to stress the importance of diverse teams in research development, both in terms of the science and in terms of the institutional support provided to a team. “A team of quarterbacks, for example, would serve no one well,” he says.

While the term research development is a relatively new one to Lauer, he says he has been a fan of the concept for decades. He recalls a multidisciplinary proposal to NIH in the early 2000s that combined his talents as a practicing cardiologist with a special interest in epidemiology with that of a surgeon, a mathematician, and a statistician.

“We all looked at the world in very different ways, using different terms to say the same thing,” he recalls, noting that he found the mathematician’s perspective especially intriguing.

“We also had help from a colleague, a semi-retired scientist who gave us terrific suggestions. She helped us turn in a very good proposal that got a great score. She helped articulate the story, and provided great feedback on our writing.”

Today, Lauer notes that research development professionals can help researchers being better collaborators, which results in more competitive proposals coming into NIH. He calls this a blessing and a curse.

“Because we get better proposals, we can fund higher quality work that is likely to be productive,” he says. “At the same time, while a tremendous amount of work is funded, much is left on the table,” he adds, noting that the success rate hovers around 20-22 percent, down from a high of around 35% in the 1990’s, and up from a few years ago when it was round 16-17%.

Teamwork is the key to solving major challenges, Lauer says, noting that NIH grants are given to institutions, not individual scientists. Even the smaller R01 funding mechanism, he says, supports a team that usually includes principal investigators, co-investigators, postdocs, grad students, staff scientists, technicians, and others. Beyond that, teams of teams are often brought together for various consortium grants.

“Research development professionals help foster the idea with organizational and institutional support. It’s a team effort, all around,” he says. “The days of the individual scientist, brilliant and alone, is not the way the business is conducted now.”

Lauer’s presentation at NORDP 2021 will offer additional insights from his role at NIH, along with tips to help RD professionals best serve the researchers and teams they support.

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