I’ve been thinking a lot about innovation, mostly because the new NIH guidelines dictate this category be given its own section in my K grant proposal. (I believe this is also new for other NIH grant mechanisms?) As straightforward as this word may seem on the surface, however, I’ve gotten quite hung up on how to approach it in my resubmission. My main two questions: 1) what qualifies as innovation? and 2) is too much innovation a bad thing?
First, a definition from Merriam Webster:
1 : the introduction of something new
2 : a new idea, method, or device : novelty
While these two definitions appear similar, what qualifies as innovation heavily depends upon which one is applied. If it’s the first, then just about any scientific proposal could qualify as innovative. So long as you’re not conducting “me too” experiments that somebody else has already done in a slightly different organism/cell line/animal model – but even this could possibly qualify as innovative under the first definition. If the experiment hasn’t been done before, then it’s new, and therefore innovative – right?
But I’m guessing NIH – *ahem* – the grant reviewers are probably working from definition #2, which would require some originality on the part of the applicant – developing a new methodology, or describing a novel scientific phenomenon. But what about a new way of thinking about a biological process? This is where I get stuck…is a novel scientific idea really considered innovative to [most] grant reviewers? Since this type of innovation may not always come across as clearly as a grant-writer wants, especially with the newly-condensed format, the innovation section seems [to me] to be a vital part of the new proposal format. But will a reviewer buy a thought process packaged and sold as “innovation”?
Another couple of innovation questions I’d like my readers to comment on:
Is innovation a must? Can a proposal have merit without this factor being particularly dominant? Or do you have to test by a novel method, using a new device, and based on a new way of scientific thinking for a proposal to be favorably judged?
What’s more, is there such a thing as too much innovation? It seems NIH likes a sure thing in their proposals, so can too much “novelty” be considered risky?