News that a National Institutes of Health grant review committee intends to make a site visit causes many principal investigators to reach for aspirin and antacids. And indeed, a poor presentation to the committee virtually assures a research group that NIH will not fund its project.

Yet a site visit need not be a traumatic experience. In fact, a clever PI can often turn the site visit into an opportunity to convince the NIH committee of the value and scholarship of a project. And remember: Site visits are expensive, so NIH would not be visiting a lab unless it considers a proposal promising.

In any case, living through such a review can be a lot less painful if the researcher understands the reasons for--and nature of--a site visit. When a grant review board (known as a study section) cannot make a recommendation about a proposal without additional information that is...

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