NIH cracks down on “the dog ate my email” excuses

I received a rather bizarre email from the US National Institutes of Health today. Their missives are usually rather mundane notifications of scheduled site down-time and the like, but this one was much more entertaining.

The title – “NIH eRA eSubmission Items of Interest – January 21, 2011” – was boring enough. But things quickly improved with the sub-heading:

“My Dog Ate My Email & Other Excuses”

Things continued in this entertaining vein (all emphasis mine):

“Last summer I adopted a basset/beagle mutt named Dixie. Dixie has a precious face, an iron stomach and amazing reach when standing on her hind legs. On Monday, Dixie ate my blackberry. My first thought was “Jenkies!” (The verbal translation sounded quite different.) My second thought was “Good doggie, now I have an excuse for not responding to my emails.” In the end, the blackberry survived, the leather cover didn’t, and I still have to do my job.

Over the years, we’ve received a full spectrum of reasons for submitting late applications – some very legitimate (e.g., death of PI’s immediate family member) and some not (e.g., our only Authorized Organization Representative called in sick on deadline day).”


“The day after a major submission deadline the eRA Help Desk often gets the question “Who can I talk to for permission to submit late?”  The truth is – no one.”


“The late policy cannot be used as a way to get around the fact that the “error correction window” is gone (NOT-OD-10-123).  Submit early (think days, not hours or minutes) and take care of business.”


For the record, “my dog ate my email” is not a valid reason for late submission. I looked it up. The application guide clearly states (on page 28) that since email can be unreliable, applicants are strongly encouraged to periodically check on their application status in the Commons. In fact, our automated email notifications are often victims of spam-filtering. That pesky application guide really does negate a whole bunch of excuses.

You have ultimate responsibility for your submission. If you miss a deadline and the information you needed is available to you in the application guide or announcement, even if you tried to call for help and didn’t get a call back in time, then you really don’t have a legitimate reason for being late.”


“So, what does all this have to do with NIH? We expect that our applicants know their and eRA Commons credentials. Logging in prior to your deadline to verify appropriate account access is a task within your control. Do you see where I’m going with this? Account password problems are not system issues nor are they acceptable reasons to submit under the late policy. Be prepared to succeed.”

the email ends with this cheery thought (emphasis as in original):

“Thought for the Day

The sooner you fall behind the more time you’ll have to catch up.

Take care,


Sheri Cummins & Scarlett Gibb

Customer Relationship Managers
eRA External Services – eSubmission & Commons
NIH Office of Extramural Research”

With the obvious exception of funding notifications, this may just be the best email that anyone has ever received from the NIH. I salute you, Sheri and Scarlett. I’m sorry that you’ve obviously met with so many frustrations in the line of duty, but thank you for making me smile!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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12 Responses to NIH cracks down on “the dog ate my email” excuses

  1. rpg says:

    Ha! Ha!

    Pure class.

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Isn’t it great?! A sense of humour and a human touch. The original email is now being circulating around my department!

  3. steffi suhr says:

    They must get a bunch of angry phone calls and emails – well done keeping their sense of humour!!

  4. steffi suhr says:

    I did actually wonder for a moment whether Dixie swallowed the Blackberry and it came out at the other end still functional. I guess not.

  5. Stephen says:

    This is why we had to shoot the dog. Either you have career goals or you don’t. 😉

  6. Steve Caplan says:

    The “knights who say NIH”…

  7. Steffi, that would be a great commercial for the Blackberry!

    Yes, I can imagine that they’ve received a lot of angry messages from tardy PIs. I am not entirely unfamiliar with the frustrations that this can cause 🙂

    Stephen, that’s a little harsh, but hey, you’re a professor and I’m not, so who am I to talk? 🙂

    Steven, that would be an AWESOME name for a blog about NIH grantology!

  8. TheGrinch says:

    It would have been fantastic had Dixie swallowed Blackberry and it came out the other end as a completely ready grant proposal.

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    HA! Not the goose that laid the golden egg, but the dog that laid yet another shitty grant?!

    Welcome to the blog, by the way!

  10. Pingback: The lions ate my punctuality | VWXYNot?

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