Your Grant in Review: First Impressions

August 6, 2007

Barely past the last of the submission deadlines for this round and study section duties already call. The first one is an easy one as the SRA circulates the list of applications for our section. Titles, PIs, and collaborators with their respective institutions. The only job here is to review for conflicts of interest (COI). Which is worth thinking about from the applicant perspective because COI determines if a given reviewer is prevented from seeing the preliminary critiques, hearing/participating in the discussion or hearing the recommended scores.

The first and firmest set of COI rules have to do with the institutes receiving the money. So any applications from institutes the reviewer (or her/his spouse) work for or is currently seeking a job with are automatic COIs. Seems funny to have a higher degree of conflict from someone in your big University that works across campus in a pretty different department and you never see the PI or know their work that well as contrasted with your close circle of people working in your subfield, eh? Remember, grant awards are to institutions, not PIs and this rule comes from the sort of financial-interest conflict that most of the world worries about…

The second set of COI rules has to do with close interpersonal (note, not just “personal”) relationships. Previous or current spouses, obviously. But also collaborators (operationalized as co-published in last three years), mentors/mentees (typically 5 years but if the relationship is “ongoing”…..) and competitors. These are soft in the sense that you “may be” in conflict because there are too many varieties of relationships and situations to write comprehensive rules. Nevertheless if your new postdoc’s thesis advisor is on the panel, good bet that person will be COI.

Okay, the next first impression is the title of the proposal. Impact? Hard to judge but it is not neutral. Obviously you want to pique interest without being cutesy or inaccurate. Give some idea of the significance. I like to be able to determine the species being studied from the title but this may be personal. Just keep in mind that reviewers will see the title and collaborators with no other information and those gears will start turning, every so slowly.

Not much more the applicant can do about the rest. But for informations sake, the reviewer also can start getting an estimate of what the “pile” is going to look like. First, one notes the revisions of apps one has seen before. Second, one notes titles of applications that seem close to the usual type of assignment. Thus, the reviewer can start estimating what grants are going to be in the pile, the workload (revisions usually are easier), etc. Should get the actual assignments and applications in a couple of weeks or so…

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