When we get our grant rejected, it is easy to point the blame at the reviewers. “Those
stupid reviewers, they didn’t get it.” While that approach may be emotionally satisfying and ego-stroking, it doesn’t
solve the problem. Your reviewer didn’t understand your proposal, and there is only one person to blame for that.

15 thoughts

  1. The thing I often point out to researchers who are unsuccessful in a grant competition is that the level of competition is a bit like the Olympics. Everyone who applies is an excellent researcher with a really good idea.

    Yes, you can always make your proposal clearer and you make an excellent point about taking responsibility for that.

    But sometimes you are still going to be unsuccessful. Because almost all funding agencies haven’t got enough money to fund all the great research out there.

    Like the top finishing Canadian in the 50 km cross-country ski race at the end of the Olympics — he finished 1 second behind the gold medalist. He came 5th. I bet he felt awful. But he’s doing all the right things and just needs to keep on skiing as fast as he can.

  2. many private foundations are highly political and yes, most apps. are highly qualified, etc..HOWEVER, at the end the reviewers are looking for political ties, who’s due, who know who, etc…. it is a rigged game in the private foundations.

    with all the billionaires and billion dollar companies there SHOULD money out there. However, this is not due to american greed. so what you have a hundreds, thousands of beetles crawling on top of each other for crumbs, and the majority get rejected and those with right last names, schools, ties, etc…get funded from these private foundations and even federal grants too.

    the system is rigged.

  3. Writing grants is mostly futile. the system is indeed inherently biased, subjective, and wraught with fraud, corruption, politics, etc….professional begging is certainly not a way to live. Rather, maybe do it to get some sprinkles on that american cake. But…..those sprinkles come at a severe price.

    1. @John – the one thing to think about: you are blaming this on “the system” and all its problems. That takes your power and control out of your hands, and puts it in the hands of that nebulous “system.” When you do that, it comes true. It does become futile. The first step in making it non-futile is instead figuring out the answer to “what part of this equation do I control?” and then maximizing the outcome of what you do control. There are people getting grants still, and those are the people who’ve figured out the answer to that question.

  4. Agree with grants, waste of time, energy. Who will pay for all my time to write an 80pgr, mysterious extrenal review process, then wait 6mo to get rejected?!

    Having no control over your life is ridiculous, done with that grant thing.

  5. Really helpful site. Problem is, grant writing is a long, long, process and the payoff a gamble. Like going to the racetrack and betting on the 30-1 shot.

    All that time and waiting games, rewrites, more rewrites, budgets, waiting so more. ….for nothing.

    What is the secret to the grant game? Thanks Mogan.

  6. Writing extensive grant proposals is indeed a waste of time, energy, and $$$. Now, they merely reject you without so much as an evaluation from the “reviewers.” You can stand on your head, recite the Gettysburg address, talk about everything that the grantors want–minorities, certain disease states, “underserved” areas…..
    a waste. Many foundations served as mouth pieces PR for the parent (for profit) entity. They already know what project they want, who to sponsor for some polical back schlapping fest, etc…

    so again, why would anyone choose this sadomachist way of american life?

    Who would work (write a huge proposal) for FREE?

  7. It is interesting that NIH/CMMI/CMS/DHHS/et al. has never polled reviewers about their experience on study sections. Demoralization is rampant, because the reviewers know that the review process is fatally flawed and that the old-boy network is alive and well. The system is not objective and the playing field is not level. To claim otherwise is the height of hypocrisy. It is a form of professional begging-a glorified panholder in a rigged game.

  8. The key is transparency–who are the reviewers–who are they related to, who did they study with, stocks, mutual funds? honoraria? etc…..many do not recuse themselves and the indeed the system can appear and sometimes is rigged. Private foundations are wrought with this nonsense as it can become a political back slapping fest.

  9. Morgan, I agree with you and actually give the reviewers lots of credits. My original grant application received a OK score in grey zone, and I took the most critical reviewers’ questions seriously and addressed everything he/she asked, as well as other reviewers’ comments. By doing so, I am a lot more confident about my re-submission, which later received a very good score. More importantly, even in the second round of review, the same reviewer raised some minor concerns. After calming down from excitement, I read them carefully and planned to integrate corresponding strategy into my study design, even no further submission is needed any more. I do think that addressing the reviewers questions and concerns not only helps to make grant application better, but also helps with execution of science with the funding. Maybe imagining the reviewers as critical helper is better than imagining them our enemies. My way of doing it is “he/she thinks that I can do a better job than this.” Same applies to the reviewers of manuscript.

  10. Sorry to say–however, we have stopped writing grants. The time, energy, and sheer expensive for what is basically a “crap shoot” is not worth. There is a time/value proposition, and the potential “pay off” is too low to be worthy of our talents.

    Morris Berman, Cleveland Moffett, deToqueville, Mumford, Hartz, Vidal, McDougall, Mechten, et al., have written extensively about the American hustle; everything is about hustling (everything to make a buck, hyper competition for a buck, reducing everything to a buck in the empire.

    For those who still want to write grants and submit proposals–offer a hearty good luck and it’s mainly who you know. I know, b/c I sat on those “review panels” and can you tell–it IS a dog and pony show–the board of governors/senior folks accept proposals. Your “job” as reviewer is for show. Window dressing for the illusion of “review.”

    1. Another “victim” of the system….

      If you instead took the energy you’re spending writing comments on blogs about how the system is “out to get you” (and all of us) –– and got better at writing, you’d be in a very different place in life, my friend.

  11. Who will pay the grant team for constructing an 100pg+ proposal, cumbersome submittals/stylistics/formatting/documentations/attestations so that 1. the grant is triaged, 2. the grant is “reviewed” and 5mo later-rejected, 3. eager beaver assistant professor types who need to make a ‘name’ for themselves. It is a bad joke. The FACT is the the US does NOT provide real opportunity or really care about science /research. They certainly have almost a TRILLION a year to blow on military/war de jour. Perhaps, they should write a grant for their tanks and other military industrial US nonsense.

    1. Roxanni – I get it that it is frustrating and you are a bit bitter about the state of things. But the question I have for you is: does your bitterness and frustration change anything for you? Does being angry at “the system” then expressing that anger in places like this blog actually serve to change anything? I suspect it won’t lead to positive change for either you or for anyone else.

      In my experience, the only way of permanently changing things is by changing ourselves. That means working on our skills, beliefs, and attitudes so that we can experience more of what we want in life, and less of what we don’t want. It means taking full responsibility for our own experience of life, rather than blaming our problems on “the system” or “the bad politics” or whatever.

      In other words, it’s our choice whether we want to engage in doing science, or in some alternative career. But if we make the choice to engage in a research career in the current environment, the reality is that there are certain hurdles, such as grant funding, that we must face.

      It is just like the fact that “branches grow on trees”. Even if we hate branches and complain about branches endlessly they are not going to stop being a part of trees.

      Grants are part of the research process, and aren’t going to go away anytime soon. So your choice is to between either finding something else to do, or engaging in the necessary facets of a research career. If you choose the latter, then you have a further choice: do you engage with the process with a lot of angst, blaming, and frustration? (which doesn’t typically make you a better writer of proposals) OR, do you engage with the process by doing the best job that you can, honing your skills and becoming better and better at it over time? It’s your choice, but I know that the second path yields very different results than the first.

      So my challenge to you – if you want better results in your career – is to worry less about what others are doing and “the system,” and to start paying more attention to what you’re doing and how you can refine or hone that. Your choice will determine a great deal about the life and career that you experience moving forward.

  12. Dear Dr. Morgan: I truly appreciate your thoughtful comments and you’re right it is difficult to focus on grant writing and re-writing and submittals when I have all this stuff in my head. It really bothers my team and that one has to fight so hard in this country for anything and everything and smile– even when one earns a grant–you only have a finite time and then writing yet another grant proposal at the whim of the study section that who knows what they’re thinking or not thinking.

    Given the current environment and the historical narrative of the us empire, doubt anything substantial will change. Hence, why we are seriously considering emigrating. My husband is non-american, and he’s wants to get back for the ontologically and intellectuality strong community other than the Machinean: get money, get more money us foci–which has been the theme music of my entire life coming from poor background and surrounded by others who’s narrative was: get money, get more money.

    I have a PhD and the lab cannot get funding–yet more wars, military, no real health care, no retirement, and 1000+ overseas bases with trillions, no grants reqd. Those are my realities, thoughts, and truths (Camus). Moreover, I have a team that is counting on me, for their livelihood; food and lights, and a 16yr+ car that is on its’ last leg. That’s what keeps me up at night, and of course, revising more grants for the us proposal game.

    Sorry to take up your time; you appear to be a viscerally decent person. Thank you again for your time.

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