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.

12 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.

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