Monday, February 15, 2010

Write for your reviewers

There was an interesting discussion over at DrugMonkey recently regarding perceived and/or real issues with the grant review process. In particular there was some back and forth over what to do when you receive bad reviews from someone who clearly isn't an expert in your area. My first thought on reading some of this was...

Why on earth would you EXPECT the reviewers of your proposal to be experts in your field?????

It takes very little thought to come to the realization that the odds are very much against the roster of an NIH study section or NSF review panel actually having even one such expert. It is simply unrealistic to expect that to be the case. And even if it is, your proposal may not be assigned to that person for a variety of reasons (conflict of interest, reviewer already overloaded etc.).

Having your proposal reviewed is nothing like having a manuscript reviewed. Journal editors have access to a much, much larger pool of potential reviewers than program officers (PO's). Editors have the "luxury" of identifying and contacting reviewers who really do know the specific area of each manuscript.* PO's are stuck with the study section/review panel roster, plus maybe some ad hoc reviewers. And those ad hocs may not be experts in your area. Even if they do use ad hocs (very commonplace at the NSF**), your PO, and you as a proposer, want reviewers who are on the panel. No matter how good the ad hoc reviews, if someone, preferably two someones, on the panel isn't pushing hard for your proposal it won't be funded. Period.

So why would you write a proposal thinking it's going to be reviewed by an expert? Don't. You'd just be screwing yourself. Write it for reviewers with a general knowledge of your area. That's grantology 101.

* Getting them to agree to review is another matter.
**  At the NSF ad hocs submit reviews electronically and aren't present at the panel.


Anonymous said...

If they really are an expert they are probably conflicted out anyway.


Odyssey said...

True enough, although being a competitor doesn't necessarily disqualify you as a reviewer.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking more along the lines of collaborator at some point.

A particular problem in our South Seas Paradices.