When you write stuff to put out in the broader world of the net everyone knows you don’t read the comments. For that way madness lies.
The same rules don’t entirely apply to the rest of life. If your doctor has constructive feedback on your health, you might want to listen. When your lawyer has timely comments, you should probably take it on board. Presenting at work? You probably shouldn’t finish by putting on the headphones and listening to sick beats.
Researchers get the same reality dealt out every time a grant comes around. Don’t read the comments? What a shining dream.
The one thing you can do is not go with your first impressions. The thing with first impressions is that they are frequently unkind. And if you’ve decided to go down the grant route (and with local success rates heading to 10% or so, some have given up) you have to get past that.
Still, there’s at least a little bit of you that needs to take a few minutes to vent the things you’d really say, before you do the editing. Because the comments always seem the same on first impression.
Sample Comment 1: “Why did you not choose to do your methodology in all of the following ways that if I had read your proposal in any detail I would have realised you have already included in your methodology?”First response:
“Do you like that Escher guy? You know that genius who made all those artworks specially designed for the front of fridges where things go around and around in circles and you don’t know where it begins and ends or where the fish become birds? I don’t know why but your comment made my brain hurt just like that.”
The edited response:
“Assessor 1 has some suggestions for methodology suitable to address the key aims. We agree that many of these are highly suitable and point to our similar methodology on proposal pages …”
Sample Comment 2: This project addresses an entirely novel and innovative concept. Do the researchers have preliminary data establishing the role of this technique?First response:
“To be honest you’ve hit on the real project we’re working on in the shed out the back. What we’re actually working on is the DeLorean from Back to the Future. That way, once we sort the flux capacitor, it would make sense to suggest that it would be easier to get this grant money to develop preliminary data if we had already procured the preliminary data for which we’re seeking the grant money.”
“This project will deliver the initial data to enable future high value research as outlined in the proposal on page 9, paragraph 4.”
Sample Comment 3: This technology is unproven in the clinical context as it is unknown if it correlates with underlying pathology in a reliable manner. The proposal is for prospective blinded research. Wouldn’t it be better to just let clinicians treat using this technology?
“You had me at ‘the technology isn’t proven yet’. But then you suggested we should send this device out as some sort of random number generator out to clinicians and just let them have a swing at treating patients in the absence of any guidance as to what those numbers might actually mean or what changing them might do. And at that point I was distracted by the sound of an ethics fairy sawing off its own wings with piano wire and now I don’t know what to say.”
“This project will establish reliable associations between the information provided by this technology and the clinical condition of patients. While this will facilitate future research to directly influence treatments, it is too early to take this step.”
Sample Comment 4: This team has a range of clinicians mixed in with the team which is valuable to the project. It is noted that those members of the team do not have significant publication profiles.
“I have this dream where I’m riding a magnificent uni-turtle (I call it a uni-turtle because it’s sort of like a turtle but it has a single horn) and the weird bit is that I’ve never seen the uni-turtle before but it has my Mum’s name tattooed on its little tail. Do you have dreams? Wait, I know you have dreams because you’re obviously thinking of a magical land where people can work full-time looking after patients to get to the point where they usefully contribute practical knowledge to stuff like this, while also churning out the same number of publications as a full-time researcher.”
“Each member of the team contributes unique skills to ensure this project can be completed.”
Time and Reality
The thing is you don’t want to say any of these for another reason. Once you get past the first impression, the assessors usually have a point. My (very) limited experience is that the quality of the comments usually reflects the proposal. The assessors mostly seem to take their work pretty seriously. There’s a point to the review and they have to report.
And at times when we put more and more time in with less hope of success, you do your best to answer the comments in the 2 pages you get.
But at least for one day you can enjoy the idea of all the things you wish you could say.