Getting Rejected

Cleaning my office a few weeks back, I found the NSF reviews from the first proposal I ever wrote, back when I was a grad student seeking a post-doc.

So what are the takeaways from this? Please read below:

1) This hurts. Reviewers: please try to be kind and offer constructive comments (note to self). If this were the only review, I would have been devastated. The other reviews were: Very Good, Good, Good, and Excellent, so I could see the variability. The proposal was not funded.

2) Don’t be discouraged. Reviewers can be grumpy, especially if reviewing just before lunch :) Bad reviews don’t necessarily mean bad ideas, maybe just lacking clarity or certain conventions. Work from this unfunded proposal was eventually published in Nature link

3) Try to improve and ask for help! Often you just need to better understand the conventions of the system, stuff that you won’t learn without guidance from mentors or kind reviewers.

One thing I learned: directly state how your proposed work links to publically stated goals of the funding organization, even if it seems either obvious or far-fetched.

4) It takes a supportive community. The next proposals I wrote were successful, thanks to help from Brad Aagaard, Ruth Harris, Kade Keranen, Nick Beeler, Doug Dreger, Ingrid Johanson, Roland Burgmann, Brian Kilgore, and Bill Ellsworth. Thanks! It really takes a community of mentors.