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Sep 01 2010

“Ambition”

Gerty-Z has just posted on the topic of “ambition” in the context of grant review: “the proposed studies are too ambitious”/”the proposed studies are not ambitious enough”. She considers the calibration of the level of “ambition” of a proposal to be a key aspect of grantsmanship, and wonders how one can best optimize this parameter of a grant application.

This is pointless. The “too ambitious”/”not ambitious enough” shitte is a red herring.

One of the most important lessons of grantsmanship is that the criticism and praise in the written critiques and resume of discussion often has little to do with the real underlying reasons–often just “gut instinct”–for the reviewers giving the scores that they did. “Too ambitious/not ambitious enough” is one of those things that a reviewer can say about *any* grant, since it is so grossly subjective, and never be challenged for being full of shit. Thus, reviewers frequently lazily fall back on this kind of criticism if they just don’t feel like making the effort to come up with a more analytical criticism.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Granted Godess

    Yeap, in some cases “too ambitious” means that the reviewer is not keen in having your grant funded. H/She is a competitor or a colleague/friend of competitor. You then go crazy when in other parts of the same summary statement you get something like this: ” This is a tantalizing idea and yet written in a cursory fashion” WTF, WTF,WTF,………..infinite times.

  2. 2
    Gerty-Z

    CPP, I wonder as a n00b how it is that you learn to “understand” the true meaning of the reviewer’s statements. Is this something that you pick up with experience?

  3. 3
    drugmonkey

    how it is that you learn to “understand” the true meaning of the reviewer’s statements

    You develop a good relationship with the Associate Professors of your department who are in current study section service.

    Over ambitious is one of the Stockest of StockCritiques in my view and one of the least meaningful. So trying to anticipate and head it off on your first submission is not a high priority item. Sure, if you get it over and over again and your local peers tell you you have too much packed in there, well maybe. Didn’t you mention on your blog that you *did* tend to overestimate?

    Now, if you receive such a comment you do need to act like you are responding to it in the revised application. Cut something that looks big out and make a big deal out of this being your response to criticism. Remember, it is a grant, not a contract. After you get the money you do whatever the hell you want. Also, you might consider that the part you cut out is the kernel of your next proposal…. :-)

  4. 4
    Comrade PhysioProf

    You develop a good relationship with the Associate Professors of your department who are in current study section service.

    And to clarify, the reason this makes sense isn’t what you might think. It’s not that an experienced study section member can somehow read between the lines of the summary statement or otherwise decode its “real” meaning.

    It’s that they can (1) identify the meaningless stock critiques and (2) look at the application itself and make a reasonable prediction as to what likely drove reviewer scoring behavior. This is because in most cases, the summary statement itself does not even contain the “real answer”, encoded or otherwise.

  5. 5
    drugmonkey

    Right. No such thing as the “real answer” just like there is no way to guarantee writing your way into a fundable score. Just playing the odds here.

    Someone with current study section experience just has the freshest view on what is going down these days during grant review. Naturally, things are going to vary between sections so even that is just an approximation.

  6. 6
    drugmonkey

    Ping!

  7. 7
    Gerty-Z

    Thanks! I figured that this would be the sort of thing that you work out with some help from those that went before.

  8. 8
    arrzey

    This advice is spot on, but the critical thing to remember is to absolutely, 100% include that you have done this (the cut out) *in response to the critique of blah blah blah*.

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