Monday, May 28, 2012

Ask the Blogosphere

Today, I ask the vast academic blogosphere to help determine what some common practices in grant reviewing and conferencing are. No reason to cram the two topics together, except that I happen to be thinking about both today...

1) Grant review conundrums: 

I have submitted proposals to NSF, DOE, and various DoD agencies, and in general there is always a 1-page summary (called different things by different agencies), a project description/narrative (a.k.a. "the meat"), and various supporting documents (biosketch, current and pending, facilities and equipment, letters of support/collaboration). I don't know how NIH proposals are structured, but I bet they roughly have the same outline (plus likely IRB paperwork that is necessary when working with living creatures).

When you review a grant proposal, what do you read first?



What part of a proposal do you read first when reviewing for a federal agency?





  
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How much material do you go though before a nearly final opinion of grant proposal is formed? 
I am sure every one of my readers is a conscientious scientist who carefully examines the whole document, but you know as well as I do that an opinion is subconsciously formed much before all is read. Sometimes an initially good opinion is ruined by the time I finish reading a proposal, but rarely do I decide I want something funded if it didn't grab me pretty soon after I started reading.



How much material do you read though before your nearly final opinion of a grant proposal is formed?





  
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2) Conference invited speaker reimbursement 

It turns out some invited speakers have significantly higher expectations in terms of what should be reimbursed than others.

When you have an invited talk at a conference (NOT a seminar), which expenses do conference organizers commonly reimburse?



When giving an invited talk at a conference, what do you commonly expect (and receive) as reimbursement?





  
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4 comments:

Comrade Physioprof said...

In relation to your first question, the first thing I read in NIH-land is the single-page Specific Aims of the proposal. I have no idea if this is what you are referring to as "abstract/summary", as NIH grants have a separate section called that, and it is very different from the Specific Aims.

If I am not already excited about the grant by the end of the Specific Aims page, then it is going to be *very* difficult to get me excited later, as the Specific Aims lay in summary fashion the overall goals of the grant, why they are important, and the specific experimental means by which those goals will be achieved.

If you haven't compellingly described the goals of the grant, and/or you haven't convinced me of their importance, and/or you haven't made a case for the appropriateness of the proposed experimental means for achieving them, then further experimental details in the research design are unlikely to change my mind. The only way to change my mind is with really interesting and compelling preliminary data, and this is what I will look at next if I am feeling lukewarm about the aims themselves.

If you have got me excited by the end of the Specific Aims, then my goal for is to ascertain that the experimental design is reasonable, and to make sure there aren't any fatal obstacles that have been glossed over in the Specific Aims.

JaneB said...

Re: the second question: I usually have a feel by the end of the outline, as PP says above, but don't feel sure about the grade until I've got far enough into the 'meat' to find out how the applicants propose to analyse the data - in my field, that seems to separate the 'I use cool buzzwords' people from the 'I have a neat idea that I have thought out' people.

The third question - I put registration and travel, because when actually INVITED that's what I've gotten recently, but mostly I don't get invited yet... and it varies a LOT depending on the size of the event. I'd expect more support if the conference as a whole is less in my field, so I'd get less benefit from attending, if that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

About conference invites: for regular US conferences held by the American Society(ies) in my field, which have invited speakers for some sessions, there is no budget for the invited speakers so one is not offered anything. For smaller workshops, and even more often for overseas ones (esp. in Asia) one is typically offered some or all expenses paid in my experience.

In general for me it depends somewhat on the science. If they aren't paying my way but it looks really good, I may go anyway "for the glory".

EliRabett said...

In CPP speak, the real issue is where is the "This is bullshit" moment. For some proposals it is the fucking title. For others the summary statement (there is something there that tells you the PI is a joker). For most you have to get about half way through to decide whether the proposal is worth funding and then you have to read everything carefully to figure out whether it is Excellent, Very Good, or merely Good.

A lot of Good grants should be funded because of they would provide needed data for important things, but are not themselves truly exciting. Those are hard ones.