Reasons why a grant resubmission
shouldn’t be easy work.
As a research grant consultant, my everyday work involves talking to researchers who are preparing to resubmit a grant proposal which they’ve previously had rejected.
I’ve noticed many researchers in this position often approach their grant resubmission by regarding their reviewer comments as a series of boxes that need to be ticked.
In this blog, I want to outline why an approach that focuses solely on addressing reviewer comments can be problematic for preparing your grant resubmission. I argue that this strategy risks not seeing the forest for the trees; it can lead to you overlooking broader issues in your proposal that require re-framing and re-thinking.
The meaning of a grant rejection
Let’s start by considering what a grant rejection usually means. I would argue that in the vast majority of cases a grant rejection signals that the significance and potential impact of your overall idea wasn’t convincing enough for reviewers.
Talented researchers get grants rejected all the time, making it very unlikely that there’s something fundamentally flawed with all of their research ideas. Instead, it means that something’s gone wrong with how you’ve presented your arguments or how you’ve crafted the narrative of your research grant.
Reading between the lines of reviewer comments
It’s hard not to obsessively focus on reviewer comments when preparing a grant resubmission. After all, they’re designed to offer you a justification for your evaluation score and to give you useful feedback for future versions of your grant.
However, you need to keep in mind that reviewers are required to fill out a series of specific questions on their evaluation forms. Which means that their comments will overwhelmingly focus on specific details about your grant, rather than identifying larger problems with the framing or communication of your ideas.
Although it’s possible to identify larger issues with your grant through a careful reading of your feedback, it’s important to know that this will involve reading between the lines.
Reading between the lines: an example
Let’s consider the following examples of feedback comments for an unsuccessful grant proposal:
- The focus on technologies of health accountability could be further developed in the state-of-the-art.
- The use of existing networks in policy circles (to achieve the expert interviews) could limit opportunities for new insights in the project. There is insufficient consideration of this.
- The proposal sits within the established paradigm of sociology of health, and this could restrict novelty by providing insufficient opportunity by the researcher to question core assumptions.
One way to approach this feedback is to go through each of the points and address them individually. This might create the following action points:
- The focus on technologies of health accountability could be further developed in the state-of-the-art. Action: Justify the empirical focus on technologies of health accountability in the state-of-the-art.
- The use of existing networks in policy circles (to achieve the expert interviews) could limit opportunities for new insights in the project. There is insufficient consideration of this. Action: acknowledge that using existing policy circles might risk limiting opportunities for new insights but argue how you will ensure it doesn’t.
- The proposal sits within an established paradigm of the sociology of health, and this could restrict novelty by providing insufficient opportunity by the researcher to question core assumptions. Action: cite emerging critique of traditional sociological approaches from critical sociologists of quantification.
What’s nice about this approach is that it gives you a manageable list of corrections, which can immediately make you feel more in control of the resubmission process.
But let’s consider a different approach.
A different approach would be to take a step back to consider what these comments are implying about the proposal as a whole. When we do this, it becomes clear that the reviewers’ strongest message is that they’re sceptical about the proposal’s novelty.
This is most obvious in point #3. Point #2 implies that the method of interviewee sampling limits the project’s capacity for novel insights; however, if the proposal had provided a strong and compelling case for why it is original and impactful in its opening paragraphs and state-of-the-art, it’s unlikely that the sampling method is a major issue at stake here.
By taking this second approach, you set yourself up with a very different task, albeit a more challenging one. Instead of focusing on addressing each and every reviewer criticism or recommendation, it involves asking yourself a set of tough questions that focus on the fundamentals of your proposal. These questions include:
- If you feel like your reviewers have misunderstood what you were proposing, how can you communicate your ideas in a clearer manner?
- If your reviewers are implying that your proposal isn’t original or impactful enough, how can you re-frame or improve your arguments to make its value more obvious?
- What knowledge and arguments might be distracting from the proposal’s main message, and how would removing these impact the proposal’s overall narrative?
Why you should take the hard road
Taking the second approach means taking the hard road, but I argue it’s the one that gives you the best possible chance of submitting a grant proposal that finally gets a winning score.
It’s doubtful that your grant is going to get reviewed by the same people, so it’s very likely that the minor criticisms of your original submission won’t be picked up on by the new set of reviewers.
The factor that will remain consistent across all reviewers – past and future – is that they will be looking to reward a grant that clearly communicates its value and impact.
Everyone knows there are no guarantees when it comes to research grant success. But by asking yourself the difficult questions about your proposal you will be giving yourself the best chance to finally craft your ideas into a winning grant.
Are you struggling to ask yourself the difficult questions?
That makes sense, and you’re certainly not alone. Researchers are faced with an ever-increasing set of pressures related to teaching, administration, and publishing that often make it difficult to write grants with a clear head.
If you’re looking for someone who can read your proposal with a fresh perspective and ask the difficult questions, I can help.
Working with me involves supporting you to prepare the best possible version of your grant. Part of my role is to ask difficult questions and challenge you to re-think key aspects of your proposal, but my approach is also one of a sympathetic and encouraging colleague that is truly invested in your work and career.
If you’d like to have an informal chat to find out a bit more about what it’s like to work with me and how I can support your grant proposal, you can complete the contact form below, it would be lovely to hear from you.
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