Back in February, I submitted a grant application after pouring months of thought, effort, and time into it. This was a reflection not of my stupendous work ethic but rather the type of grant, which requires intense work on the part of anyone who prepares one. Since then, I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for the score from the grant reviewers. Today I found out what it is, and - sob - it's not good enough to be funded.*
I'm still learning how the whole federal grant-seeking process operates, but basically, it goes like this. You wrack your brains for months to come up with a decent research idea. You read and think and write and think some more and rewrite and re-rewrite. You talk to many people, some of whom generously give their time to help you with the thinking and writing. Meanwhile, the grant deadline nears with a snowballing speed that must echo the approach of execution day for death row inmates (okay, I exaggerate, but just a little). Finally, you submit the grant, filled with a mixture of wonder that you got it done; despair because you know it's flawed; and tremendous, joyful relief that you don't have to think about and work on it anymore, at least for a few months.
And then you wait and wait and wait for the first feedback you'll get from the reviewers, which is a score. That score gives you a rough sense of whether your application is likely to be funded, falls on the borderline, or doesn't have a prayer. (Alternatively, in some cases, an application isn't scored at all - say, if the reviewers believe the topic is a poor fit for that particular research institute.) However, no absolute score cut-off is used in determining which applications are funded; instead, the decision is based on a combination of the score and the number of other applications and the amount of available research money. (In the current funding climate, even an amazing score is no guarantee.) And that decision, as well as written comments from the reviewers, comes after you wait some more.
So I'm in the waiting some more stage, but now that I know my score, I wait with a sense of resignation. I'm like the ice skater who bobbled the triple Salchow and knows she can't possibly be in the running for a medal. I'm cringing at the thought of reading the reviewers' feedback but also eager to do so, hoping it will help me to prepare a better application next time.
I'm disappointed but not devastated. I don't advocate pessimism, but in this case, I think expecting the worst did soften the blow a bit. You see, after I submitted the application, I wrote and submitted a few other, smaller grants, proposing different but related projects. In doing so, I realized (painfully) the ways in which this initial, bigger grant was indeed flawed and might have been stronger. I've been awaiting the score with trepidation and am therefore relieved to finally know, even though no miracle occurred and my score wasn't unexpectedly great.
I'm already starting the brain-wracking-for-a-good-idea process again. I'm aspiring to write something more catchy, more savvy, less flawed next time. I am a hopeful pessimist.
(photo by Renaud2, on Flickr)
*For my fellow academic researcher friends who know the scoring system: The score is a 55.