For researchers looking for grants, it can be difficult to understand how a committee makes its funding decisions. Nature News’ Kendall Powell says that these decisions are not made lightly, especially when there are many solid applications for only a handful of grants. “The real question is whether good, solid work is enough when as much as $800,000 is at stake — the cost of supporting a cancer investigator and his or her lab over four years,” Powell says, adding that “the competition is extreme.” Funding success rates are down, in part because of the economic downturn. This puts pressure on the reviewers, who say they feel forced to make impossible choices, Powell adds. Even some “outstanding” grants are sometimes rejected in favor of others, simply because there’s not enough money to fund everything. How can one gain the edge in such an environment? Well, Powell says, one idea is for researchers to run their applications through a peer-review process of their own making, by sharing the proposal with colleagues, getting their feedback, and using their contacts to “sniff out the personality of the panel and the nature of the competition.” Asking for help, she adds, is always a good idea.
The Hard Decisions
Sep 28, 2010