When it comes to submitting grants, what does it really mean when a reviewer says you're being "too ambitious" or not ambitious enough? Gerty-Z at Balanced Instability: Adventures on the Tenure Track is confused on this point. When she was writing her first postdoc fellowship application, her advisor warned her not to be "overly ambitious," she says, so she tried to be as conservative as possible. When the review came back telling her she was, indeed, "too ambitious," she thought she wasn't going to get funded. But she was. And when it happened again, she got confused. "I was actually a little concerned that I was not ambitious enough. My final K99 application ended up being only one Aim from the original outline," she says, adding "I clearly do not understand what makes an ambitious project."
Blogger Comrade PhysioProf says worrying about the "too ambitious/not ambitious enough" issue is "pointless" because it's a "red herring." Any reviewer can say anything about the ambition of any project because it's a subjective measurement, he says. "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," CPP adds.
DrugMonkey agrees that the critique can be a "meaningless throwaway" for reviewers, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. If your grant is rejected based on the degree of your ambition, you should consider that critique when preparing your revision, he says. The blogger adds that being called too ambitious can be a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to streamline your proposal. "Like it or not, 'overambitious' and 'cannot be completed in the time proposed' are realities of review. And your job is not to change NIH study section culture all by your lonesome. It is to get your grant funded," he says.