The fall study section meetings are upon us and many colleagues are finishing up their huge pile of reviews, flying off for study section meeting and / or returning exhausted. I've been considering a more than usual level of reviewer behavior and attitude that speaks of burnout. I'm sure applicants will be thrilled.
As always I have the anecdotes of myself, the other reviewers on one specific panel (what they say and write) and random colleagues on other panels. I suppose that is a disclaimer. Also, I rarely go back and read summary statements during the post-meeting Edit phase. In my own case, I can say for sure that I frequently use the Edit phase to clean up some of my written critique that might be a little less-sympathetic (ok, nastier) than is really warranted. So it may simply be the case that I am seeing a little less polished pre-meeting writing than is usually the case. Again, a disclaimer.
Still. Things are a bit ugly out there. Yes, I'm including myself. But my impression is for much briefer summary statements as a general trend (no, I don't read all the pre-meeting critiques in the "reading" phase or during the actual meeting but I do spotcheck. plus I listen super attentively to each and every reviewer during the meeting :-)). A good deal of shortcutting in the description of the projects and a tendency to focus on a smaller set of pluses and minuses. Considerably less patience with *ThingsThatTickReviewersOFF!
I don't know quite what to think. Reviewer burdens do seem to be higher than the recent past, unsurprising since the push to decrease the number of total reviewers has been gaining steam. I had a weird impression this round, as well, that we had a great deal of new stuff to review with less from the usual suspects we've been seeing for years. Fewer revisions (hmm, can this be true?). Anyway, if this is generally true that reviewers are less likely to get revised versions of applications they just reviewed a few rounds back...well, the load is increased.
Is it that people that I know best are now pushing deep into their review commitment (of four years service)? Is there an exhaustion that sets in? This is actually pretty important to know because changing the duration of service is an easy fix. If people are just losing their review edge after 2-3 years of the grind, we need to deal with this I would think.
Perhaps grant proposals are changing in some way, for better or worse, and becoming harder to review? I would think not but it is possible that desperate investigators are so tied up in knots trying to get funded that the are writing CrazyQuilt grants, just throwing the kitchen sink in there trying to appeal to everyone, anyone? People are trying to adopt whatever they've heard of as the "best" style and struggling to overcome their natural grant-writing voice?
What think you?
Those of you reviewing... are you seeing signs of burnout?
Those of you receiving summary statements... are they getting grouchier?
UPDATE 10/08/08: drdrA has a post on grant writer burnout.
*I may get to some of this when I calm down but short version: When I advocate sending the proposal in sooner rather than later because of my belief that you can't write your way (or prelim data or publish your way) into guarantee of funding....? There's a caveat- don't write such a piece of garbage that it really irritates and insults the reviewers!