Rude Questions

Feb 06 2012 Published by under NIH Careerism, Peer Review

I was trying to make a point on the Twittah to a couple of people who were asking someone about the latest grant score.

Would you rather be asked, in public, for your 1) age, 2) weight or 3) latest #NIHGrant score?

As usual, the more I think about my offhand question, the more curious I become. I know I had a post related to this in the past but there are new Readers and I can't recall the exact focus of the last post.

So what has been your experience Dear Reader? As a noobacious Asst Prof were you made aware of scores and how many grants your Associate and Full Professor Departmentmates were putting in? How about your lateral peers? What about you more-senior types? Are grant scores to be freely discussed or are is it SimplyNotDone in polite society?

31 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    As a mid-career individual, I find it highly variable among my peers. I don't mind sharing my scores etc. freely and I know many who do the same. OTOH, I know just as many who won't tell. I generally don't push if an individual seems reluctant to divulge specifics.

    Being able to admit you were triaged, again, is an important step toward getting the help you may well need.

  • anon says:

    My senior colleagues would not only not tell me their scores, but they would not let me see their grant proposals - not even the ones that got funded. I did find one person, outside my department and my field, who did share her successful applications with me and with other asst profs. I have since left that place and so did the one generous senior colleague (and other asst profs who she also helped!!). I am hoping that is not normal behavior and that people are generally more open and supportive of their junior colleagues. As someone who was struggling, it was really helpful to see a successful application and to get a little guidance on writing these things that went beyond sentence structure and style. It's funny that once I got funded, one of the stingy senior colleagues asked to see my proposal!! Of course, I didn't hesitate.

  • Beaker says:

    My fellow Jr. investigators share freely--we all feel we are part of the same team, going through the same trials and tribulations of grantsmanship. Sr. Investigators on the other hand, at least those in my neck of the woods, tend to not divulge scores when they are triaged. This is especially true for those who were fully funded back in the "good time," but now quietly don't mention their own failures. That is because if it becomes known that they cannot meet the standard to which they hold the Jr. Investigators, they will look like hypocrites.

  • Dr Becca says:

    It does feel like a question along the lines of the others you mention, or "how much money do you make?" - but I honestly don't mind sharing. Everyone's had both good and bad grant scores at some point,* so opportunity for empathy is high, and it's not like one grant score places you in a different class or generation from your conversants the way salary or age can.

    *except, of course, #bobchickenshit

  • drugmonkey says:

    For any new Readers, my experience was that my more senior colleagues were generous in sharing their grant proposals. At the time I suppose I was only seeing the successful ones. I never really thought about asking to see unsuccessful ones, nor to ask about their triaged ones and numbers of apps submitted. Consequently, all I knew was to keep putting applications in until I got a fundable score.

    These days I have some colleagues with whom I tend to discuss relative outcome and some with whom I do not. I *definitely* try to communicate my Good, Bad and Ugly NIH grant submitting history to the junior faculty.

  • drugmonkey says:

    From what I can tell, Dr Becca, there was a time when being triaged MeantSomething. Shameful. Because, you know, the "good" scientists were never triaged and the only moderately excellent scientists never had to even revise a grant.

    I think some of those people who used to look down their nose at anyone who struggled are experiencing a good deal of personal dismay when adjusting to the new reality.

    Those of us who feel we always had to fight just quietly snicker to ourselves.

  • pinus says:

    I always share scores. I share funded grants with friends. I don't like sharing unfunded grants. My experience is that people are a mixed bag. some will share scores, other will be secretive with scores. Same with grants, some people will share, but it seems like much less. Now that I think about it..I share way more than others. jerks!

  • Grumble says:

    Yeah, I don't really care who knows that my latest grant (a really fucken good one, I was so convinced) was triaged, because they will also hear all about who the obvious reviewers were (direct competitors, of course), and about how I don't intend to just stay mad, but to get fucken EVEN the next time I'm reviewing one of theirs. Which will fucken happen. It will.

    Now, what did we decide was wrong with the grant review process?

  • Bashir says:

    In my experience people are willing to at least say if their score was good, bad, or ugly. I do think it tends to be voluntarily shared, and not asked on the spot. I wouldn't do that.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And yet you should Bashir....

  • drugmonkey says:

    Well, for one thing Grumble, acting as if you know who reviewed your grant and who made which set of comments is something "wrong".

  • Pascale says:

    I'm open about my age and my scores. My weight is a completely different question. Let's just say more than it should be.

  • O.R. Pagan says:

    I do not mind being asked my age or weight, as it would be impossible to hide any of those (:-)... I certainly look my age and my weight is self-evident. As for the scores, it depends on the person. Further, if I was not funded, I usually follow the answer with a rant about how "they" most certainly did not read my proposal carefully, etc., just to vent..., of course, when it is funded, "they" are the most wise and enlightened scientists in all recorded history...

    (;-)....

  • arrzey says:

    Grumble, that way lies madness. Really.

    In my distant youth, people were open & honest with me, and I try to do the same. It helps the young 'uns to know that the old farts get bad scores, too.

  • lee says:

    I try not to ask the results of a recent review for assistant professors that are nearing the end of their window to get tenure. I think it only adds to their anxiety. As a non-tenured faculty member on soft money, I tend to be more forward about asking for help from my peers and more senior researchers.

  • Grumble says:

    Why is it wrong, DM? Don't you sometimes just KNOW who wrote that review? And does that never affect your judgment when subsequently the tables are turned and you're the reviewer?

    Or are such questions not asked in Polite Society, either?

  • pinus says:

    I think the thing is, you never really know who it is. Unless of course they tell you. Often times the likely person to review the grant is not the one who gets it.

  • Here in CIHR land I hear people discuss their percentile rankings, but not their scores, despite both being provided before the final funding announcements. Are both provided at the same time by the NIH?

  • Grumble says:

    Scores and percentiles within a day or two after the study section meets, then written critiques a few weeks later, then notice of grant award months to a year (more than a year, in one case I know about) later.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    I tend not to ask about score, unless I feel like the person is forthcoming. I tend to share scores, because any information might be helpful. For example, before I left my post-doc post, I started a binder in the library for our Post-Doc association. In it, I put my original K22, the score and the summary statement, my resubmission-version of said K22, funded score and summary statement......

  • drugmonkey says:

    Cath- when I refer to "scores" I generally mean "outcome". meaning triage (no score), score+percentile (same time for the mechanisms that are percentiled) or just score-alone (some NIH grants don't get percentiled, R21s for example)

    Grumble- pinus has the answer I would give. The reason it is absolutely stupid (and pernicious and corrosive) to persist with this assumption that you just KNOW who reviewed your grant and you KNOW who shat upon it and who loved it is that YOU. ARE. FREQUENTLY. WRONG!!!!!

    I have only the one term of service on a single study section, plus some ad hoc here and there for my experience. but from that limited sample, the "most obvious" reviewers are not by any means the ones assigned to a given grant. The people who you might think are the best buddy for a given PI often give the most pointed criticisms. Sometimes a seemingly direct competitor is cheerleading the way for a proposal that seemingly stomps right over his/her research program. Been there, done that.

    Now what are the stakes for the poor sucker you have assumed did you dirty but that person did not, eh? Is this what you think is acceptable behavior? To go around trash talking some poor schmuck who might very well have been the "enemy" who argued you into funding? And to keep backslapping your "friend" who in fact was the one who ripped you a new one?

    I implore every one who reads this and has a colleague insist they "know" who "killed their grant" to challenge them on this.

  • Don't you sometimes just KNOW who wrote that review?

    If you do, you are fucken delusional.

  • arrzey says:

    There is another factor in play in any review, particularly study sections. There are usually three reviewers. One of the most interesting or painful, depending on your perspective, is the discussion/negotiation about the score with the whole section. If you are perceived as giving a low or high score without good and specific justification, the group will ignore you and score based on the other folks. And then you get a reputation as being irrational, and no pays any attention to you even when you are arguing from a well reasoned position. Ditto goes for paper reviews. Maybe you don't want an editor to send you more stuff to review, and real trashy reviews becomes a strategy for getting out of work (although it's far more honorable just to say no), but I can't think of a single situation where letting one's emotions govern the review will benefit YOU, except for a short-term emotional thrill.

  • Grumble says:

    Hm. So, on the one hand, the obvious people don't always review your grant, meaning that people who have no idea what's important in your field get to make some Very Big Decisions about what kind of research gets done and who gets to do it.

    On the other hand, when the obvious people do review the grant, they are either eager to be hypercritical because everyone on the panel knows the reviewer is buddy-buddy with the applicant, or they are hypercritical because the reviewer is a competitor of the applicant.

    Heads you win, tails you lose. OK, I know it's not quite that bad - after all, I'm funded - and OK, any review system is going to have these issues. But that's precisely why I think some portion of funding should depend on past productivity, rather than having all funding be completely dependent on this absurd ad nauseum proposal-review-reject-rinse-repeat cycle of mania and depression.

  • odyssey says:

    Hm. So, on the one hand, the obvious people don't always review your grant, meaning that people who have no idea what's important in your field get to make some Very Big Decisions about what kind of research gets done and who gets to do it.

    Which is why you never, ever, write a proposal pitched at the "obvious" reviewers. Or experts in your sub-field. Grantsmanship 101.

    On the other hand, when the obvious people do review the grant, they are either eager to be hypercritical because everyone on the panel knows the reviewer is buddy-buddy with the applicant, or they are hypercritical because the reviewer is a competitor of the applicant.

    I'm not sure anybody said, or even implied this. Yes, it can happen. But, as DM has pointed out above, so can the opposite. The bottom line is, as an applicant you just don't know who did what on the study section. It's simply not worth losing sleep over.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Sometimes the people who are not directly participating in a sub-sub-subfield of BunnyHopping can make a better assessment about where it should go. Mostly because they see through the IMPORTANT issues regarding what sort of footwear the angels are sporting and can realize that what is really important is the number that fit on the pin head, as always.

  • gerty-z says:

    I share scores/percentiles and grants that I have written with other folks. I have had a lot of senior PI's and even other folks that are just a year or two ahead of me help me out in this way. It was/is really helpful to me and I am happy to keep the ball rolling.

  • Ewan says:

    It wouldn't occur to me to worry about any of age, weight, blood type, or grant reviews being public. The last two have in common that in fact it is useful for others to know and discuss them :). I use my grants and their scores as examples for grad students, good and bad.

    As for "knowing" identity - the inability to do this has hit me in both directions. Someone from a very small group of close colleagues, all of whom I had picked, once violently trashed a paper of mine; that was a big deal for me that I would have sworn could not happen from that group. And I have on two occasions (!) had acquaintances ask me for help in "trying to respond to the things that reviewer 2 who is obviously X said on this paper" when in fact reviewer 2 had been me :).

  • 33 yrs / 235 lbs / priority score=40.

    I think it's a big scary world and I couldn't make it without people who are willing to share details with me. So I particularly value the friendships I have with people who aren't going to worry about social niceties. This was super-duper true when it came to startup sizes and salary info during my job negotiation a cpl years ago. I don't mind when people won't tell, but I think maybe it's just weird hangups.

  • Chebag says:

    It isn't the size of the startup, Polie, it's how you use it.

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