Jan 31 2013 Published by drugmonkey under Grant Review, Grantsmanship, NIH, NIH funding, Peer Review
Combative responses to prior review are an exceptionally stupid thing to write. Even if you are right on the merits.
Your grant has been sunk in one page you poor, poor fool.
12 responses so far
If you are right on the merits, you say "we have entirely rewritten this section more clearly to show why the data led us to conclude x, and we take reviewers comment about y as evidence that we were not successful in our initial proposal. We find the argument more compelling now" or something like that. You write the language to be conciliatory but also to surreptitiously isolate that reviewer from the other two. Now, if all three reviewers were in that boat, you need some careful language, but I assume that DM means here that you can still stick to your guns but you need to be sophisticated how you do so.
Isn't that a little petty? If the PI is right, they're right. Sure, they shouldn't be a dick, but reviewers are dicks all the time. The modus operandi of reviewers seems to be:
"I will be a total asshole shredding your proposal, and if you don't sniff my ass and tell me it smells like cinnamon buns, I'm crucifying you."
The most important grant writing advice I ever received is:
Your proposal should be an effort to make the reviewer an ally and an advocate of your proposal.
They did not write the review to crucify you. Reviewers are not trying to be dicks, they are trying to do a job to the best of their ability. If your response could be perceived as failing to acknowledge that they worked hard on writing a review, they are going to be pissed. Then they feel justified in being a dick. Ignoring a concern brought up by a reviewer is almost as bad as being combative.
There are ways to politely disagree with a reviewer. Often it starts with the words "I was not sufficiently clear when I explained X..."
If the PI is right, they're right.
Unless the PI did a poor job of communicating why they're right. In which case, they're wrong. Most cases of "the stupid reviewers don't know what the fuck they're talking about and need to be ripped a new one!!!!!11!!!!" boil down to this.
The introduction (i.e., response to reviews) is THE most important part of the entire proposal. The messages to be conveyed are really quite simple... 1) What did the reviewers not like? 2) What did you CHANGE? It is amazing how many intro statements turn into a long waffle, without actually getting to this "meat". I have found a couple of strategies to be successful in getting these messages across...
First, a small table in the top corner, summarizing the 3 sets of criterion scores in the 5 categories (investigator, significance, innovation, approach, environment). This allows the reviewer to firstly see how bad things actually are (which bits actually need attention). It also allows you to isolate reviewers whose scores don't match the overall opinion. It also lets you highlight unfair discussion (e.g., a set of 2s & 3s accompanied by an overall score of 5, clearly showing some shenanigans at study section that came up in addition to whatever the reviewer's initial scores were - FYI nobody goes back in and edits their scores after the meeting).
Second, a bulleted list near the top, stating what is changed in this revision, pointing to the relevant section or new figure. You can get into details further down the page, but FFS all that really matters is whether you changed stuff.
Third, FFS mark the changes in the proposal in red, or some other indicator.
Fourth, references are your friend in the introduction, I think my last intro statement (proposal was funded) had nearly 30 refs to back up my statements.
"FYI nobody goes back in and edits their scores after the meeting."
Combative responses to pretty much anyone in any situation in which you are trying to get something from the other person = always a bad idea. Nobody likes an indignant bastard, and nobody wants to give stuff/good scores to people they don't like.
If you have a crap review and some good ones and the initial score suggests that more people agreed with the other two, then the crap review was already isolated, so you can be polite and mention what the other reviewers found successful about the proposal. You can further isolate the ideas of the crap review by making sure you address them even superficially in response. Your goal is to give the panel AMMO to shoot down the wrong review, not to get pissy with them. Potnia Theron has it EXACTLY- how can you make the reviewer your ally- they've already bothered to spend time with the proposal by identifying strengths and weaknesses, how can you make is seem that you are working together to improve the proposal?
Keeping in mind that the new round of review may have none of the original reviewers, but that attacking the old reviewers could be perceived as attacking the panel. Be sophisticated about it!
Number one rule of grant writing as taught to me by an old and experienced colleague: Don't piss off the reviewer.
All nine of my grants to review this cycle have numbered references. I am not holding that against them as I looked through my pile of the last 5 study sections. I've never had author-date.
This is the stupidest fucking post I've ever read. Everything in it is wrong. It could only have been written by an inexpert dumbass.
Hey DM, spot me for a beer?
When you're right on the merits, you don't need to get all fighty.
If you're getting angry with a reviewer, ask yourself why -- is the dickhead a dickhead or does the dickhead actually have a point that you don't want to admit? Hmmm?
DrugMonkey is an NIH-funded researcher who blogs about careerism in science. And occasionally about the science of drug use.
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