Insights from Inside IOS (I3): What to do with a not-so-positive proposal review

We’ve all been there. Submitted what we thought was an amazing proposal, only to have a panel of reviewers find fault with it. So, what do you as the proposal Principal Investigator do now?  

Many Program Directors (PDs) have submitted proposals that were rejected before they joined NSF. We all feel that neither getting a rejection nor having to reject a proposal is a good side to be on.  

Our suggestions: 

  1. Read the reviews and then take a day or two or a week to let things settle. Do not email the listed PD immediately upon reading the reviews.  
  1. Think about the following questions: 
    • What is the overall impression you got from the reviews? 
    • Can any part of these reviews help you improve the proposal for a resubmission? 
  1. Email your PD contact and ask for some time to discuss your recent review. We as PDs want to help you improve your grant! These conversations are really one of the fun parts of our job. 
  1. Once you’ve agreed upon a mutual time to meet, it is helpful to provide the PD with some specific questions you might have about the reviews. 
  1. During the discussion with the PD, remember the reviews came primarily from your colleagues during the merit review process.  
  1. Revise, revise and resubmit! 

Finally, your Program Director will be more than happy to look over a future draft of your proposal prospectus and provide their thoughts. But remember, primarily, it is a panel of scientific colleagues that reviews your proposal, and you must convince the panel and ad hoc reviewers of the intellectual merit and broader impact of your proposed research.