Dr Ben Britton Profile picture
Dec 29, 2017 49 tweets 11 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
I am peer reviewing at present... (very late for this task, sorry) - as I often do, to break up the action (!) is to offer some 'lessons learnt'
I have a stack of 17 short and small grants to review (structured form processing). There are a few stand out 'wins' for good proposals...
Discuss how your grant is going to be value for money - often with a nod towards legacy and sustainability after the funding period has ended. But please be reasonable (you need to justify needing the money after all!)
Many of your reviewers are 'experts' in the general sense - I am an engineering & scientists, with paperwork to prove that, but as a reviewer I am unlikely to be as expert as you are in your niche. Break down those barriers in your language & reduce use of acronyms.
In your grant proposal, you have to answer these questions: why do this? why this way? why you? why this money? why now? who will benefit?

(more on blog medium.com/@BMatB/adventu…)
If you are going to use metrics to illustrate your prowess in the proposal - be careful. Your metrics might look amazing in your field, but we are all 'trained' to use metrics differently. e.g. a h-index is field & time dependant.
If you are going to cite an award - please tell the reviewer what is for. We have stacks of stuff & googling these things is infuriating. Why is the award important to you, contextually why is it an accolade, and why does it help your case in this proposal?
If you are trying to be a PI on a grant, and want to use your papers to support your grant application, please get on google scholar & where possible make your articles open access / green accessible..
In your proposal, if you are going to state that you are a "World Leading Trail blazer in XXX" (or similar language) - please qualify it with evidence, or better yet, let the evidence enable the reviewer to make up their mind that you are amazeballs.
Please remember, in writing your grant application, that a human being has to review it. If you write something that means you want to vomit a teeny bit, the reviewer may feel the same. Keep the acronym laden, buzzword-filled, and boasting language to a game of bingo in the pub.
Also remember to print & read you grant proposal offline, preferably aloud. It is particularly important to do this if you have a preference for, in particular, the repeating of particular phrases. (Especially if these phrases add little substantive value / new information.)
Reviewing the thread here - I should also add - please get your ORCID to be up-to-date (this is on my todo list) - as that's a commercial free method of having a clean & uniform scientific 'CV'

If you list your papers in a grant proposal - and you think they are important - please add the DOI (and pre print link if you can!). This means the reviewer has more of a chance to evaluate you as a scientist (rather than a number), and to place your work into context.
There is a pause now, beer o'clock beckons.

This proposal has a specific section (in the text, AND in the review) on data management. The number of proposals that fail to engage in this question properly is amazing.

Find out about data management plans, & institutional support.
Only 10 reviews left. Averaging about 30 mins a review. Eek.
We're back at the peer review. Yes, it's Saturday. I would rather not be working, but I want this task off my list so I can go into the new year calmer & focused back on 'my stuff'.
Please avoid using technical acronyms in your grant proposal title. I can google-fu, but you've lost your first chance to get me really on your side with your research vision.
The word 'various' is almost vacuous in a grant proposal - it's a word with minimal substantive value. Be specific in giving examples or name checking ideas or concepts.
Same regarding the use of. 'etc.' -
its stylistically lazy and doesn't add more than your preceding list. It can be good to predicate your text with "such as" or "for example" and be specific in your language.

Some of these grant writing comments, from a reviewer side, may seem a little pedantic. But I am looking at multiple similar grant proposals, and I notice these details. The use of tight, & direct, language stands out. The specific details highlight clarity of thought & delivery.
If you can convince me, as a grant reviewer, that you have thought carefully about this programme of work, I feel that you are invested in seeing it succeed and will work to make the programme succeed. This puts you ahead of many of the competition.
Please read the rubric of the grant scheme and answer all the questions in the proposal. Technically being failed because you have not addressed a section is a facepalm moment. It's also a waste of reviewer time.
Please talk about how your proposal will enable new science, but also if you are going to enable people to deliver this science; ie how you will develop & support them. Yes, we are often funding projects, but management of a project involves managing resource, including people.
If you are going to big up your University and Department, as supporting evidence for why you should be funded. Pleased don't just say it's world leading, or quote some REF scorings augment with qualitative arguments on why this helps you with this proposal.
e.g. (for me) The Department of Materials at Imperial has critical mass of researchers engaged in understanding metals, enabling a sustained impact of our research for academic and industrial partners, through investment in equipment and people.

You can strengthen this further through peppering it with accolades, or quantitative metrics (cash, REF scores, prizes etc, tweet space limited me here) to provide systematic evidence to underpin your language.
In your research plan/proposal - please provide a break down of the ideas into deliverable packages. This evidences that you have evaluated the relative effort and undertaken some risk management, and it translates to others the relative challenge of task.
I have 4/17 proposals left to review. Will be almost two days of work into this reviewing. Yes - it's not been that efficient overall, but that's because it's a bit numbing to read application, research applicants, think of the evaluation system, and write constructive thoughts.
Updating this advice...tight & direct language good, but don't pack it so dense I have to re-read your sentences 3-4 times and turn the music off to understand what they mean (let alone unpack them to see how they can add value).

Run complete - 3 more reviews to go. I see the end in sight.
Seriously - please read up on data management strategies. Research data management is a big thing.

e.g. If you are doing something to existing data, and producing new information, you are generating new data, and this has to be managed.

Research data can be physical data (samples, equipment, film plates) or electronic/digital (what we normally think of for data). This data has to be 'managed' before it is captured, where it is stored for processing, how it is shared in & outside your team, & the long term life.
Your institution probably has a research data policy, or your funder may have suggestions. Or ask on twitter - there are some skilled voices out here ;-) Again - good data management implies you have thought about your programme.
To address beneficiaries - the story is not one way, especially for a multi year programme! How will you benefit from the involvement of others to shape the evolution of your programme? What are your tractable, and achievable goals, for these benefits? Don't be woolly.
For your acronyms - make sure you introduce them before you use them in the proposal. This is a bit rookie (and very annoying). Also decide if you really need to use them - i.e. how many times do you sue that word?
And we are done. Apologies (sort of) for a rather long tweet thread. It kept me company while I was doing the task. Could have done it faster, but mental fatigue requires me to have breaks. And I should be having a day off... big task complete.
Ah - not quite finished with this task.

Need to resign from this panel. Too much time (sorry) - it's not sustainable to do so many proposals in one tranche.
Now I'm done. #AndBreathe
Email exchange with panel chair on my resignation & relative merits of staying on the panel. One of those emails where you go 'yes yes yes I agree' and brain is going 'no no - think of the time & other things you could do'. A classic example of the academic work conundrum.
When agreeing to things - temper:

'value added' to your skills (and by proxy your CV);
community service (if you submit grants / papers, you have to give back);
but also your growth & development, i.e. the 'opportunity cost'.
As an academic, don't be a self-serving individual who is only there to do things for yourself.

But equally, manage the "self care" that is required to have a healthy work-life balance.

And there is a "duty" argument to make with respect to giving back to your community. Each time you submit a research grant, each time you submit a paper, someone has to review it.

20% paper/grant success rate, 3 reviewers per paper/grant = review 5-10x as much stuff as you win.
BUT - as a senior academic, don't guilt the early career academics into picking up this slack. Teach them the value of community engagement & tell your 'super star peers' to get involved & give back, and find systematic methods of fixing the system. #ecrchat
One of these systematic methods of fixing the system is to discuss peer review, community duty, and to create forums where this discussion can happen. This is why I tweet / blog. I want more conferences to have discussion forums of that support 'the back office' of academia.
Talking is important, but it's the first step in activism to enable change. We need to have usable systems, and a change of culture, that reflects & rewards the community building aspects of tasks like peer review.

e.g. get yourself on @Publons
e.g. write to your favourite journal, and ask them about reviewer stats & to publish them.

e.g. talk to colleagues about how much they review, ask them how they value community building in HR decisions

e.g. talk to grant award panels, & ask them to value this in applications
e.g. when you decline a review article for peer review, justify it, and make a positive suggestion on how the editor can resolve this (suggest a post doc as a reviewer?) - the journal may not know of your talented Post Docs, and they have to learn community skills
However - in the same breath - talk to your Post Docs about the value of peer review, and support them in the process. Don't just throw your tasks downhill & forget them. Give them space in their calendars to engage with the community.

And Journals - have a stronger policy on enabling lab heads to delegate the task, but not responsibility, of peer review within their group, and to reward & recognise this 'under the table' work that we all know goes on.

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