What I learned from my first federal grant review

1) The waiting is excruciating

As an academic researcher submitting federal grants you know the timeline is long, really long; from submission…to review…to funding… can be close to 10 months. The worst part though, if the grant is not ultimately funded, which most grants will not be, you have to wait until the next cycle, which could be an additional 2–3 months away, and then start that 10 month process of waiting all over again.

2) Every email from eRA Commons sends a pit of terror into your stomach (and soul)

eRA commons is the NIH online system that keeps track of grant proposals and sends out notification emails anytime something for your grant application changes (i.e. review date scheduled). So when it gets close to the time when your grant score comes out, opening the eRA commons’ site is an internal struggle. I liken it to the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment — if you don’t look, the grant is still alive, if you do look the grant may be dead.

3) The summary statement is a rollercoaster ride of emotions

  • Reviewers are human beings and the best cynics — some get it, some don’t.
  • Reviews are subjective ranging from 1 to 9.
  • Federal funding is an “Old Boys Club”: you can’t get your first grant without getting your first grant. This is not a weakness, it is a fact.

4) In the end you just have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst

Just getting scored under the pay line guarantees nothing but high hopes and a very hard fall; even the pay line isn’t guaranteed.

5) As a resuscitation scientist, I should know that nothing is every truly dead!

Three of my favorite movies are Monty Python Holy Grail, Princess Bride and Galaxy Quest, partly because they are just straight up funny and partly because they all include my favorite movie lines:

  • Monty Python: “I’m not dead yet.”
  • Princess Bride: “He is only mostly dead and mostly dead is slightly alive.”
  • Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender”

Recognizing a theme here? As my hometown science hero Benjamin Franklin so aptly stated: “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” So I will invest in more Prosecco and just keep writing!