Despite the widely held belief that most reviewers are idiot jackasses (unless of course you get a good score) who fail to appreciate one’s brilliant, snowflake-like intellectual iridescence, they are not. Two points, one NIH, one NSF:
NIH: SRA’s continually remind reviewers that their job was NOT to improve the proposal, NOT to make suggestions about what “ought to be done”, but only critique what was in the proposal. This does not sit well with many reviewers who are actually interested in helping. Not promoting their buddies, not giving it to The Man, not making sure that those unclean people of color/people of foreign places (particularly Canada), lebians, transsexuals, and dogfuggers don’t get funded. Comb those pink sheets for clues.
NSF: Even more so than NIH. My fellow panelists bend over backwards (I’m too old for such shenanigans) to find the good in a grant. The see what the point was. To give the benefit of the doubt. They wanted to see the young people funded. Apropos the discussion on BI, I’ve see reviewers volunteer: I had a student in that program, or I went to her exhibit at the Megawattage Museum of Natural History.
The dominant sense I always have is that the PO’s, the SRO’s, the staff are the ones saying “review what’s on the page” not… anything else. This is due, I suspect to the heartbreaking job of saying No to people.
Final bit of advice for today: if you have the chance to sit on a study section or panel, or you see a fork in the road, take it. You may be hungry and there is always something to be learned.