Once anxiety provoking, now sublime: reviewing grants

I finished my reviews well before the deadline, if you count in hours. If you count in days, not so much.

When I first started reviewing grants, it was difficult. I worried that I was not being fair. I worried that my ignorance would lead me to be wrong and hurt someone or promote bad science. I worried, of course, that I would look like an idiot. My mother, who had sat on study sections for years, worried that I looked not like an idiot, but a drug addicted bum from the streets. She took me shopping and bought me classy, expensive, grown-up lady clothes (I was in my late 30’s at the time, and still dressed like a grad student/postdoc). At the time – she was right (now you can look like a bum at study section, and no one cares).

Now, as I approach my blue-haired dotage, I find that the experience no longer produces anxiety. I know that I can be careful, that I may have to go read some more papers (or at least abstracts) to do a good review, or ask some pointed email questions to colleagues (about content, not people). It’s okay to be wrong, but more importantly it’s okay to disagree and find the common ground.  That’s why there are study sections and review panels and we talk about it. I also review for Fulbright and that doesn’t happen. My reviews go off into never never land, and I never even learn what happens. No discussion, etc.

When I was young, before electronic reviews, and eRA Commons, the day at study section, when the grants I reviewed came up, and the reviewers announced scores, was terrifying. What if I had scored differently from others – too high (bad score) meant that I missed something important (and was an idiot), too low (good score) and I was weak and accommodating (and an idiot). When electronic scoring, etc, came to pass, there was that heart stopping moment (akin to finding out your score, which still produces emotion for me) when you checked to find out how much of an idiot you were. At least one could do that in the privacy of your office.

Over the last umpteen years, it’s become not so hard. It’s good to see the other scores. It’s a reward for doing the reviews. I find that I still don’t like being the odd woman out, but that its okay. I can read other reviews without, well, without feeling much in general. I have, indeed, grown-up. I have learned that the scores are not about me but about the grants.

Now, today, of course, I am pissed about the shutdown. It it happens, we will do reviews on the phone, and that is not nearly as good for the PI’s as in person.



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