The study section I recently finished up (see multiple posts about the review process) was one that had been originally scheduled for the beginning of October. NIH’s first response was either to do these reviews as phone conferences, which would have sucked, or to roll these proposals into the next cycle, which also would have sucked. There was a sufficient outcry so that they all got rescheduled for the end of Nov and beginning of Dec.
I did go to Washington, but only about 2/3 of the study section made it. There were lots of phone reviews. That is never A Good Thing for the PI’s. There was another, slightly more significant problem. The original SS was two days (to be done “early” on the 2nd day), but this one was done in one day. We started early and ended late, and worked through lunch. We were given a few biology breaks, but it was very very long. Everyone was very punchy by the end. Some reviewers had to leave early, and in fact we only stopped because we had lost quorum, i.e. not enough people remaining. I think all the grants got reviewed, but if scores dropped below the percentile threshold for triage as scores were revised, they were not discussed.
NIH used to supply coffee, tea, and some mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks (and snakes, no, no snakes). Can’t do that any more, per Federal Ass-hats. This leads to even more punchiness.
Did everyone get a fair review? Reviews are not fair or unfair. There is a continuum of fairness. Did every review cross the minimal threshold for a good consideration? I think so, only because the people reviewing were working very very hard. Could the reviewing process been better? Absolutely. I know very few people who do a better job when they are tired, cranky, and have been sitting in a small room with 20 other tired and cranky people. The only benefit of recent practice – no one smokes in study section any more (you have no idea).
Morale to all: do your little bit to make sure another shutdown doesn’t happen. Write to your congress critter. Write to the (and it does make me feel creepy and slimey) moderate Republicans who are trying to stand up to the far right wingnuts who want to shut down the government again. I may not like John Boehner, but he is doing something that is right in this case.