Before I left for vacation I made an appointment to talk with my PO (program officer, for those of you who don’t know). I approached this from the perspective that I was soliciting the POs help in making the resubmission of my application the absolute best that it can be- because the reviews seem addressable to me. I have been thinking and worrying about how this interaction might go quite a bit in the last few days. I prepared for it by re-reading my proposal, and by taking the summary statement apart one piece at a time- parsing every comment into strengths and weaknesses. … Thinking carefully about what the reviewer might mean with every comment. Lining up a few more general questions about the appropriateness of the study section and whether or not projects like mine would fare better elsewhere.
I have to say- I was pleasantly surprised by the whole interaction. This is not because I doubted the PO, but because I often feel that I don’t do well on the phone when I’m nervous about something. I think I was right to wait a few weeks after receiving the review to have this conversation- mostly because I’m completely cooled off now and have thought carefully about ways to address the reviewers concerns and improve my proposal. So, I’m not defensive in the slighest. It also helped that the conversation started off with the PO saying… well, they (the reviewers) seemed to really like it. When I read these reviews generally- they seem like 5% reserved praise and 95% criticism- so it’s kind of hard to see that ‘they really liked it’ from where I’m sitting- but I’m sure he knows what he is talking about.
We had quite a long conversation- and I really felt like useful feedback (line by line, in fact) was provided that will help me improve the proposal as it goes into resubmission in the next round. I know what to do and I have until the next deadline to do it- so there is plenty of time. Also, although I have a ton of preliminary data- during this conversation I had several ideas about relatively simple things that I can do to present this preliminary data in a different way to clear up one of the major concerns of the reviewers- and convince them that I am aware of the difficulties and the pitfall that several of them were concerned about. There was quite a bit of conversation about how to phrase things exactly- to get at the heart of a particular concern. Needless to say- I’m tremendously thankful of the help.
And finally- some of you may remember that ‘doesn’t excite this reviewer’ concern about one part of this proposal. That’s been worrying me because it’s about a vital and sure to work … yet boring with a capital B… set of experiments. I’ve been tossing around how to fix that problem- folding these experiments into a different aim and eliminating the free standing (but boring) aim- or not..? I was advised against making any drastic or sudden moves in this proposal at this point. So the aim will stay as it is, and an apology for the lack of thrills (It doesn’t thrill me either) …and an explanation of the absolute necessity and slam dunk (HA!) nature of the experiments will be provided in the rebuttal.