Here are my thoughts after my most recent proposal rejection. A lot of this comes from my time at NASA Headquarters, watching program managers run their review panels to maximize the usefulness of the summary reviews.
1. Your review will inherently feel like a 1-way conversation, but that is an illusion. The most helpful comments, constructive critiques or requests for specific details, will help you write a better proposal the next time you submit it. The worst comments, factually incorrect critiques or (I hope we don’t see these) unprofessional attacks, should be brought to the attention of your program manager and may warrant a petition for a re-review. Either way, just about every comment is part of a conversation, albeit a frustratingly slow one.
2. With that in mind, don’t treat the critiques as evaluations of your last proposal, but as a preliminary review of your next proposal. In this regard, the rare unhelpful critique should be discarded. In fact, I will open my proposal from the prior year, “Save as…” a proposal for the following year, and write some notes on the main issues I need to address.
3. The voices in your head that seek to keep you down are not invited to this event. It’s far too easy to beat yourself up over something that happens to all of us. My most lasting memory from the first panel I sat on was the distinguished names of the scientists that submitted “poor” proposals. These were people I thought could do no wrong and whose tweed jackets were lined with grant $… and yet their work sat at the bottom of the pile. So a rejection does NOT mean you’re a bad scientist or bad at writing proposals, or any of that. If that were the case, we’re ALL bad scientists and we are ALL bad at writing proposals.
None of the above things will get you the funding you really needed to make ends meet/start critical work/hire the help you need this year, and none of it will completely soothe over the bruise to your ego. But if you’re in this game for the long-haul, it’ll help you recover from the setback and come back stronger next year.
Or maybe, as a Cubs fan, “Wait ’til next year” is just too imprinted into my psyche.