Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

WomanNetworkNetworking is so very important!! I cannot stress this enough. This is true at all levels. At early levels (student), it helps you to establish connections and can even get you a job (see this post). Pretenure, it is essential to get the word out that you exist and are doing things that people should pay attention to. You gotta go to conferences (old post) and network on campus (recent post). When you are senior, lack of travel and often result in lack of recognition, and getting back out there can be essential to re-starting after a long absence due to childcare or other issue (see this awesome post).

When you are a professor, another important place to network is on grant panels. Serving on grant panels is so important for so many reasons:

  1. You get to read grants. Good grants, crap grants, many in between grants. When I read grants, I not only try to evaluate the science, but I also use the time to think about how best to write grants. Of course, you have to get rid of the grants afterward, but you can think and even write down what was good about the writing, the style, the format. All these things matter to writing a great grant that gets funded.
  2. You get to meet other scientists. On grant panels, you spend an intimate 1-4 days with a group of scientists talking about science that can be funded, using your expertise, learning new things you never knew before, and basically interacting. You are also together at meals where you spend time talking about your family, your pets, your house, and all the other lifestyle stuff. Scientists have similar lifestyles no matter if you are from California, Texas, or Michigan. This is the networking. This is the close kind of network that you often only find at very small meetings. Grant panels are the smallest of meetings.
  3. You get to meet program officers. In addition to working with other scientists who may or may not be in your field, you also get to work with the program officers who will presumably have the opportunity to fund your research. You can figure out what types of science they like to find and how they like to interact with scientists. Different program officers like to hear more about motivation or technical stuff or diversity impacts. Plus, if you are already at a funding agency, you might be able to visit other program officers while you are there.

What is a grant panel like? I have a lot more experience serving on NSF panels and foundation proposal review panels, so that is what I will describe. If you have information about NIH, DOD, DOE, or other, please comment here! At NSF you have to come prepared and be early. Most program officers want you to have all your evaluations uploaded over a day early, so they can prioritize the discussion list. Be prepared – it takes over an hour to review a single proposal and write a review, so make sure you start early enough.

At the panel. The program officer will start with a little background or information you need for the panel. Good ones will describe implicit bias and how it is important to be aware of biases, so that you can avoid them.

Reviewing. The panel will begin to review each grant. Some panels prioritize the grants so that the obvious ones (all highly rated or all low rated) are discussed first and taken care of. Sometimes the bottom ones are completely triaged – not discussed at all. Most program officers will try to keep you on track by giving you only 12-15 minutes to discuss the proposal. One person will be the “lead” discussant and describe the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. The second and possibly third reviewers will describe and additional and not previously described issues. Typically, a third or fourth assigned reviewer will serve as the scribe who will record what is said at the panel to give some inside information about what was said in the room and write up the panel summary that also goes to the proposers.

Serving as a virtual panelist. In a recent panel, I served as a virtual panelist. In this, I used my computer camera to interact with the panel. Frankly, I didn’t like it. It was harder to interact and network with others. I felt like it was also more difficult to be convincing. Most of the other virtual panelists had cameras, but not everyone, so I couldn’t use facial cues to help me be more convincing. Also, I realize that I typically use these meetings for networking – specifically with the women scientists on the panel. I am not sure if I will be a virtual panelist again.

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Comments on: "Networking at Grant Panels" (3)

  1. Robin Selinger said:

    To help our grad students learn what makes a strong grant proposal, I run a mock NSF panel review for them as part of a class on scientific communication skills. Each student has to serve as 1st/2nd reviewer for two different proposals and as scribe for a third proposal. Each student thus writes two proposal reviews before the panel meets and a panel summary afterwards. The task of presenting proposals to the panel and discussing their merits is an opportunity for students to hone their oral communication skills. They practice speaking extemporaneously on highly technical material and participate in intellectual debate. It’s exciting to watch them grow in confidence. We don’t have any money to give away–it’s just a “mock” panel–but we take the exercise very seriously.

    We don’t take a whole day though. It’s usually just an evening, with a break for pizza. If we have 6 students, we review 6 proposals.

    Once students have been through this process they develop what I call proposal “goggles.” What previously looked like mushy shades of gray resolves into stark contrasts between shining strengths and obvious weaknesses. Then when students write a proposal of their own, they know just what to do. One of the students from last fall’s class has already won some research funding in a competition on campus.

    I agree that the video review panel is not fun but it saves NSF money to spend on precious grants rather than wasted on panel travel costs, and it saves the travel time, too. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t mean I always enjoy it. Video meetings can be quite tedious if the sound/video quality is lacking and I certainly miss schmoozing time at meals. Gotta go do a proposal review now…

  2. Oooh, I like that Robin. We are starting new professional development training for our graduate students, and I think we should do this!! Thanks for commenting!

  3. […] panel. This year, the panel was virtual. I have also posted about how I dislike virtual panels (networking panels) – strike two. This panel was made worse this year because one of the men didn’t show […]

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