These have just gotten longer and longer, haven’t they? If it’s any consolation, the process of reviewing NIH grant applications was longer still, and I couldn’t just mark “All Read” in my RSS feed and walk away once it started. But I’m glad I did it. I’ll close with some random thoughts:
First, if I’d known the National Institutes of Health served Froot Loops® at the continental breakfast I wouldn’t have gone to Whole Foods the night before to get some real fruit™ and a muffin. I don’t think anybody ate the frosted sugar bombs, though, and with almost 50 people in the room nonstop for as many hours as we worked, that’s bordering on a miracle.
I can see how Golden Fleece Awards might come about, since most of the proposals were complex, and most suggested innovative — and thus, somewhat risky — programs. So if you pull out small sections of these things, which you can since line-item accounting is required, you could have made some of the proposals I saw sound quite stupid. But it’s not fair. Watching our NIH overlords (I kid! They were all really nice and helpful) at the meeting, I believe it when they say that their controllers are more diligent than the IRS when it comes to holding people to their promises, and taken as a whole all of the proposals had merit.
In the first third of the meeting, I thought I knew what was going on, in the second third I knew I didn’t, and by the end I was where I wished I’d been at the very outset of the process, months before. So it goes.
One nice thing — everything we read and looked at went into a secure recycling bin, so I went home with less stuff than I arrived. And I finally had a reason to use the “secure empty trash” option to get rid of the electronic versions of the files on my home machine. So, no paper or digital trail, just so you’re not tempted to come knocking.
Shakespeare would have been proud of all the awful puns embedded in the cutesy acronyms serious scientists came up with. In 60+ applications there had to be over 1000 of them, some of them with the same letters meaning different things.
Would I do it again? I don’t know. I don’t think I’m likely to be asked, so it’s probably moot. But all in all, on the NIH scale I’d score the experience 1.2 out 5 (where 1.0 = best). But it’s a difficult and long process for reviewers, and it concludes with two difficult and long days. Not long like a tour of duty in Afghanistan, or a patrol as a beat cop, but it’s a lot of concentrated work with a great deal of responsibility.
As I wrote the last of these notes (in draft form) a mouse took a run at my backpack at National Airport, and then dashed back under the radiator when I made eye contact. In the land of national labs, it was probably a recent escapee from an NIH process as well. Sorry, no Froot Loops® for you, either.