Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Thoughts from an ESRC Mock Panel

Last month we held an ESRC mock panel as part of the Grants Factory. This is a really useful exercise; it gives participants a flavour of the discussions and debates that take place in a real Grant Assessment Panel (GAP), but it also gives them an idea of the tough assessment their application will have to go through.

Whilst I've posted elsewhere on this blog about what makes a good application (eg here, here, and here), a couple of points were raised at the workshop that I thought that they were worth repeating:

  • Firstly, panellists rarely read your proposal in the strict order in which its presented. The two panellists who led the workshop said that they normally read the JeS form first, to get a sense of what the project is about, then skip to the reviewers' comments and PI's response, before returning to the Case for Support. Your response, then, is crucial. This is true of all the Councils. A panellist for one of the other Research Councils said the following after returning from a panel meeting:
'The PI's responses were key and a substantial number of these were badly done (serving simply to refute or to point out disagreement between reviewers rather than rebut with argument, to clarify or to accept reviewers' suggestions).  Not all PIs made use of the whole space allowed.  Spending time reminding the panel of the positive things that reviewers had said was a waste of space if there were substantial issues to be addressed...I'm certain that I saw applications that would have received a higher final grade (and possibly funding) if the PI response had been better done.'
  • Secondly, most panellists won't have a background in your area. The GAPs are quite broad (see their disciplinary configuration here), so you need to make sure of two things: first, that you explain your research in a way that an intelligent general reader can understand; and secondly, that your methodology is watertight. Why? Because although the panellists might not understand the specifics of your project, they will all understand (or think they understand) the underlying methodology. So that is where they're going to pick holes. In particular, you need to be strong on how you analyse the data. Try and preempt any problems they might see in your methodology, and head them off at the pass. 
The final mock panel of the year will focus on the EPSRC, and will take place on 4 June. Drop me a line if you want to take part.

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