NSERC Evaluation

NSERC Evaluation
How do I improve my grant?
Scott McIndoe
Chemistry EG 2010-2013
Follow the rules: use the standard headings AS A GUIDE. Not mandatory.
Number your references, but if you need the room, be selective, i.e.
23. J. Am. Chem. Soc.
21. Inorg. Chem.
is probably just as good as:
23. J. Am. Chem. Soc.
22. Austr. J. Chem.
21. Inorg. Chem.
A paragraph for HQP is not good enough.
Are the titles of your student’s 20 poster presentations important? No. Is the fact
that your students have presented 20 posters at conferences important? Yes!
Budget justification
Keep it short. Demonstrate that you’ve thought about the budget; include all the
important categories, but don’t make it super-detailed.
Basically, you want the reviewers to skim this section and check that you’ve done
due diligence. There is no cost-of-research determination; all programs are
assumed to have a “normal” cost.
DO make sure you err on the high side. If you ask for $70k, and are put in a bin
that gives you $80k, you will get $70k only. Exception: DAS.
Relationship to other support
Keep it short and clear.
Explain the conceptual differences between your DG and other funding.
Excellence of the researcher
Publish a lot in good journals.
(Awards, citations, h-index (last 6 years), patents, funding, special considerations,
invitations to speak, reputation, collaborations, reviews/books/chapters, service,
refereeing, etc. all help, but are less determinative)
Merit of the proposal
Start by saying what your program is, why it matters, and how it is original.
Don’t repeat yourself. If you’ve highlighted past work in your F100, don’t repeat
it in your F101. Just enough past work to provide context on what you’re planning.
Include strong continuation work AND high risk/high reward ideas.
Eliminate all trivial errors (typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors,
unfinished sentences, misnumbered references). These don’t affect the scientific
case but they make you look sloppy.
Don’t get fancy with font choices, font colour, text formatting, etc. Your stylistic
choices might impress you but will likely irritate the reviewers. Bolding key
statements is a good idea, but don’t overdo it.
Make sure your proposal is readable, i.e. include white space. A break does not
need to be a full line in thickness to improve readability.
Use colour figures, but ensure that they are readable in black and white.
Try and hit a balance between readability and density.
Why is your work important? You need to be self-critical here, and ask people
other than experts to be brutally honest when evaluating your proposal on this
basis. Too many applicants are excited about their research, and assume that
everyone else knows about the driving forces for conducting it. That’s a
dangerous assumption, and you’re relying on others (EG, referees) to do the job
for you.
The committee is not, for the most part, experts in your area. Generally, most of
your reviewers are. Finding the balance between your audiences is tricky, but too
general and too wonky are both mistakes. Don’t stay in the shallows; don’t jump
in at the deep end; move from one to the other.
Include at least one credible idea, which if it works, the results will end up in a
very high impact journal.
Sound positive, no matter how dire your circumstances. Don’t whine: everyone
faces challenges. Explain how you made the best of it. The committee does pro
rate leaves of absence, lab disasters etc, but they need hard numbers to do this.
6 weeks of sick leave over 6 years is nothing. 12 months of maternity leave is
something. However, the pro-rating will often not move someone up a level –
each rank (Strong, Very Strong, etc) is quite wide.
Use the lay summary well. It gets read. It shouldn’t be a repeat of your proposal
introduction or conclusions. Write it now. Go back to it. Get other people to read it.
Rewrite it. Find a non-chemist, and read it to them. Write it again. Don’t leave it to
the end.
Don’t repeat yourself. Annoying, isn’t it? Your application is not a paper – it
doesn’t need an abstract, introduction, discussion and conclusions.
References (now 2 pages)
Don’t play games with fonts, spacing, weird abbreviations etc.
Don’t reference your own work again. Just cross-reference your F100.
Do cite the work of others in the field, and be positive about their work.
Two pages is probably more than you need, but you should use it all. Flatter
potential reviewers by citing them (only if appropriate, of course!). Use footnotes
to clarify a point or claim that otherwise disrupts the flow of your proposal.
Citing current, high-impact work makes your work appear more important and
Proposals that get most heavily bashed by reviewers are those that reveal a lack
of awareness of the state-of-the-art. Do your homework! At the very least, run
searches on your proposal title… your reviewers will.
Good HQP arguments
Sound passionate about teaching and mentoring your graduate students. The
most persuasive arguments were made by people who sounded like they are
strongly engaged with their students: this doesn’t mean micromanagement, but
rather equipping students with the tools needed for success in their field.
Explain why your training is unique. What do you give your students that no one
else in Canada can provide?
Explain why your training is important. What jobs are your students going to that
Canada desperately needs filling?
Explain why your training provides your students with opportunities.
Conferences, travel, collaboration, interaction with industry, training other than in
your laboratory/department.
Explain why your training provides your students with great outcomes. If your
students go on to do well, talk about it.
Make it clear you know who your students are. Name names. Know what they’re
doing now. “Unknown”, “Name withheld” both look bad.
New page for HQP
The F101 now has a separate page for HQP, which probably lessens the need to
integrate your HQP account into the proposal. However, the committee still wants
to hear what it is your students will be doing.
If you have the same individual listed multiple times, explain why this scenario
was advantageous for the HQP in question.
Do NOT repeat the HQP section from your F100! Verbatim is verboten, and
rehashing the same material looks lazy. I recommend focusing on HQP
outcomes in your F100 (the past), and on training philosophy and plans in the
F101 (the future).
Groups that are grad student-heavy tend to score highest. PhD > MSc > postdoc
> undergraduate > research assistant/technician (partly a function of time-ingroup, but more “extent-to-which-you’re-responsible-for-this-person’s-training”).
As far as outcomes for undergrads: jobs and grad school are seen as positives.
Professional programs are seen as neutral. “Unknown” and “name withheld” are
seen to indicate a lack of interest. Unemployed HQP are seen negatively.
The most influential reviewers tend to be successful, conscientious, mid-career
The best reviews are balanced: they highlight the strong points and the
weaknesses of the proposal.
People who like you but are blandly positive without explaining why are ignored.
People who dislike you but are negative without explaining why are ignored.
Don’t pick reviewers who are in the EG!
Do pick Canadian, DG-funded reviewers, unless you know an international
person who understands the NSERC system.
Try to avoid reviewers who are up for DG renewal in the same year as you.
Suggested reviewers get used a LOT (especially ex-EG members)…
… but remember each person can only do 3 DGs maximum.
Being a reviewer…
Your expertise and reliability is being gauged by the committee every time you act
as a reviewer. People who write prompt, well-researched, succinct and frank
appraisals get a good reputation.

similar documents