Frustrating Funding Feedback – is there any other kind?

If you’re a researcher with even the smallest amount of experience, then you’re no stranger to rejection. It goes with the territory and the ups and downs of the application cycle is something to which we all have to adjust.

When it comes to rejection, perhaps the most frustrating thing about it all is the paucity of feedback. Many hundreds of hours collectively go into a single funding application. They are, of course, the work of the PI and collaborators primarily, but also finance people, R&D staff, possibly input from a CTU and, often, research advisers like myself. It is disheartening to learn that, after all this work, a project has been rejected. And it is beyond frustrating to see that the rejection of all this effort boils down to a few short bullet points on the rejection letter.

Of course I understand the sheer volume of applications that funders get and the pressure of the time limits under which they work. And, of course, different funders do offer different levels of feedback. Many programmes, RfPB for example, will send the PI the outcome letter with the ‘bullet points of doom’ and also include the reviews the application received.

The reviewers’ comments can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be gratifying to read the positive comments made by the reviewers in the face of an overall rejection by the funder. However, it can also be incredibly frustrating to realize that these positive comments were seemingly over looked by the panel and that the discussion obviously took a very different path. And when the bullet points don’t seem to match up with any of the reviewers comments, then you can be left rather bemused by the whole process.

At this point, I can understand the temptation to throw in the towel. And, for some projects, this probably is the end of the road.

However, this isn’t always the right move. If this was the project’s first rejection, then it is worth looking through all the feedback and identifying where changes could and should be made. I have seen many projects funded on their second or even third attempts. Indeed, many research teams benefit from getting the feedback about their project, however sparse it may seem, and being forced to rethink their original design. Although RfPB do not implement a time limit on resubmissions, other NIHR programmes do. However, this too is to the benefit of the project – in reality, you will need those 12 months to properly re-design the project and re-draft the application into something that is fundable.

Consult with your co-applicants and do get in contact with your local RDS. Even if you didn’t use an RDS in your first application, we would be happy to help with another attempt to secure funding. It is likely that this consultation alone will allow you to address some of the issues raised by the funding panel.

Research that comes from the right place – that is patient-centred, appropriately designed and proposed by a strong research team – is rarely entirely un-fundable.

Don’t let rejection get you down; just regroup, redesign and resubmit.