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Welcome to the "learning from NFR proposal failures" Wiki !

What's the point of this?

There's nothing more annoying than getting a review back from Forskningsrådet (NFR) that's generally favourable, with high scores, and only minor details being criticized, and then nevertheless not getting any funding. I know that, I've had this a few times. I suspect that NFR tends to use quite few reviewers per proposal, which means that luck plays a greater role, as a minor detail giving a minus point somewhere can make all the difference.

Hence, a checklist of general mistakes to avoid is probably useful.

Here comes a catalogue of statements from NFR proposal rejection letters that are generic, i.e. not about the specific idea being proposed. Please feel free to statements to this list!

The list

Generic reviewer statements from NFR proposal rejections

[proposal names will be removed when the first version of this list is complete!]

    • This project is an international cooperation (..). However, the proposal does not provide much detail on how this international consortium will be managed. [MOROCCOv2]
    • The project manager main research so far has been in the area of [different from proposal theme]. He has a strong experience in [irrelevant], but less so in [proposal theme]. The support from the external members will be significant at least in the areas of [proposal theme]. More details regarding the supervision of PhD students should have been given in the proposal. [MOROCCOv2]
    • No work package is dedicated to the integration of WP1 and WP2, the evaluation of the results, the project management and the dissemination, which can constitute a risk for the implementation. [MOROCCOv2]
    • The management structure is not sufficiently described. [MOROCCOv2]
    • The proposal is rather vague about the division of research tasks and responsibilities between team members. [MOROCCOv2]

Final words

Here's some kind of FAQ... not that anyone really asked a question, let alone frequently  :-) ...but the style seems to fit:

  • Isn't this useless, isn't it just about the quality of the idea? Will good proposals really fail only because of a minor detail? I do believe that reviewers who don't like an idea will find negative points in a proposal and vice versa. So, minor details are usually just that – minor. Yet, trust me, I've had proposals that received top scores across the board except for one or two of the details above - and bam, no money. Certainly, a successful proposal is about having a good idea and a good plan to work on it, convincingly described! The list above is only a small element of the whole thing - but it's also easy to make this catalogue, and easy (and probably useful) to apply.
  • Why not make this page more general, instead of focusing on NFR proposals only? Papers and other proposals are different. In case of papers, good venues tend to give constructive feedback, and the next opportunity to use this feedback is right ahead - different from NFR, where there may not be another suitable call at all, or the next call is around a year later. European proposals are a different ballgame too: there is so much more focus on the management side of things, proposals dedicate more space to this kind of text - so, it doesn't seem very useful to me to make (yet another) catalogue of all the general things to consider for EC proposals.
  • Why this page, are you just a grumpy failure man? No no, not grumpy. Failure, sure, I've had my share, but I've also had success. So this is based on experience, both failing and succeeding, in two national funding bodies and the EC. I just felt that this is a constructive (and easy) thing to do.
  • Who are you anyway? Michael.

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