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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 in text, perhaps also with high scores, only minor details being criticized, and then nevertheless not getting any funding. I know that, I've had this a few times.

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

This is a catalogue of statements from NFR proposal rejection letters that are generic, i.e. not about the specific idea being proposed. This should help future proposal writing efforts. Please feel free to add 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!]

    • The proposal does not consider alternative Future Internet approaches. [OCARINA]
    • The proposal also mentions analytic evaluations, but does not become specific there. [OCARINA]
    • The number of requested PhD students might be at the upper edge for this work. [OCARINA]
    • 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]
    • Research methods are not well defined. [CATRINA]
    • In a few cases, the concrete results, e.g., simulation model, prototype etc. are not given in sufficient detail. [CATRINA]
    • Dissemination is rather standard, i.e. dissemination activities are mainly based on publications in journals and international conferences. [CATRINA]
    • The scientific method limits itself to the experimental space, complementary analytic alternatives are not considered. Scientific achievements are expected more on experimental developments rather than on theoretical aspects. [IC-RAIN]
    • How the project will differentiate from other approaches is not described in detail. [IC-RAIN]
    • The technological impact is described, which is however not the case for the impact on / importance for society. [IC-RAIN]
    • Outstanding impact on research community is not fully convincing in view of the reference list provided, since most of them are of the research team without a significant number of non self-cites. [IC-RAIN]
    • There is a lack of KPIs for dissemination activities. [IC-RAIN]
    • But there is a lack of information about contacts to standardisation channels. [IC-RAIN]
    • Also, the potential exploitation of the research results is not addressed. [IC-RAIN]
    • It is, however, not clear who will advise the researcher to be hired during Phase 1. [IC-RAIN]
    • It is not clear how they will collaborate in the project, but there is a plan of exchange visits and the intention to submit joint publications. [IC-RAIN]
    • On the one hand, the existence of a solid set of initial results reduces the risk that the project fails in achieving its planned goals. On the other hand, though, it makes the proposal somewhat incremental, reducing its creativity and originality. [RAMIFY]
    • The quantitative goals defined in the proposal seem realistic, but somewhat vaguely specified not very ambitious (20% improvement over state of the art does not seem a ground-breaking result, nor it is clear what metrics will be used to quantify the improvement). [RAMIFY]
    • The proposed research directions are clearly innovative, but the goals seem somewhat incremental rather than truly ground-breaking. [RAMIFY]
    • Some more details on how some of the questions are going to be tackled might have been useful [DiReQT].
    • Better explaining how this project will generate impact on Internet standards would strengthen the proposal. [DiReQT]
    • The proposal can be strengthened though by better explaining its groundbreaking nature and generalisability. [DiReQT]

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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