How does one approach providing feedback to peers on grant and fellowship application drafts? This summer, many of you will be participating in the Graduate Funding Mentoring Program where you will work with peers to develop competitive application essays. The following advice is meant to guide through process of both giving and receiving critical feedback.
A first rule of thumb is to stay constructive and positive throughout the process. Start by acknowledging the work the student has done, and make sure to point out the specific parts of the drafts that you find most effective. Did you like the moments you indicated because you found them clear, insightful or intriguing? Often, the moments of promise, especially in early drafts will be those that articulate the research objective of the student writing the proposal.
After identifying the strengths of the application draft, aim to locate at least two to three areas for improvement. Assess, for example, the organization of the essay to determine if the information needs to be presented in a different sequence. At times, applicants for external funding will wait until the conclusion of the document to present their career goals or key research objectives. If you find essential moments of the essay located in the middle of a body paragraph or passively tacked on to the conclusion, encourage the applicant to relocate these fragments more strategically.
While these are suggestions for the process of providing feedback, there are also principles that will enable you to optimize the critical comments you receive on your work. First, make sure that you are clear on what the feedback is saying. If there is something you don’t understand clearly, consider reaching out to your peer reviewer for further clarification. Second, aim not to take the constructive criticism personally and not to be discouraged when weaknesses in your application essays are revealed. Because the mentoring program falls well before the majority of application deadlines, you will have plenty of time to improve your work and submit a polished product to your funder.