As aspiring academics, rejection is just one of those things we have to get used to- many excellent peer-reviewed papers, academic book proposals, and of course grant applications went through multiple rounds of “no” before the final “yes.” Within this process of “revise and resubmit,” the reviewer comments given for a previous submission can become our best tool to make future proposals more effective. The guidelines below will help you get started!
Do read the reviewer feedback as soon as you are able to do so. While you may be upset about the rejection itself, reading the reviewer comments can help to frame the funding decision for you and give you a clear direction forward.
Don’t take the reviewer comments personally. In most cases, reviewers are well-meaning colleagues who have taken time out of their busy schedules to provide feedback on your proposal. As with other types of feedback, their comments can help you identify places where your research proposal itself needs work, or just ones where your ideas aren’t clearly communicated in the writing.
Do share the proposal and reviewer comments with a friend or colleague with an outside perspective (such as a GradFund Fellowship Advisor). Someone without an attachment to the project or the outcomes of the funding competition will be able to help you understand the comments and connect them to specific points or ideas in the proposal narrative.
Do set up a time to discuss the reviewer comments with your faculty advisor. He or she has a deeper reservoir of disciplinary knowledge that may help you understand some of the feedback, and can help you begin to plan for the necessary steps toward revisions.
Do contact the program officer if you have any questions about the feedback given by the reviewers. While he or she may not know for sure what the reviewer meant by a specific comment, they may be able to provide clarification from the funder’s perspective.
Don’t assume that superficial changes, even if they make up the bulk of the comments, will be sufficient to win funding in the next competition. While editing sentence structures or defining terminology are easy fixes to make, proposals are often unfunded due to deeper theoretical or methodological concerns. Be honest with yourself about the difficult questions reviewers may be asking about your work, and seek help from your advisor and committee in grappling with these big-picture concerns.
Do give yourself plenty of time to plan your revisions. Fully responding to reviewer comments may take a few months of careful thinking, significant reading, and a few frank discussions with your advisor before you even begin to edit your document.
Don’t confine yourself to editing the original document you submitted during the previous grant or fellowship competition. The smoothest and quickest path to “revision” may include starting over in a new document to implement a new structure or carry a theme more fully throughout the entire proposal.
Do resubmit! Many award competitions allow and encourage resubmissions of previously unfunded proposals, and revising according to reviewer comments can set you above the bar for success!