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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / January 2019 / Research Roundup: Dealing with Failure and an Unfunded Grant Application

Research Roundup: Dealing with Failure and an Unfunded Grant Application

News Article by Steve Dewhurst, Vice Dean for Research

It’s something we rarely talk about: how it feels when a grant application isn’t funded. And yet, it’s by far the most common outcome for any such submission – an unavoidable consequence of paylines that are in the low teens or single digits.

The months between the submission of a grant and its review pass surprisingly quickly. And then time slows to a crawl.  The self-doubt and self-criticism become more insistent.  And hope flickers – such a fragile thing, in the end.

Recently, after submitting a grant application, I found myself logging onto the NIH website every day after the review panel had met, to see if the scores had been posted.  Eventually, they appeared.

This particular grant isn’t going to be funded.

It’s a horrible feeling.  A private hurt that’s immeasurably hard to share with colleagues, family and friends. That’s because the narrative is one of failure.

But, I’ve chosen to write about it anyway – because we’ve all been here.  Because shame thrives in secrecy and loses its power when we talk about it (something I learned from Brené Brown).

What has helped is input from friends. One wrote:  “Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad you did. As Directors etc., we don’t share enough of the worries, the worthiness/unworthiness and the vulnerabilities that things like grants.... bring to the work and to our sense of ourselves as ‘good’ researchers, colleagues, leaders and people.”

She went on to say: “I wish I had great advice. I have nothing. Except that you are a good person, a good mentor.... and whatever happens, you will still be those things. If you receive the grant, you know what your work will be; if you don’t, you will have new and different work to do.”

She’s right.

It’s also true that a life in science requires resilience -- the ability to pick oneself up after a fall and to learn and improve from failure.  No one ever said that it would be easy.

In a few weeks, the summary statement will be released and I’ll start thinking (with my colleagues) about ways to address the reviewers’ concerns.  Until then, I’ll keep a space in my heart for these words of Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Steve’s article Dealing with Failure and an Unfunded Grant Application was originally published on URMC’s Intranet and faculty@urmc

Tracey Baas | 1/15/2019

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