Monday, November 22, 2010

More fails... (aka: no VR grant awarded)

I failed to get a VR grant in 2010. The arguments are interesting:

My competence
    The applicant had published 15 papers in mostly low impact journals.

True, the top journals in my field (chemometrics, cheminformatics) do not have very high impact factor, because the field is less eager to add 100+ citations to each journal paper, nor is the field know to be popular enough for Nature, Science, etc.

    Two of these are highly cited.

Indeed. I recently blogged about that. Mind you, 46 citations is not highly cited, even though it exceeds the impact factor of Nature and Science.

    This is quite impressive for such a young scientist (PhD in 2008).

But, of course, that does not matter. It's surely not about impression, right?

    His PhD work (in Netherlands) and his postdoctoral work (in Uppsala) is actually all on the same project ...

This is where the reviewers show some disrespect, I believe. Apparently, they have not taken it as one of the responsibilities to actually check what I have done. My PhD work was partly in the UK (Cambridge), and I have done postdoctoral work in the Netherlands and Germany too.

On the same project? Well, depends on how you look at it. Surely, cheminformatics, QSAR, statistics, etc, is all the same. Same for crystallography, NMR, etc. One big pile of science. Again, I feel the reviewers took their responsibility of reviewing very narrow.

    ... and with the same collaborators.

Wow... that's impressive, right? And I was always thinking that international collaboration was positive. But apparently not if you have long term, successful collaborations. WTF??

    The role of the applicant in relationship to Prof X and the other developers is not clear.

OK, I should have made it clearer how the other scientists are involved.

    However the backgrounds is definitely adequate for the suggested project but the applicant lack in independency.

(Carefully transcribed.)

This is an interesting point, and nicely outlines how the current academic system works. As post-docs you are forced to hop around from one funded project to another, hoping to get funding. Until you do, you are working on other PIs project with predefined topic.

Project quality
    The main focus of the project is software development of Bioeclips in collaboration with X and others.

No, if you read the proposal, the project is about statistical method development, and Bioclipse (not Bioeclips) is used as platform to make it look like Excel so that the average scientist understands it. That distinction is difficult, even for scholars.

    The application is mainly about managing errors in observations and processing, annotation and propagation of these.

Indeed! Well copied from the proposal's abstract.

    Expected outcome is identification of processing errors, and potentials for improvement in the data handling.

The reviewers got it almost right. I have not written up clearly enough that the main improvement is finding the source of the error, which we all know is the (biological) experiment and the average scholar inadequacy to do data handling (think Excel).

    Although the development might be of real importance the application does not show a significant scientific component, neither from a computational not from a life science perspective.

This quite puzzles me, as we had very strongly written all over this proposal: metabolomics, metabolomics, metabolomics! With applications including metabolite identification, with experimental partners.

Have they actually read the proposal?

Project quality

    The background and competence of the applicant should ensure success.

So, why not fund me? Read on...

    The applicant requires compliance of users and buy-in from scientific community.

I guess my work is not cited enough to show that my work is actually used. Anyone using the CDK here?

    Although some indication that this will happen is provided...

I guess this reflects to the international collaborations I listed in the proposal.

    ... this is not ensured

Therefore, rejected. Scores: bra (2 out of 5) and låg (2/5).


  1. Hi Egon,

    depressing indeed, but exactly what we have discussed so often over beer. There is no recognition in tool and infrastructure development, because "it isn't science". If - whatever your proposal was - was reviewed by chemists, even chemoinformaticians, you have no hope of getting them to understand the process of technology development either (every technology needs to get buy-in and just because buy-in is not assured doesn't mean one shouldn't do it). We both know enough "chemoinformaticians" who build careeers out of pressing the "Dock now" button or spend their lives calculating transition states of inane molecules. Apparently that is science.
    Had you been in a computer science department or gotten reviewed by a comp sci or engineer, the assessment might have been quite different...but that is a question of pure luck.
    Bottom line is: the tool developers don't win, the triplifiers don't win, the infrastructure builders don't win (wrong as that often is): you'll only win if you manage to take all of that stuff and apply it to a real "scientific" problem.
    Apologies for flogging that particular dead horse once again....but the feedback you shared is just another datapoint confirming all that....

  2. Egon, thank you for blogging this, it is a sobering reminder of what science is like as a career path. Slogging away for 10 years, and then you still have to fight for your right to exist.

    Although I'm sure you've been very cautious in making some of the review comments public maybe run it past some colleges, to get a sense of balance ? That being said I think transparency is a good rather than bad think here, very helpful for others going through the same process.

    As for funding tool development, that discussion has been around since I started grad school. Pitch your work in terms of the scientific (biological) question, and your track record answering it. Sneak the tools/infrastructure in through the back-door (advice given to me). Even with growing awareness of the need to fund tool/infrastructure development on an equal basis, evidently that cultural shift still hasn't happened yet.

    My comments should be considered in light of the fact that I maybe be missing some context here, given the specific grant etc. I'm sure there will be other avenues for securing funding for your work.

  3. The metabolomics was the biological pitch, and extra stressed in this proposal. But they saw software somewhere and jumped to conclusions...

    Thanx both for the support!

  4. Sorry to hear, Egon. I know the feeling of course.

    However, you should not overanalyse the comments or be amazed at them. From what people have told me, in practice reviewers make an overall decision on whether or not to support the grant, and then try to find comments to justify their decision.

  5. Noel, I read in your comments that the system is just hopelessly broken... everywhere... should we not stand up then, and make a point of wasting money on a system that does not work? Can we even afford this loss of resources in a time like this?

    I'm not amazed, just greatly disturbed...

  6. Hello Egon,

    I want you to know that I am a regular reader of your blog and I really appreciate the work you do for science and for the open source community, despite of what these government institutions say about that.
    Also, I think that the exact problem you are referring to is now picked up by scientists and, more importantly, by the major publishers. Hopefully, ten years from now we will have something like a Scientist Impact Factor which summarizes our blog, wiki, database curation, nanopublication, programming and publication contributions to science, and we'll see what you get then!



  7. You can add my software, PaDEL-Descriptor to your list of software which depends on CDK.

    I also recently had a grant rejection. It was a re-submission and I thought I had already addressed all of the previous concerns. Strangely, it was the reviewer who supported my initial submission that killed my re-submission. But oh well, just have to try other grants or think of other projects.

    Good luck on your next grant submission.

  8. Hi Yap, yes, annoying indeed! I blogged about your PaDEL paper today, only very briefly, focusing on the Table 2 well done!

    BTW, I sent an email, and would like to hear how I can help you if you are still interested in contributing your new descriptors into the main library.