Bad Reviews

Posted on December 6, 2007

In the grantwriting game, ego bruising is par for the course, notes David Klahr (bio).


When I get a bad review back, first I get really angry, and then I get really sad, and then I put the review in a drawer. I'm so angry I can't even read it. I literally cannot read it. All I see is, "I'm sorry to say ..." Forget it, and I've been doing this for 30, 40 years and I still hate to get a negative review. Your ego is always easily punctured, and I know this is true about a lot of my colleagues.

I once gave a talk to our grad students about the review process and I think I figured out that you can do the math that, if you're fairly productive and you submit maybe three or four papers a year to journals, and each paper generates maybe three reviews, so you're going to get ten reviews back a year. And each review might be a page or two long, so you got like ten or fifteen pages of negative stuff every year, and you're in your career for 30 years, you're going to get 300 pages of nasty stuff said about you over your career. You just better be prepared for it.

And sometimes they're right. Sometimes you've just done a bad job. I was funded by NIH. I had an R01 for, I think, 13 or 15 years, and it was time for renewal, and I wrote up my 15 pages and I sent it in, and it came back and they said, "This guy has a great reputation. Blah, blah, blah. He does all these great studies, but he really didn't describe all his studies very well past the first year," and I should know better. I knew that and so these reviews came back and they said, "You're not funded," and I thought, "You're right. It's a lousy proposal." I just got lazy. I sort of said, "Trust me. You've been giving me money all these years. Give me some more," and that isn't going to work at NICHD.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2007 SRCD Biennial Meeting in Boston, MA.


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