Unsubmitted fellowship application
The reason has nothing to do with me or the proposal: I simply (?) could not find a university to support the application. NWO requires that either the host university provides you with employment, or a Dutch institute has to employ you and then send you abroad. I was clear early on that UCSB would not offer me a contract, because the Rubicon does not cover overhead costs (seriously NWO, fix this!). Sadly for me, no Dutch institute was willing to support me either, because they were worried about possible additional costs like unemployment: if I would not have a job after the Rubicon, the university would need to pay part of my benefits.
I am still baffled by this, because I have colleagues in the same field who have received a Rubicon, which means that universities do not refuse this on principle. The only reason I can think of is that I was already working at an institute abroad, and so I was not asking for support from my own university, but as an external. It was an education though. I learned a lot about how to write a grant application, but more importantly, I learned that if you plan to apply for a grant, you have to tick off the finances and bureaucracy well in advance. They are an unseen but essential part of the workings of academia.
Rejected fellowship application
Despite all that effort, the review committee rejected it at the first stage. One reviewer thought it was good, although not excellent, and should go to interview stage, but the other two thought it was not competitive. Partly that was because they felt I did not have a good enough CV yet, as I did not have grants or papers published in medical journals. But mainly they just did not think the proposal was any good.
The rejection came as a disappointment, but not as a shock. I had never written for this audience before and as much support as I had from my line manager, I was still trying to figure out how a wheel works while inventing one at the same time. Because two reviewers gave detailed comments, I have a far better understanding of what it takes to write an application that is right for this audience, that addresses the questions they want answered in a way that is clear to them. So where I had to start from scratch this time, I will have a good idea where to start next time. And that will save me a lot of work and make the experience a lot less frustrating.
Rejected after Revise & Resubmit
Rejections are a natural part of academia. It happens to all of us. But we rarely see it coming. And to have a paper rejected after making significant revisions feels even worse. Essentially, the reviewers are telling you that you did not listen or do your job properly. Or so it feels. I quickly realized the reviewers were correct. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you do not get it right. There is no shame in that. Rejection is still frustrating, of course, but the reviewers engaged extensively with our work, which means there that we get to profit from their insights and ideas.
Live and learn
That is easier said than done, but it is a lesson I am trying to learn. I reworked the failed NIHR application and submitted to the Wellcome Trust, and I am working with my line manager to submit a similar proposal to a different funding scheme of NIHR. I’m working with my co-author to rework our paper, and we are more enthusiastic than before. All of these might fail again, but if that happens, at least I will have a few anecdotes when I write this blog again next year.