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Fractured Prism

Welcome to the Fractured Prism. This is my domain (I love the sound of that, kind of like my kingdom), where I will share reflections of the many facets of my life. At the very least, I am a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, homemaker, teacher, counselor, and grant writer. Through the years, I have been professionally cut and polished or just accidental fractured into thousands of pieces and have thoughts about them all. I have found that I am writing for many reasons but mostly to share my small bits of wisdom. Come back often because each reflection will be different. My ultimate goal is to have a place where grant writers, grant reviewers and funders can network. So if you are into grant writing or grant reviewing please leave your name and email. Linda Beason

Peer Reviews

The peer review section is provided for those who are interested in being peer reviewers. I am not sure that all the contact information is current but you can always call the office and get current information.

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Category: Peer Reviewer Tips

GRANT REVIEWS/APPLICATION WEBSITES

This was written by an experienced reviewer, Lyn Whitehead.  It has a lot of good information and links to reviews.  Thanks Lyn for sharing! 

I decided to put this together for my friends that are interested in applying to become grant/peer reviewers for the Federal government. Let me know if you have any questions but here are a few things to consider:

In order to expedite the process, make sure you send them ALL the info they request, such as resumes, writing samples, etc., in addition to the application. It often takes a while to get selected for a review, so you don’t want to further hinder the process.

Opportunities are available for those that both, like to travel and for those that prefer to do reviews at home.

If you want to do reviews onsite, they are usually held in Wash. DC, VA or MD. All flights are paid for in advance and you will be reimbursed for food. Most of the reviews I’ve been to provide a breakfast and lunch buffet and you pay for dinner on your own. The per diem reimbursement for dinner is about $36 if I remember correctly. For those that don’t provide any meals, reimbursement is about $73. You are also responsible for any parking, baggage and other fees, but they will be reimbursed.

If you want to do reviews at home, make sure you have a working computer, a landline phone, a printer, a fax machine or scanner, and a quiet place to have your phone conferences.

All of the agencies listed here provide stipends unless otherwise stated. They generally range from $150 to $300 per day. For onsite reviews, many agencies pay on the last day of the review. Some (such as OVW) send a check within 4-6 weeks. Homebased reviews generally send your check within 60 days.

I do have my personal preferences. 1) I prefer onsite because I love a free trip and it’s easier to get the work done without distractions. PLUS—you get your paycheck before you leave! 2) My favorite agencies to work for are OVW and DOL. I’ve enjoyed OVW because the logistics people are terrific; the reading and scoring is easy; and they pay the most! DOL has an easy review process as well and they pay a decent sum compared to others as well.

The review season for many agencies is Feb. through August. Some, such as HRSA, review throughout the year, but you should apply to all the agencies for the best chances of getting selected this year.

To learn more about general grant writing, volunteer to review proposals at your local United Way. They don’t pay anything but it’s great for networking.

Here are some links for more reading about the review process and more links to applications:

HAPPY REVIEWING!!!

 

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“How to Become a Grant Reviewer”

This is a link to an excellent article about peer reviewing by Karen M. Markin, who is director of research development at the University of Rhode Island’s research office.

http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Become-a-Grant-Reviewer/45846/

“How to Become a Grant Reviewer”

Do the people who review grant proposals really care about the font size when the science is brilliant? Do they actually notice the laptop that you included in your budget plan?

When reviewers gather to evaluate grant proposals, they usually do so privately, making those sessions a rich source of academic folklore. The best way to find out what a review session is really like is to participate in one yourself. Being a junior faculty member need not be an obstacle. Many different organizations need grant proposals reviewed, and with a little effort, you can probably find a gig.

Agencies typically look for people with expertise in the field of activity that a given round of proposals will support. That field of activity, though, may be broadly defined, so don’t fret about not specializing in the same subfield, such as organic versus analytical chemistry. A proposal for an organic-chemistry project may not be reviewed by a panel consisting entirely of chemists, let alone chemists in the same area of specialty. Also, research is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, and review panels often cover a range of disciplines rather than a few highly specialized subfields.

An agency seeks out reviewers in several ways. Sometimes it actively recruits them. It scans lists of the authors of papers at major scientific conferences or the authors of recent scholarly articles in the field. Agencies have been known to find reviewers through Google searches. In addition, many agencies accept applications to be a reviewer. Information and tools on their Web sites have made it easier to volunteer your services.

Reviewing proposals can require a substantial amount of work, so be sure you have the time before accepting an invitation to serve as a panelist. Find out how many grant proposals you will have to read, how long they are, and how much time you will get to review them.

It’s important that you be able to spend an adequate amount of time on the task. Have you ever gotten back a review of your grant proposal that made you think, “They didn’t even read this”? A cursory review helps no one. Budget your time accordingly.

The Review Process

Proposals reviews are carried out in several ways. In some cases, the agency assembles a panel of reviewers at its office. As a reviewer, you receive a batch of proposals ahead of time so you can read and evaluate them. Each reviewer is likely to be responsible for presenting several of the proposals to the panel as a whole, with a recommendation about whether to fund it. The whole panel then considers the project and makes its decision.

A number of scenarios can develop in panel discussions. The lead reviewer may support a proposal, but a fellow panelist may find a problem with its methodology or some other aspect of the project. Depending on how severe that problem is — or whether other panelists perceive it as a problem — the proposal may ultimately be rejected.

Sometimes the lead reviewer recommends rejection, in which case the project’s only hope is that someone else will read it and feel strongly enough to advocate for it. Occasionally, a majority of panel members support a proposal, but one person is vehemently opposed to it for a flaw that others don’t see. That person may have expertise in an area that no one else does. One strong detractor can sink an otherwise popular proposal.

As you can see, the process is not easily predictable, and it is subject to the influence of the personalities of those involved. Keep that in mind the next time a proposal you have made is rejected: It probably had nothing to do with you personally and a lot to do with the mix of people serving on that particular panel.

That is not to say that proposal review is purely a game of chance. Most of the time the outstanding proposals shine through, and the clunkers are quickly identified and eliminated.

But there are a lot of proposals in between, with a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and that’s where much of the debate takes place. And as grant money gets tighter due to shrinking federal appropriations, review panels will be forced to split finer and finer hairs to make funding decisions.

In some review sessions, panelists stay at their own offices and evaluate grant proposals by conference call. In other cases, they mail in their critiques. As budgets are cut, agencies are looking for less expensive ways to conduct reviews.

You won’t make much money reviewing grant proposals, but the work will pay off. The agency typically will cover your expenses if you need to travel to a panel, and it may give you a small honorarium.

The value is in the experience itself. You will see what is expected of successful grant requests. You will meet other faculty members active in your field, and read proposals for work at the vanguard of the discipline. You can have the kind of intellectual discussion that many are seeking in academe but seldom have, what with grading papers and serving on committees.

Ultimately, the experience can help you to prepare better proposals and obtain grant money for your own work.

For more from Karen, follow this link:

http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Become-a-Grant-Reviewer/45846/

 

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Conjunction Junction (music G5 plays while you are on hold)

Home from a tiring DOED review but it was a great experience.  Once again I reconnected with old friends and made new ones—all of whom I want to work with again!  Worked very hard but had time for a few nice dinners and visiting with friends. 

The review was organized and on track.  Can’t say as much about G5.  As usual the system waited until the worst of times to act really nasty.  I did not have problems at home but had to call the help desk every time I tried to connect at hotel (listened to Conjunction Junction for hours).  I will pass along one tip (that everyone else figured out long before me) that helped with the problem.  I installed Mozilla Firefox and used it instead of Internet Explorer and didn’t have any more problems.  Too bad I didn’t know that on Monday, Tuesday or most of Wednesday.

Hope to see everyone next round!

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Federal Funding Update for Youth Programs – Your Call to Action!

PLEASE READ!!!!  These are wonderful programs that we need to keep.

On Saturday, February 19 the House passed H.R. 1, its funding proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2011.  The House’s proposal includes $100 billion in cuts compared to the President’s FY 2011 budget. The proposal includes zeroing out the following youth programs: Mentoring Children of Prisoners, YouthBuild, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Community Grants, Teach for America, and State Grants for Incarcerated Youth.  It also significantly cuts the Corporation for National and Community Service, Juvenile Justice programs, Head Start and 21st Century Learning Centers.

For a complete list of cuts and reductions, you can click here: http://appropriations.house.gov/_files/ProgramCutsFY2011ContinuingResolution.pdf

The steep cuts set up a potential marathon spending battle with the Senate that, if not resolved by March 4th, could result in the first shut-down of the federal government in more than 20 years. 
What Will Happen Next:
According to Youth Today, “Who delivers the message will also matter. It will likely fall to champions of youth programs in the Senate to hold the line on any spending. ‘The Senate’s going to need to buck up, and it’s our responsibility to help them buck up,’ said Seth Turner, senior director of government affairs for Goodwill Industries. ‘Anybody being quiet is going to get creamed’.”
Since the House passed H.R. 1, focus will now turn toward the Senate. It remains to be seen how the two chambers will reconcile their differences. However, youth organizations must ensure that ALL Members of Congress understand how important it is to protect programs serving at-risk youth.
The National Alliance recommends programs  MAKE A LOT OF NOISE, so Congress understands that current allocations are simply not enough to serve this vulnerable population and to address the effects of the recession.  Additional youth advocacy organizations suggest:
Contact the youth/children staff members in your Representatives’ AND Senators’ Washington, DC offices. Call THIS WEEK.  Use a sample letter or sample talking points as a model. For example, BBBS.org or EndHomlessness.org.
If you’ve already called, that’s okay – call again! Now that there is a specific bill passed, you have something to respond to.
Report any responses from you or your networks to your national advocacy groups so your voice is part of many.

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Expectations of Grant Reviewers

“Expectations of Grant Reviewers Throughout the Evaluation”  by the US Department of Education Administration for Children and Families

This site has a good overview of what is expected from peer reviewers:

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/grantreview/expectations/read_expectations_fig4.html

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How to Find Programs That Need Peer Reviewers

Now is the time to register to become a peer reviewer for a variety of health, justice and community service grant programs and earn anywhere from $800 to $2,000 for a few days of work.  I list all that I find in my blogs but am always searching for new ones. 

I just discovered a new way to find programs, that match your expertise, that may need peer reviewers.  First you go to this site:

http://www.usa.gov/Agencies/Federal/All_Agencies/index.shtml

Then you select the agency that you are interested in and type “peer reviewers” in the agencies’ search boxes.  If they have posted an announcement seeking peer reviewers, it will come up.  If that fails you can at least get a contact’s name and email them to see if they have grants and use peer reviewers.

Let me know if this works for you!  Always looking for new leads.

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Pet Peeves about other Peer Reviewers!

YOU with the excuses…I am talking to you!

First of all, DO NOT work in the system…the system will go down or time out and you will lose your work!  Work in a Word document and cut and paste it into the system.    

Secondly, make a hard copy when you finish each application and before you panel.  It will save you time and frustration and make your other panel members so happy because they do not have to wait for you to boot up your computer and find your work as they sit twidling (OK, how do you spell it?) their thumbs.  Hard copies are magic!  Presto, you have your comments and scores right in front of you immediately!

And finally, don’t make excuses…do your work and be on time!  Locked out of the system at the last minute…quit whining and start earlier next time so then you have time to call tech support.

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Tips for Peer Reviewers: How to Write Effective Comments

Peer reviewers are required to provide comments regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each application. As a peer reviewer, you should be as specific as possible. General statements such as “This is a good program” are not helpful.  Reviewers must evaluate why it is a good program based on the selection criteria.  Comments should include “qualifiers”.  A qualifier is basically an adjective that describes the “extent to which” a selection criterion has been met.

 For example, the 2010 TRIO Student Support Services grant program starts with the following selection criteria:

Evaluate the need for a Student Support Services project proposed at the applicant institution on the basis of the extent to which the application contains clear evidence of –

(1) A high number or percentage, or both, of students enrolled or accepted for enrollment at the applicant institution who meet the eligibility requirements    

 Sample comment about a nonexistant applicant:

1.  The applicant clearly demonstrates and documents a high number or percentage of students who meet the Student Support Services (SSS) program eligibility requirements at the institution.  According to the university’s Office of Enrollment and the Financial Aid Office, the total enrollment for fall, 2009-2010 was 5,043.  That office also reports that eighty-three percent (83%) of the incoming freshmen population are SSS eligible.   The student body is composed of over seventy-seven percent (77%) low income students as determined by the number of students qualifying for need-based financial aid during the past three-year period. Approximately sixty-eight (68%) are first generation students and five (5%) are disabled.

In order to know if “eligibility requirements” have been met, the reviewer has to know those requirements!  Have the application guidelines and requirements in front of you and refer back to them often.

Address each selection criteria and sub-criteria with a strength and a weakness.  If there is not a strength or weakness, post the comment, “No strengths noted.”  or “No weaknesses noted.” 

Note that the applicant is not addressed by name.  This is the method preferred by most departments.

Note that the first sentence has a “qualifier” that states that the applicant “clearly demonstrates”.  This is true because they list the source of their information and the data is current. 

All sentences should be complete with spelling and grammar correct.

In this sample, the applicant does not have a weakness so the score would be total.  The comment gives examples of why the information is strong (e.g., current statistics from listed sources). Make sure your score is supported by your comments. If you give an application a high score, you should have lots of comments in the strengths sections and few or no comments in the weaknesses sections. However, if you make only a few comments under the weaknesses section but they are about critically important issues (e.g., “the budget was missing”), the assigned score must reflect this.

Do not, under any circumstances, write in first person and never ever give an opinion!  Do not even refer to yourself as “this reviewer”.  All comments are an evaluation of how well the applicant addressed the selection criteria.  None of the “it would have been better if…” stuff.  You should simply state why a particular issue is a weakness so that the applicant will know how to improve in that area.  You evaluate strictly on the information provided.  Make all comments tactful and constructive.  Do not use comments such as “it seems like”. 

It is important that you do your work in Word and then cut and paste your comments into whatever system the funding department is using.  All of the online systems that I have worked in tend to go crazy just at the height of your stress.  Nothing sends a reviewer over the edge faster than losing hours of work because the system went down.  I intend to write another blog soon about tips for writing your comments in Word.  Little tricks you need to know!

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The Hybrid Peer Review

This type of review consists of reading applications, evaluating them , writing the comments and then posting comments on the funding department’s website (usually G5).  Following that you spend a few days (3-5) in Washington DC paneling and making corrections.  For me this procedure has much less stress than the onsite or at-home process.

The review starts with a phone orientation or “webinar” where the department goes over all the program requirements and their expectations.  This generally is 2-3 hours long.  Be sure and mute your phone so that a large number of reviewers do not hear things going on in your home that you really might not want them to hear.  I don’t think I’ll pass along any examples as they still make me shudder. 

The applications may be mailed to you or you may download them from the department’s website.  Perhaps this is the place to mention that the websites do make some people pull their hair out and disappear into the night never to be heard from again.  I would say that 75 percent of the time they work as expected (which is not to say they are good, just average).  The other 25 percent— let’s just say it is problematic.  The good news is that the technical staff is very helpful.

You should always write your comments in a Word document and then cut and paste them into the system.  The system has a bad habit of tossing you out so that if you are not saving frequently— you lose your work.  I have seen grown men cry when they lost hours of work.  

The hybrid review is actually the best of both worlds.  You get to do the majority of the work at home in your pjs, cat on your lap, sipping coffee and then you get to go to DC and meet your friends (and make new ones) while you panel face-to-face.

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Pitfalls of the At-Home Peer Review

There is a type of peer review that is done completely at home with no travel (this part is good because I can work in my pjs and don’t have to brush my teeth).  However, you should not try this type of review unless you are willing to commit the necessary time (and it is significant). 

Following an orientation conference call or “webinar” explaining the program guidelines and expectations, grant applications are posted on a website such as G5 or E-Reader.  You download the applications (you are paid an extra $100 for printing), evaluate and score and post your comments back to the website.  This is about a three week process with the last week dedicated to panel conference calls.  Like the onsite or hybrid review there are generally three reviewers and a chairperson who monitors the calls.  There are about three calls that ideally last about 90 minutes as panel members come to consensus on 8-10 grants.  Calls can usually be at panel members’ convenience.  The chairperson emails your corrections and you go on line and finalize comments.   To avoid errors, comments are generally written in Word and then cut and pasted into the system.  

Personally I find this type of review more difficult because the panel discussion is often hard to follow on the phone.   This is especially true when there are crying babies or barking dogs in the background.  I actually think one woman was washing dishes.   In addition, reviewers tend to be a tad bit more aggressive because they are not face to face (not me of course).  It is easier to be a bully when on the phone line a thousand miles away rather than sitting across the table and looking into my blue eyes and sweet face.  Therefore more reviewers tend to “stand” on their scores.  “Standing” is a little term used to say, “I absolutely think I am right and I am not going to change!”  So much for flexibility. 

In addition, reviewers tend to disappear.  I had a friend on a panel where a woman wasn’t heard from for three weeks.  When she finally showed up she said she had to attend her daughter’s wedding.    Usually those reviewers are replaced but not until after the panel’s work is long overdue.  This tends to make the paycheck way overdue!

Then there are the worst case scenario calls.  Take this one (oh please take this one):

Twenty minutes into the call….silence…sound of shuffling paper

Panel monitor:  “What page were we on?”

Panel members two and three in unison:  “Criteria 1, PAGE 1!!!”

Long silence….much more shuffling paper

Panel member one:  “uhhh, where are we at?”

Panel members two and three in unison:  ” CRITERIA 1, PAGE 1!!!”

More silence, more shuffling paper and finally there is slow-tooth-pulling discussion on the first selection criteria. 

After many shuffling paper repeats and nearly two hours, we are only halfway through ONE application and the panel monitor says, “Let’s see— did we address criteria one?”

At this point my instant messenger pops up and panel member number two inquires, “Are we being punk’d?”

My best advice for this type of review is to print off your comments and scores and have them in front of you during the discussion.  Don’t make me wait on the phone while your slow computer cranks up so you can find your comments.  Also there is a very real chance that the website will kick you out at least five times during the call and I have to wait while you log back in. 

All this said I have had some very good at-home reviews.  Put three hardworking reviewers together and it is a very rewarding experience.

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