I decided to give my freshmen a taste of real physics. I offered extra credit to anybody who could give me a useful critique of my grant proposal. Amazingly enough, two of my students actually rose to the occasion. Although they couldn’t really dissect the science, they could tell that I wasn’t really explaining why this would be significant for the field, and they told me what I’d need to say to convince them of the significance. (I guess some people just can’t appreciate the inherent AWESOMENESS of simulating a new technique for optical nanolithography and identifying the necessary molecular parameters.) They earned themselves some extra credit points for the upcoming midterm. Prior to this these students flew under my radar, but if this grant gets funded, they’ll be the first ones that I consider for research assistantships.
I don’t know many researchers who would do this but Thoreau accomplished something very useful. Not only were several deficiencies in the grant identified but the students may have lined up some nice work for themselves. A nice win-win situation.
I think the extra-credit idea is a nice approach. Anyone who can make it through a government grant (which can range well over 60 or so pages) should get some credit just for making it through. The students were able to identify holes even without understanding the exact protocols.
I wonder if this could be applied further down the system – during the grant review process. Not have students critique but find a way to open up the review process to a wider group of people?
I know from comments reviewers have given my grants that sometimes they really did not read what was written, since the text directly contradicted their comments. I have had comments from two reviewers that directly contradicted each other.
Now, these days, very few grants are awarded the first time they are submitted. So being able to answer comments is important. But what if the comments themselves are useless? Perhaps using a more Long Tail approach would help.
Obviously there are barriers to overcome (e.g. proprietary information) but I wonder?