Research office seeing grants rejected for ‘minor errors’

Media Credit: Ashley Le | Hatchet Photographer

Researchers at GW have had their research proposals rejected for small errors like incomplete sections or incorrect formatting.

Students aren’t the only ones who need to proofread.

In a recent research office newsletter, Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said that officials have noticed federal agencies rejecting research proposals because of minor formatting errors. Still, GW researchers say that they receive enough help from the research office, and the rejections stem from strict agency regulations or overlooked mistakes.

“GW has unfortunately had proposals rejected without review for minor errors such as incorrect formatting (biosketches, references, font size), not completing sections as described, or incomplete current and pending section,” Chalupa said in the newsletter.

Chalupa said that federal agencies like the National Institutes for Health and the National Science Foundation are applying the “letter of the law,” requiring adherence to formatting guidelines and the inclusion of documentation.

The competition for research grants has grown more intense over the past few years, as government funding for research has not increased while the number of researchers seeking funds continues to grow.

University spokeswoman Emily Grebenstein declined to say exactly how many proposals have been rejected because of the minor errors.

She said in an email that there are resources to help researchers submit grants that follow the guidelines.

“The Office of Sponsored Projects has staff trained to advise principal investigators of sponsor guidelines and to review proposals for compliance with these guidelines,” Grebenstein said.

Keith Crandall, the director of the University’s computational biology institute, said the memo was a reminder to stick with an OVPR rule to submit grant proposals to the office five business days before the proposal is due, giving grant officers a chance to review it and check the guidelines set by certain agencies.

“Ultimately there is the principal investigator submitting the proposal and it is your responsibility to make sure everything is right. And the Office of the Vice President for Research is there to help and make sure you get the guidelines and everything right, but they need time to do that,” Crandall said.

Crandall said there are other ways researchers can be sure to submit their best proposal, like mentors who have gotten funding and panel discussions about writing strong grant proposals.

“It is nice to have a fresh pair of eyes view your content because, I’ll tell you, once you have spent a month and a half putting one of these things together, you have looked at it every which way and sideways,” Crandall said.

Lawrence Bennett, a research professor for the Institute for Magnetics Research, said in the last two years OVPR has stepped up to help researchers go over proposals and get rid of minor errors. He said while he understands why proposals can be rejected for small mistakes, he thinks it is “nonsense.”

“I do think that it is something really wrong with the agencies like the NSF and the other agencies to use minor errors in any way whatsoever,” Bennett said. “They get too many proposals, and that’s a lot of work for them, so they like to be able to reject proposals out of hand.”

Caroline Haskins contributed reporting.

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