“Strong”: Canadian for “weak”

20 04 2016

Got my NSERC referees’ comments and overall evaluation scores back a few days ago, and they helped make sense of my disappointing lack of grant increase.

I had four referees. Three were nothing but immensely flattering. However, one really panned my proposal: according to him/her, what I planned was unoriginal (so not true), my proposed publication output was exaggerated (I think not, my friend), and they did not believe I could attract the number of self funded students I planned (despite this strategy serving me fine for the last 10 years).

This must have swayed the evaluator on the panel, as although I got Outstanding for both ‘HQP training’ (this is NSERC-speak for graduates etc.: the goal is to take ‘P’ and make them first ‘Q’, and then ‘HQ’…) and my own track record (= great, that’s what I was aiming for), I only got Strong for the proposal itself.

Now ‘strong’ may sound good, but it’s really not (for me anyway): it comes below Exceptional, Outstanding, and Very Strong, while below it comes Moderate and Insufficient. In other words, it means “Hey, not bad I guess” – really not the effect I was after! (In Guelph’s Promotion and Tenure process, hilariously there is no category for ‘Satisfactory’, and so here ‘Good’ means the same thing: not actually ‘good’, but rather, “hey, doin’ OK, if nothing to get excited about”).

Funnily enough though, I have found this psychologically helpful. We all know that peer review is a crapshoot , and this time I got unlucky. I wasn’t screwed, there was nothing unfair, I didn’t do anything wrong: I just got the wrong referee. And now I plan to spend the next 5 years proving them wrong!