Most RFPs will state when award announcements will be made; expect to wait six months for a response from most Federal agencies. Sometimes there are delays in making these announcements. A telephone inquiry approximately 2-3 weeks after the announcement date is usually appropriate if you haven't heard. You should also follow up if you haven't received acknowledgement of the receipt of your proposal by the date promised.
Success rates for proposals to NIH and NSF hover at around 30%; the success rate for new investigators with no proven track record at those agencies is around 18%. Agencies such as the Dept. of Ed., NEA and NEH and the more prestigious foundations have still lower success rates. These statistics can discourage faculty from making applications at all. However, these are the statistics faced by all investigators at all institutions, and your chances of success are just as good as anybody else's.
There is still no getting around the fact that competitive grant applications take considerable effort to prepare and that rejection is a strong possibility. A few tips for coming to terms with that possibility:
- There are many factors in addition to strict scientific merit that affect the ultimate success or failure of your application, so rejection of a grant proposal may be taken somewhat less seriously than rejection of an article by a peer-reviewed journal.
- Remember that grant proposals are a means to an end, not ends in themselves. Many new investigators agonize over their proposals and frequently delay submission until the next round of funding. Research grant proposals in particular are by nature tentative and exploratory: you are proposing to do something whose exact outcome cannot be predicted. There is no "state of perfection" for a grant proposal and in most instances you are better off submitting a proposal to get reviewer feedback at an earlier date, rather than tweaking it for another six months or a year and still having to revise and resubmit it.
- Having several applications pending at one time reduces your investment in the success of any one of them. Recently, a NSF-funded researcher mentioned that he usually has four applications pending, figuring one of them will probably get funded. This is a healthy attitude and good advice given the 30% success rate at NSF. Remember that four pending applications does not necessarily translate to four entirely different proposals.
- Even the most successful researchers sometime get their grant proposals rejected.
Finally, never accept a rejection as a final step in the grant application process. If a sponsor provides you with reviewer comments, they do so, among other reasons, in hopes you will revise and resubmit. Call the program officer to discuss the feedback you receive in further detail and remember that a program officer is more likely to expand on the details of your proposal's evaluation if they have previously spoken with you.