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Why did I start Photoexcitation?

When I first served on an astronomy grant review panel, I was most surprised to learn that proposers had no ability to defend their proposals. The process did not (and does not) include any iteration between proposers and reviewers even for simple questions of clarification. I watched proposals with excellent science receive mediocre ratings due to a panelist's feeling that some aspect of the proposal wasn't clear enough. You may have seen the same in proposals you've written or reviewed.


My surprise was not about panelist's concerns getting undue weight... typically the final rating of a proposal reflects a reasonable assessment of the proposal. The surprise was about what I felt to be an inefficiency in the process: even the most basic dialogue of clarification was missing. Knowing how dialogue, debate, and discussion can enhance scientific endeavors, it was enlightening to see crucial funding be decided in a seemingly lopsided way.


While I suppose I still feel that dialogue would help the process, I understand that successfully orchestrating grant reviews is already a logistical feat. I praise Program Officers for their hard and sometimes thankless work. But from the perspective of a grant writer, I am frustrated that "iteration" on proposals happens on year-long timescales with implications for important life events like job searching and tenure decisions. Don't tell my program officers, but postdoc-me even submitted hastily assembled proposals a year "early" with the primary goal of getting panelist feedback. Not ideal! :)


As you hopefully already know, arguably the best way to improve your grant proposal or job application or tenure portfolio is to have someone else review it. Sometimes a reviewer is built in, like a Co-Investigator or an eager faculty mentor. Having non-experts (like friends or family) read it over can be good for finding confusing paragraphs and incomplete sentences. Your institution may have someone in "Research Development" with experience in grant proposals that will provide general feedback. Another idea is to present ideas for your next grant proposals at conferences and get feedback from the community and colleagues. There are also professional services that can provide support (other than Photoexcitation) such as the Grant Training Center, The Professor Is In, and Quantum Success Solutions. (Yes, I know that it is atypical to provide links to "competitors", but these services may be more valuable to you than Photoexcitation.)


Most of the time, scientists tend to underutilize these resources for various reasons. The most common reason seems to be time: we tend to squeeze grant writing into our busy schedules not long before the grant deadline. The time pressure makes it difficult to finish the proposal at all, let alone leave appropriate time to give a busy colleague a polite amount of time for feedback. Multiple iterations on final drafts seem quite rare.


Another time-related concern is respect for the time of others. Especially once you reach the faculty level, having an expert in your field spend significant time going over grant proposals is challenging to orchestrate unless they are on the proposal or you are able to reciprocate (e.g., a writing circle). Up-and-coming scientists should expect an advisor to provide detailed feedback on job applications, but this may also be limited for various reasons. Feedback from non-scientists can be easier to arrange, but isn't as useful. Even if your copy-editor grandma has plenty of time to find typos, these are rarely going to make the key difference in proposal selection.


With so much weight given to the monologue of your written proposal or application, I encourage you to use best practices for success: start early and seek feedback from experts and non-experts. I hope that you have the resources you need to submit superb proposals and compelling job applications in order for you to reach your goals. I started Photoexcitation to provide a supportive additional resource to our community. Use Photoexcitation to excite you to the next level!


Photoexcitation fills a unique niche in improving your grant proposal or job application. We have expertise in a wide variety of planetary science, astrophysics, and exoplanet fields and significant experience in successful grants (always fully funded!), reviewing grants, chairing hiring committees, etc. I'd love it if you thought of us as a "pre-panel" that can provide a review on your proposal or application, allowing you to iterate without having to wait a year! In fact, knowing that you may be crunched for time, our goal is to get our feedback to you within one business day.


Getting feedback from a colleague on an early draft may be too time-consuming or, let's admit it, embarrassing. Still not quite sure what you're going to do for the last half of your proposal three days from the deadline? Judgement-free zone: we'll take your work at any stage and provide the best feedback we can on a timeline that would be impolite for a colleague.


When using Photoexcitation, you are showing gratitude for our services in the form of money. While we feel that it is important that our community serve each other without expectation of reward, Photoexcitation provides support when you'd like to go beyond what you can get from other resources. We also feel that investing institutional funds to pay for this external review has significant return (though, of course, we can't guarantee any particular outcome). Photoexcitation is also honored to provide income to our reviewers and other staff with a goal of minimal overhead.


I truly believe that Photoexcitation will add value to the physical science community by reviewing grant proposals, applications, etc. That is why I started it. As we enable science and scientists by improving grants and applications, we are supporting success at crucial times. Though we're not increasing the amount of grant funding or job positions, we believe that Photoexcitation will make the review process more efficient and equitable by improving the way we communicate.


We look forward to exciting you and the whole field to the next level!


- Founder and Reviewer, Photoexcitation

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