Ever get a panel summary back on one of your grants that has spelling mistakes or looks like it was rushed? WTF, right? I mean, can't these people take the time to tell you how to improve our proposal that they didn't like enough to fund?
Here's the thing, it may very well have been written under pressure while two people waited with bags packed and flights to catch looking over the writer's shoulder.
Let me back up for a second and explain part of the process I didn't understand before this week. I thought that the POs were the ones writing the panel summaries. I don't know why, but that was my impression. I figured they took detailed notes and wrote it all up before reading it back to an attentive panel while the solemnly nodded their heads. Not so much.
The POs do write detailed notes that they use later, but the panel summaries are written by one of the three panelists assigned to your proposal. Those three people are the only ones in the room who have read the proposal and the panel summary is based on the discussion between those people, with the ad hoc reviews taken under consideration. The scribe (in our case, the primary reviewer) then summarizes all the information and includes suggestions to improve the proposal. Once they are done, the other two panelists assigned to the proposal have to read and approve it before it goes to the POs for final approval.
That all sounds well and good, but when do those summaries get written? Well, if you are lucky they get written during one of the first two days while grants that the scribe is not assigned to are being discussed. Ever tried to write a summary of several people's thoughts while an unrelated (and possibly heated) conversation is going on around you? Not so easy.
If you are not lucky, the scribe for your proposal has waited until the last day to even start your summary. Although panelists can change their flights to earlier ones if the panel finishes early (and they often get done around lunch on the third day instead of going all the way until 5:00), no one leaves the room until they sign off on every proposal they are assigned to. That means that even if the proposals you are scribe for are all done, you still have to wait for all of the proposals that you read to be written up by the other scribes. One person, therefore, can keep 6-8 others in the room twiddling their thumbs just because they waited to start their summaries until the last minute. Sometimes, we're talking a couple hours.
You might imagine that those who are waiting against their will with flights to catch could be A) rather "encouraging" of the scribes to get their summaries done, and B) unlikely to do much editing of the summary once it is finally submitted for their approval. This can mean that your panel summary is less useful than it could be if someone who didn't wait until the last minute had prepared it.
Yet one more way a single person can have a major impact on the success of your proposal.