Views from a fellowship review panel

A couple weeks ago I served on my first selection panel. This is a fairly common thing for PIs, but for someone at my career stage, it’s fairly uncommon. That’s why when given the chance to serve on a selection panel, I jumped on it.

I can’t/won’t get into details on what that panel was on, who was there, who/what we selected, etc. However, I can share some of my experiences in a broader context:

1) Different panelists focus on different things. Personally, I judge people (and am judged) by their CV. It’s all there: pubs, grants, awards, service, presentations, everything. However, this isn’t the case with everyone. Depending on the grant/fellowship/position, sometimes personal statements are required, maybe transcripts, and usually letters of rec. That last one means very little to me because most letters will sound the same. If you need someone to write you a recommendation, you’re likely picking someone who will write you a good one. As for transcripts, I did OK in my undergrad and really well in grad school. But who cares? Look at what I’ve done professionally. Finally, personal statements do work well to push people over (or back from) an edge.

2) WiFi is important. WiFi was not provided. The reason is unimportant, it just wasn’t available. Needless to say, we all blew through our data plans over a relatively short period of time. I will say that one perk of the how situation was that we were forced to focus solely on the task at hand, rather than being distracted by the internet. A major downside was that all my work content had to be addressed via cellphone. Good thing I disabled “sent from my iPhone”.

3) If you don’t fight with another panel member, you’re not doing it right. I’m not talking about yelling matches or fist fights (though I have heard some pretty amazing stories of panels getting out of control). I’m speaking more towards having general disagreements with other panel members. If everyone got along and had similar ideas and came to similar conclusions, what’s the point of having a panel? One person would be sufficient to make all decisions. However, that’s not how things (thankfully) work. I believe that discussion, punctuated by strong, often dissimilar opinions, is a healthy part of making major decisions. For example, on the panel on which I served there was another individual who often did not see eye-to-eye with me. They weren’t picking out issues just for the sake of argument; rather, they were just focused on different areas (see #1). Though we disagreed on many issues, our discussions were thoughtful and (mostly) respectful. So when  I say “fight”, I’m using the term the same way I refer to fights in relationships.

4) Perspective. I have applied for jobs, fellowships, grants, internships, etc. Regardless of whether I was being judged personally or if it was a product of my work, I always wondered about judging. Now I know (in some capacity). Moving forward this experience will help me for future applications and provide perspective on something that is usually seen as a terrible, but necessary, “black box”.


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