The most obnoxious comment I have seen in a long time showed up in a review of a proposal for someone’s young investigator award. A colleague from a highfalutin institution (whose name shares 2/3 of its characters with the agency that James Bond works for) has written not once but twice in the same report that the candidate did well while in grad school and postdoc, but as independent faculty not so much. I am very glad the colleague pointed that out, because the applicant could have fooled me, with all the papers published and major grants received since becoming a tenure-track faculty member. The colleague also wrote (I can’t believe this) that the applicant is at a university that is “not very reknown [sic] as a major research institution” so “it may be challenging to recruit strong postdocs.” Way to rub it in and remind the applicant that they are no James Bond! We wouldn’t want them to get a big head!  As if the applicant doesn’t already know, and much better than the reviewer, how hard it is to get good people at places that are “not very reknown” and is still able to do what seems to me like really cool work.

Repeat after me: There are excellent people at every school. There are excellent people at every school. There are excellent people at every school. Do not assume someone is feeble-minded or needs you to explain their situation to them because the US News and World Report doesn’t rank their school as having one of the top 5 grad programs.


  1. I’m quite nervous about this sort of thing. I’m starting at a undergrad only college. Technically speaking, CAREER awards are open to us mere mortals (and I looked around and see that there are a few currently in my field / institution type). But I’m concerned reviewers will only look at my institution and say “Wtf? She doesn’t even have grad students… how can she possibly do this?”

  2. As a young researcher successfully competing for scarce international resources at a small but awesome university in a department where the highest degree is an MA, I say BOOOOOOOO. Hope you called this guy out big-time.

  3. This is unfortunately all too common in my field. A lot of people buy into this which is why this is the status quo. People who get put down because of the institution they’re in agree (perhaps sadly) with the reviewers. I remember trying to make your point with someone in a “not so great institution” when he got such a review. But he wasn’t getting it. I suppose it is easier to go with the dominant viewpoint than to challenge it.

  4. Bleah. We sometimes have this fight on search committees too. I don’t really understand why some folks stop reading at the institution name, rather than continuing on to the publications, awards, and successful proposals. It’s not like there aren’t unsuccessful people at “pedigree” institutions…

  5. I wish I could say I am surprised but I’m not. In my experience, people from this school are particularly obnoxious, much more so than the other top five.

    In a recent panel I was on, there was someone from this particular school who shot down *every* proposal in sight. He had all kinds of ridiculous excuses — such and such did not have “enough leadership”, so and so did not do enough “to connect theory and practice”, and so on. In the end, the only proposals that got funded from that panel were the ones with which he had COIs. Not a big surprise — those proposals were written by either PIs from this institution or PIs who were graduates of this institution!

  6. Unfortunately, the reviewers can and will knock down your institution. I had numerous proposals come back which said things like, “Well, I’d give this proposal an Excellent if they had a PhD program.” They always say they want diversity (especially in types of institutions), but really they do not.

  7. I’m a little dumb here. Can anybody tell me the name of the obnoxious institution? I cannot figure out which one has its 2/3 characters as British Secret Intelligent Service…

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