Grant Reviews and a Hotel Stay

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My kids are great. Sweet, kind, and actually, pretty independent most of the time.  But a night, all by myself, with this view? Not much could be sweeter to a stay at home mom. I’m sure it would get old, I’d miss my family desperately if it happened all the time. But once in a blue moon, a night at a hotel by myself is like a vacation. Plus, it gave me a chance to dress up and wear these fabulous shoes!

This was a working vacation, though. When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to apply for a predoctoral training grant from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP).  Each year, Congress appropriates funds specifically for breast cancer research, and the Department of Defense administrates the funding program.  (I was honored to receive the training grant in 2001.)

One of the unique aspects of the DOD funding mechanism is the inclusion of breast cancer advocates on all of the peer review panels.  I recently had the opportunity to participate in this program, with other breast cancer advocates and alongside highly respected scientists, to evaluate proposals submitted to the BCRP.  To prepare for my mini-vacation, I had to read and review several proposals. Then, once at the hotel/conference center, we discussed the proposals and eventually voted on them. Though few are trained scientists, all the advocates are full voting members of the panel. I was worried about how I might be received, as I can imagine many scientists don’t love the idea that their hard work is evaluated by someone who understands little of what they say. And yet, the scientists on our panel were so respectful of me and the other advocates, explaining things we didn’t understand and giving our words as much value as those of their colleagues.

I was so relieved to follow along with most of the science presented, and even saw a few nods from fellow scientists at some of my comments. Probably the biggest ego boost was when my scores were a little different than the first scientist on one of my assigned proposals and the final scientist reviewer said she agreed with my scores and wanted to alter hers to match mine! To be clear, though, as consumer reviewers (I don’t get why they called us that, we weren’t buying anything, but whatever), we were only required to score the impact of the proposal, not the science.  We were there to provide another perspective, many times a bigger perspective, that could represent not only our own personal experience, but the experiences of the breast cancer community as a whole.

The preparation was a lot of work, to be sure. But I found immersing myself in the science not only interesting but fulfilling. I enjoyed meeting and getting to know several of the scientists on my panel, and I made a good friend in one of the advocates from my panel.  Throw in a quiet hotel room, too, and I’m sold.  I’m sure I’ll be back.

You can get more information on the Breast Cancer Research Program, including how to serve as a consumer reviewer, at the DOD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs Website:


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