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I had an interview for a postdoctoral position with a group with a big grant, who later rejected my application, the official reason being that "some [...] important aspects of [the project] might require intensive cooperation and supervision" and that "the supervision capacities of the PIs are limited" even though "[my] background [...] fits well to several of the research directions" and they were "overall positive about [my] application."

It so happens that the county in which one of these PIs is located has a call for individual postdoctoral grants. As is customary with these grants, I am to find a host that could support my application.

Would it make sense to write an application for this grant focusing on the aforementioned project's "research directions" to which "[my] background [...] fits well" with this PI? Assuming they were honest in conveying their evaluation to me, this idea seems somewhat reasonable, but I do not know if I can take their response at face value; it would a waste of time if they actually think that I am good for nothing.

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Sure, if you have the time for it, why not make another application. They can tell you no, again, of course, and it is pretty hard to predict the outcome. So effort spent here might well be wasted.

You will need to address their stated reasons for rejection as well and if you do that it is possible (possible) that they will reconsider.

But your time and effort might be better spent elsewhere.

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    I might have misunderstood the OP, but the answer to "Can I come and work in your group?" might well be different to "Can my big pile of money and I come and work in your group?" In most institutions the size of the pile of money largely determines the answer, no? Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 13:03
  • I clarified my post; I was suggesting focusing on the aforementioned project's "research directions" to which "[my] background [...] fits well."
    – Pteromys
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 13:19
  • Yes, but you still need to address the "too much supervision needed" comments.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 13:25
  • @DavidA.Craven, I understand what you are saying, but nothing is assured. Don't put all the eggs in one basket.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 13:27
  • @Buffy The idea is that I won't need much supervision if I exclude some tasks that I don't have background in.
    – Pteromys
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 15:31
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Let's our imagination run wild.

  • Suppose you decided to apply to them again with your own grant and they supported you (well, hardly anyone won't accept a postdoc coming with their own grant).
  • The PI capacity is limited, so you are left to your own devices to write your application, while your competitors have training sessions provided by their potential hosts and significant help from their prospective PIs in improving and contextualising the proposal. But you persevere and put a lot of your own effort in it. Eventually you finalised and submitted a proposal.
  • Your competitors got colourful letters of support from their hosts, explaining in details how their proposals match and extend the research done in the department, how the postdocs will be supported by PIs and the Department, what training and resources they are going to receive, and how this project will transform them into a world-leading PI. Maybe also a promise that on successful completion of the grant they will be offered a permanent position in the Department -- a line that took quite some effort from the Head of Department to push through the resistant University HR. You also got some letter of support, which your busy PI adapted from some other template for you, with a small typo in your name, perhaps.
  • Despite all odds, your proposal idea is brilliant and you've got the funding! Yay!! Now you can pack your stuff and go work with them on the research you proposed.

Ask yourself -- do you really want to? If your idea is so outstanding that it wins funding in a tough competition with other brilliant postdocs-to-be, and without much input from your busy PI, do you really want to bring it to fruition in a research environment which only values your ideas if you bring your own funds to execute them? If they are happy to take you with an idea and a pot of money, but not ready to take you with an idea, what do they really value here? If the PI is so busy to support you based on the idea you bring, what are the chances you will have decent supervision when you bring your funds (which the PI won't get, actually)?

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  • The idea was that I can just re-use large portion of the pre-approved grant application that they used for my own. But perhaps you're saying that that's not how it works. Re "a promise [...] they will be offered a permanent position in the Department," does that ever happen? To me it sounds like a shady employment practice.
    – Pteromys
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 15:36
  • @Pteromys Thing that looks good in a grant: "Oh cool, this person is going to work in a group that already spent the money on ExpensiveScienceMachine, so this cycle we can get all the ESM benefits without paying for it" Thing that looks bad in a grant: "This is the same thing that was already funded separately."
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 15:40
  • @Pteromys I definitely know people who brought their postdoc grants to a Department and have clearly stated in their letter of support that the Department will offer them a permanent post on successful completion of their grant. This is totaly legit in the UK and I see nothing shady about it. Gives a successful postdoc a peace of mind and some job security while they are doing their excellent research. Only fair. Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 15:57
  • @BryanKrause My field is mathematics, so your good example doesn't work for me. Does this mean that I cannot get funding with this group?
    – Pteromys
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:03
  • @Pteromys It means don't plan for anyone to be impressed by you copy-pasting a different grant.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:06

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