I'm applying for a grant to research topic foo using bar as my working hypothesis (and it's not really something controversial: a lot of things are easier to deal with if you assume that bar is true). Now, one of the people sitting in the grant committee has published a couple of articles arguing that bar is horribly, irredeemably wrong, and we all should assume quz instead. This person is likely to raise this issue at the interview stage.

This doesn't worry me from a purely academic perspective: there are many ways of showing that this person's arguments don't hold water, and I can literally spend the rest of the day talking about them. However, it does worry me from a "I want that grant money" perspective: if I get that question, I'm going to have just a couple of minutes to state my case and get the rest of the committee (experts in my general field, but not in this particular narrow topic) to side with me. What would be an appropriate way of framing my reply?

Update --- The interview happened, the committee member in question raised this issue (just as I anticipated), and I replied along the lines that Sydney E. Everhart suggests below. The rest of the committee looked satisfied with this answer (as did some colleagues I had rehearsed the interview with a few days in advance), so in that sense, thank you, Sydney. Unfortunately, the committee member in question wasn't so impressed and gave a very negative evaluation of my proposal. I guess you can't convince someone that doesn't want to be convinced.

  • I am looking forward to this question. This problem, which I think boils down to differing schools within a community, comes up frequently in various forms, not only for grants (also: job interviews, PC meetings, etc.).
    – xLeitix
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:37
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    In my experience, most single-investigator sized grant programs don't do in-person interviews of the applicants in the US. What kind of grant (country, broad programs) are you applying for?
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:00
  • @BillBarth: you are right that this is not a US-based grant. For privacy reasons, I'd rather not say anything specific about these grants, other than the fact that shortlisted applicants are invited to a short interview with the committee.
    – Koldito
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:07
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    Humanities, social science, engineering, physical science, mathematics? The more science-y the field, the more you can use evidence for bar rather than pure argument or opinion. There's no magic bullet to sway the other review panelists, but actual evidence is much harder to dispute. Either way, the fact that there is a bar/quz split is evidence that they should fund research on both sides until the issue is settled.
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:41
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    Let's just say that the use of LaTeX is widespread :) Again, it's not a matter of having data to show that bar is superior to quz; I could teach a semester-long course just about that. The issue here is to say something meaningful and memorable about the superiority of bar in just two minutes, such that non-experts can understand it. All the watertight arguments in the world are useless if I can't communicate them effectively.
    – Koldito
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


I am not in your field of work, however, as one of the comments to your question pointed out, this type of scenario can happen in other fields and situations. The best first step is to acknowledge the debate and the limitations of your own study. However, frame your response such that regardless of the debate, you will still learn something new. For example, my response might be something like:

"Clearly there are two schools of thought as to whether quz or bar is the correct assumption, however, that question cannot be answered in a single study alone. By funding this proposal to do work under the assumption of bar, we can answer questions X, Y, and Z. An additional outcome is that we will be providing more information about phenomena surrounding bar, thus providing more information that may ultimately help to answer the question of quz versus bar."

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