January 3 was the deadline for this year’s VENI funding in the NWO Innovational Research Incentives Scheme: now is as good a time as any to start thinking about next year’s round! February 13, I will be giving a short presentation about the process of applying for a VENI grant based on my experience.
By now the applicants will already have heard about the need for pre-selection. If NWO has again received more than 4 times as many applications as the positions likely to be funded, they will use the pre-selection to reduce the number of applications roughly by half. In practice the general commission will decide on the base of a 1 page “layman’s summary” whether to reject the application or send it on to the next round. Since the document has to be very short and is not aimed at specialists in your niche (there was just a single philosopher in my commission), it needs to be very explicit about your goals and your concrete plans to achieve them (I actually ended up using headlines to provide structure and add emphasis).
The remaining project proposals will be sent to on the peer-reviewers, the experts in the field which will grade the proposals as A+, A, B or fail them. B actually means “will make a valuable contribution, but has some minor weaknesses. Funding is recommended only if ample resources are available”, so this is a barely passing grade. Normally 2 or 3 referees will evaluate each project and provide comments explaining their grades. Besides questions about the “the scholarly, scientific or technological relevance” and the “potential to make a major contribution” of the project itself, they are also asked to provide an opinion regarding your CV and whether you belong to “the top 10-20% of his/her international peer group”. As my project was evaluated as A+, A+, and B, I needed to answer some serious critique in a polite but firm manner to defend my project. It probably helped that some of the criticism of the one negative review was directly contradicted by the other two and that in at least one instance the referee had overlooked a point I had explicitly made.
Although the referees all agreed that my qualities as a scholar made me eligible for a VENI, they all had some doubts about the potential for knowledge utilisation. Therefore, I decided to “pre-empt” the likely questions from the NWO humanities committee about this issue and focused my short presentation before the interview precisely on the potential for innovation and impact of my research. Since in the end I did manage to secure funding for my project on “Philosophy as Science: The Project of the School of Brentano”, a B is not an unsurmountable obstacle, but does require some good counter-arguments and strategic thinking.