Ok, so I got an e-mail from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and the message concering both of my projects was a "you didn't qualify for the second stage in the application process" (in which about half of the applications succeed and actually get research grants).
Out of 899 applications, 107 - less than 12% - qualified for the second round. When everything has been said and done, around 6% of the applications will get research grants, or, around one in every seventeen applications will be granted. I have unfortunately not kept track of how much time we have put into these applications, but I guess it for sure has to have been more than 40 hours each, and perhaps upwards to 80 hours (or more?) per application. It's very hard to estimate; how do you treat early and less goal-oriented discussions, or, the fact that it might be possible to re-use smaller or larger parts of an application later?
The actual message I got from RJ can be seen below. Do note that it is a standard message into which they have cut-and-pasted the name of the project. There is unfortunately no other feedback, even though I as an applicant naturally have many questions; did they like the application (but there were other applications that were even better)? Are there some specific problem with the application? How can it be improved if I decide to hand in the same (or a similar) application elsewhere or to RJ next year?
As a university teacher I read lots of texts that are written by students. Some are written with great care and are a joy to read. Others aren't. It's not really a secret that some texts that students write and that pass my eyes by are hastily written, fail in their purpose and contain lots of errors of various kinds. I should despite this preferably always leave some kind of comment/feedback to the student (one or a few paragraphs - or at least a sentence) so he/she can understand why his/her effort got a specific grade and/or how to improve the grade, or the writing next time around. I read at least 100 shorter texts each year in our program-integrating course and read more (and longer) texts in my course on social media last term.
I don't know who specifically read my research grant application, but I doubt they earn more than twice, or at the most three times my salary. It is thus dissatisfying that the balance of power/time between an applicant (who spends, say, 40-80 hours (or, 20-200 hours) of work on an application) and the evaluator (10-20-30 minutes to read each application?) is so uneven. I should as a teacher leave at least a short comment for my students when they write something - no matter how hastily written and sloppy the text is. But no-one leaves a comment for me - no matter how carefully crafted my application is... Actually, if I hand in a half-baked paper to a scientific conference or a journal, I will get a written motivation and perhaps also some advice or suggestions if it is rejected, but I get nothing when I hand in an application for a research grant. Isn't that somehow strange and perhaps also slightly disturbing? I think so.
I'm not the first person to comment on this - it's a know problem. Researchers spend inordinate amounts of time writing applications (of which the majority is rejected). Wouldn't it be better if they spent this time (perhaps several or many weeks each year) actually doing the research instead of writing about the research they want to do (in the future, if they get the money)? What should the proportion be between these two activities? I'm not updated on what solutions have been proposed to this problem (if any). Still, the current system can definitely be improved. The (non-)message I received (below) can be interpreted in a variety of ways; "Better luck next year" or "Don't bother again". Which one is it and how am I to know?
I by the way still think the applications (and the proposed research projects specified within the applications) were excellent. We will in both cases pursue these ideas (e.g. ask for money from other sources to conduct the research). Since they both to some extent take harsh economic times as their starting point, I think they both (unfortunately) have time on their side.