So, finally I got my "declined" email and reviews. It must have been held in the aether of SNOWMAGEDDON for an extra week--it showed up right after they all got back to work.
On the bright side:
- the panel summary said the intellectual merit has a lot of exciting potential and that I should be encouraged
- one of the reviewers read it thoroughly, got all the details, loved it, even went as far as to say parts of it were "stunning"
- the main issues were preliminary data proof-of-concept related (which I can deal with)
- they thought the broader impacts were great, well-planned and sophisticated
On the less-bright side:
- it's always disappointing to read reviews where you can tell the person just didn't "get" it and it colored the panel's discussion (even though clearly the others did "get" it evidenced by their individual reviews, so it wasn't necessarily my communication's fault)
- most of the things they need to see demonstrated are things I provided literature references for previously demonstrated proof-of-concept (which we can see wasn't good enough)
- I'm still not sure which PO is really my contact, since the "new" one is still listed in Fastlane and was given as the cognizant PO in the "declined" email... but neither of them has responded personally to my check-in emails asking for clarification, and I am afraid to become annoying by bugging them about my revision
Overall, the reviews are really useful and I am looking forward to knocking down the preliminary experiment pins suggested to make this a much stronger proposal. But it was such a weird experience with the communication style of NSF (and less money allowed even for a CAREER) that I am debating whether I should try to submit this to NIH as an R01 as well (which they only allow with the BIO directorate, and I'm now put into the Chemistry of Life Processes box in CHE...)--but hesitate to try asking about it since I've found it so difficult to get a straight answer from anybody. Hmmmm.