There are some clear Conflicts of Interest (COI) that exclude one from reviewing proposals (and, though not enforced to the same extent, papers) by particular people: advisors, graduate/postdoctoral advisees, close colleagues, relatives. These are obvious COIs, but more and more I find myself encountering a COI gray zone: former undergraduate students.
The number of ex-undergrads I have taught in classes or advised as interns or research students of various sorts and who are now proposal-writing faculty increases every year. Of course, not all (or even most) of them are writing proposals in my same field of research, but some of them are.
When asked to review a proposal by a former undergrad I had advised and/or taught, I used to write to the program director who solicited my review and say "I advised X as a summer intern" or "I advised Y's senior thesis" and ask "Do you still want me to do the review?", and they always replied "If you feel that you can be objective, please do the review; if you can't, don't."
So, the decision is up to me.
I don't really see why former undergrads, especially those who did research with me, aren't official COIs. If I work closely with a student on a research project for a year or more, how is that different from, say, a former MS student, which is an official COI relationship? I want (most of) my former students to do well; does this cloud my judgment?
The semi-COI is most obvious in cases of advisor-advisee relationships, but in some cases I have strong, possibly not-objective opinions about former students who only took classes from me. In one case that I can recall, I was placed in a situation of evaluating a former undergraduate student who had been extremely rude and obnoxious in two of my classes. I guess he's brilliant, but he's a jerk, and I did not feel I could be objective in that particular case.
So, I do the review or not, and, if I do the review, I write the potential COI information in the box provided for this purpose on the reviewer website and let the powers-that-be sort it all out. I assume that I am not wasting my time writing a review that will be excluded owing to a semi-COI.
6 months ago