It begins with a phone call. "Dr Ferry, this is Dr X, from the Scientific Review Branch of the NINCDS [National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke] in Bethesda [Md]. We have received a grant application to study X disorder of the nervous system and would like you to serve on a special study section. If you can do it, we'll mail the grant out today." Despite an already crowded schedule, I agree.
Afterward, the grant arrives, usually a few days before my departure. The National Institutes of Health require a written report, so one cannot read the grant on the plane! The preparation time, a minimum of eight to ten hours, includes a review of the research design, procedures, statistics, and a budget. One of my colleagues found that one application weighed more than 5 lb—bigger than the New York City telephone directory.