Thursday, January 23, 2014

So How Important is a NSF CAREER Anyway?

For those of you in the engineering area, how much value is there in an NSF CAREER award toward getting you to tenure or not? If I bring in a decent amount of funding, just not a CAREER, will I be ok? Because my normal grants get funded. How much bonus do you get on your third submission? How does the panel know that you are on your last try? Do you just say it somewhere in your proposal?

I think you can guess how I did on my most recent submission. I really think that I'm submitting to the wrong panel because all of the reviews focus on nitpicky details that are not central to the proposal or even uncorrectable flaws. They all loved the instrument I proposed, but dinged me on how I proposed to use it. Wouldn't it be easier to just comment that 'hey, you should really run this and this with the new thing you're developing'? Because it will work for multiple applications and systems, which is why it's a useful thing to develop and you know it. I've learned my lesson, don't send proposals to a bunch of bioengineers that think they know everything about biology when the focus in my mind is on the device, not the application. Especially when you have supporting letters from actual biologists saying that the experiments you chose are important to them and their field. If I send it to electrical engineers though, I have to convince them that this is really new and not derivative of other devices and still hope that they don't have some preconceived notion of what biologists need.

I'm also worried that if I change panels on my next try, the reviewers won't know the history I've gone through already fixing up the proposal on previous submissions and find some other thing to complain about. I'll have to introduce myself to an entire new community and try to guess what they will focus on.  This is the problem of being interdisciplinary. 1 or 2 people in 5 different programs might know my stuff, but I'll never get a panel where most of the people in the room know what I do. It's a double edged sword in my subfield. I can potentially get funding from 3 different divisions and like 10 programs, but only with a strong co-PI that is an expert in those areas. I can't do that with a CAREER grant though.

Finally, there is a major problem with the overworked panel review system and current structure at NSF. 3 reviewers find 1 or 2 reasons why they don't want to fund your proposal, but maybe there are 3 or 4 things that really need to be addressed. You fix those 2 things and they come back on the next round with you should fix this and this because now I bothered reading past the first page. Or you get different reviewers that say, no your "fixed" text is wrong and you should really do what you originally proposed because there is no rebuttal system. It's like working with a senile advisor on a paper. Anyway, that is my rant for today instead of calling the program manager.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hello 2014

It's been a while since I've posted. Mostly because I took a pseudo vacation, gotten sit, worked a bunch on my stuff and reviewing proposals for an upcoming panel. I'm starting to get caught up on critical stuff, but now I'm getting sick again :(

Not much academically interesting stuff has been taking place. My proposals from this summer are still swirling around in an infinite pending vortex. My papers are getting written, rejected, revised, and resubmitted. I'll miss GMP's blog! Anyway, I feel like I've settled into this job finally. I'm not worried about teaching any more. My trainees all have lots of interesting stuff to work on. I'm doing everything I can and don't plan to go any crazier than this. My career is in the hands of the tenure gods and other mythical characters, such as program managers and editors. It's like AA (academics anonymous) says, you have to surrender your life to the higher power and just live in the moment.