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It was the best of programs, it was the worst of programs, it was the age of wise panelists, it was the age of foolish panelists, it was the epoch of belief,

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Presentation on theme: "It was the best of programs, it was the worst of programs, it was the age of wise panelists, it was the age of foolish panelists, it was the epoch of belief,"— Presentation transcript:

1 It was the best of programs, it was the worst of programs, it was the age of wise panelists, it was the age of foolish panelists, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Abundant Funding, it was the season of the Sequester, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had 30 pages of text before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Tenure, we were all going direct the other way. A Tale of Two CAREER Proposals

2 Resources My guide (google "how to write an nsf proposal") Several essays on how to write CAREERS:

3 What makes a successful proposal? A really solid, detailed, novel research idea and plan o Without this, all the rest doesn't matter Dotting the i's and crossing the t's o Don't give them procedural reasons to reject your proposal  Don't annoy the reviewers: check your spelling and grammar, and stick to 12pt text o Don't have them miss the strong points

4 What does not make a good research plan? A straightforward extension of your PhD work (too narrow) Going into a completely new area without doing some preliminary work to demonstrate the feasibility A proposal crammed full of technical explanations and equations Not fully understanding/researching the new area(s) you're writing in Claiming to solve all the long-standing problems in your area without providing details (too broad)

5 What makes a good research plan? Talk it through o Advisor, senior people in your field o People in related fields  Make sure it comes across to a general audience Think sideways - ask experts in other areas o Could there be an interaction component? o Novel problem/design framework?  EG Industrial design + molecular construction o Optimization? Machine learning? Statistics? o Merging two aspects that aren't usually combined?  EG, geometry of the heart w/electrical potential o Novel data sets? Do your homework o Know your panelists, and what they know

6 What makes a good research topic? Focused topic in your area tackling a long standing problem o You'd better be THE BEST person in your area o Focused, detailed solutions and why they'll work Novel combination of approaches o More than what any bright person would come up with after thinking about it for 5 minutes  Demonstrate knowledgeable in all areas o Compelling argument about why combining approaches will yield better results Novel problem statement o Can be gold - but hard to state compellingly

7 Writing it up (know your audience) Experts: Have to convince them you know what you're talking about. Doubly important if you're branching out to a new area o Page or two of stuff in research plan that no one else would understand... Non-experts: o Why is your problem important? o Why is it hard? o Why is your solution/approach good? o Summary/intro  Position your problem in the grand scheme of things  Be specific about what you're tackling  Don't make claims you can't back up Anything you claim has to have supporting evidence in research plan

8 Writing it up Make it legible o reviewers will have read 10 proposals before getting to yours o 12 pt font, no formatting shennanigans o spelling and grammar o Label all graphs, figures, tables, captions so they can be read/understood w/o looking at the text  Big text in figures Do not eliminate white space to gain half a page (indents, line spacing) o Bulleted lists are a good thing o Bold the start of subsections Label sections clearly so they're easy to find

9 Concrete actions you should take (planning): Identify 3-4 people and schedule a 1 hour discussion with them o One senior person in your area (will your idea fly in your area?)  Go outside your institution if you have to o One senior person in a related area (make sure your idea isn't too narrow) o One or more people in areas that would strengthen your proposal/be a novel direction to go in  eg, optimization, materials, visualization, studies, application areas These people don't all have to be in your department, or even at your university! Next time you're going to a conference, see if you can snag someone you trust and like to have lunch/dinner/drinks and pitch your idea

10 More concrete actions (writing) Line up at least 3 people willing to read/comment on your abstract/outline o At most twice, probably - then contamination sets in Line up at least one senior person and one outside person to read the full proposal o Again, at most twice Obviously, don't do this 1 week before the deadline... it's ok if everything isn't perfect. It's very difficult to scrap a fully written proposal... and don't be afraid to bail if it's not coming together.

11 Warnings Expect to re-write from scratch. Probably more than once. Expect to fail at least once. o But hopefully with good reviews. o And because they just don't have enough money 15 pages is SHORT. Write long, then cut ruthlessly. What doesn't contribute to your story? Cut out all generic statements Drop your ego and listen to critiques. o You can't argue with the reviewers o Ask for (and accept) brutal advice They may not read past page 2 o Make sure you've hit all your major points early  everything after page 1 is confirmation bias o Good stuff up front

12 Proposal anatomy Summary page o 1/2 page describing the problem, proposed solution o 1/4 page describing the intellectual merit o 1/4 page describing the broader impacts Body of proposal (15 pages) References o Put in EVERYTHING you've read/touched, even if it's not specifically mentioned in the proposal \nocite{} Worse thing you can have is a reviewer who's research you didn't cite... Data management plan o How will you share your data? Developed methods? Letters of support (1 page max) o Someone's promised to actually do something for you  Use to backup collaborative/application area statements

13 Proposal anatomy, cont Budget/justification (start early) $400K-$500K o Sponsored research office gets cranky if they get rushed o SRO is VERY picky about budget justifications  Copy justification/facility statements Departmental letter of support (2 page max) o Make sure you talk to your chair and have their letter have specific references to your proposal  Double check that anything you say the department will do is in the chair letter. Suggested reviewers o Put them in Reviewer conflicts (use with care) o Chat w/program officer

14 Proposal anatomy, cont Hide stuff outside of the 15 pages to save space o descriptions of equipment you're going to buy can go in the budget justification o details of the lab set-up can go in the facilities statement

15 Summary page (specific, concise) Project description o Convince them the problem is worthwhile  Place the problem in context, but be specific o Convince them that it's hard, but solvable ... and you have the skills/techniques to solve it Intellectual merit/contributions o Cull out the concrete technical contributions and state them concisely  Each one of these should be clearly findable in the body of your research plan (subsection headers, timeline elements)  Usually 3-5 (you don't need ALL the details)  This section is for the experts in your field Broader impacts o Move from small to big (your community to broader) o What will people be able to do that they can't now?

16 Proposal body (15 pages, 1-4) Introduction (1-2 pages) o Expand on problem statement and solution approach Background (1-2 page) o Convince them you've done your homework  know your panelists o Give some context for non-expert readers  Be very clear what's yours and what isn't

17 Proposal body (15 pages, 5-10) Research plan (3-5 pages) o Pages 1-2: Concrete, specific things you know you can do in the next year or two o Pages 2-3: More open-ended, challenging problems that you think you can do in 3-5 years o Pages 3-5: 5-10 year research plan.  Convince them that you will have plenty to do...  Convince them that you have a vision and a passion...  Convince them that you're thinking long-term Might be better to put this in the opposite order if you can do it and have it still make sense (they will get sleepy by page 6)

18 Proposal body (15 pages, 10-15) Education and mentoring plan (1-2 pages) o How can you tie your research to teaching/mentoring? Be realistic. Outreach/broader impacts (1-2 pages) o How does your research benefit folks outside your area? o How will you disseminate your work? o How will you engage with people outside your discipline? o Don't talk about under-represented groups unless you have a specific plan (and letters from the places you'll work with to implement it) Timeline (1/2 page) o Usually done as a table/gantt chart - summarize here the 5 pages of your research plangantt  Can be specific about what each grad student will do

19 Proposal body (15 pages, 15) Results from prior NSF funding (1/2 page) Results from prior NSF funding o Summarized as broader impacts/intellectual merit o Rules on this have recently changed. Now up to 5 pages (!) and more emphasis on prior performance  If you don't have this your proposal will be returned without review.

20 Overall content (how a career differs from a regular proposal) You are selling yourself as a researcher/educator o Funding you will lead to years of productive research and mentorship o Explain why you are the best person to tackle this research area o Explain how funding you will help you achieve your goals/advance your career Other possible items to focus on: o Professional development (put it in the budget) o Collaborations

21 Integrated research and education Make it solid, but don't spend all of your time on it o I've never heard someone say "let's fund this because of the awesome education plan" o I have heard someone say:  "yeah, and they also don't have a good education plan" (trying to kill the proposal)  "they're education plan is by the numbers, but it's ok" (they like the proposal) o Make sure you are not JUST boilerplate o Also make sure it's integrated Anything unique, put it up front and visible o but be realistic (no completely new graduate programs)

22 Integrated plan, how to write Read several plans from other folks o We collected some here  Classes you will develop  Entice undergrads (REUs, Honors college students)  Science center projects Analyze what you have and see if there's any part that could be taught to pre-college students o Talk to any outreach people you have Best to have budget support for anything substantial Start now

23 Concrete education plans Find one unique thing you can do o Make an appointment now with outreach people o Start now - demonstrate initial progress (web site, tutorials, class materials, etc) Put that unique thing up front, and make it as specific as possible Start with boilerplate for other outreach/education o Adapt it to your research area o Put it in the budget o This should evolve with your research (ie, have a 5 year plan)

24 Broader impacts/outreach If your research has an end application, establish a relationship with someone in that area NOW o "I will use their data" is good, but not great o Better if there's an integrated back and forth  Demonstrate your approach with real data  Put code/techniques up on a web-site now o If you can, share code/techniques  Have something in the budget to support this  Tutorials/workshops at conferences Boilerplate: Publishing papers, putting data on the web Read a few Science News articles.Science News

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