Convince me to submit an NSF CAREER proposal

Feb 27 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm quite serious - beyond general "diversify your portfolio" and "cast a wide net" -type waxing, why would I spend the time writing a grant proposal that would require learning a new funding system, developing a "broader impacts" plan, carefully re-crafting my research narrative to be compellingly non-health-related (which it undeniably is), all for less money, when I could just write another R01?

14 responses so far

  • BioEngrProf says:

    I'm not sure that it's necessary in your case. I'm an associate professor in bioengineering at a New England university. In the academic engineering community, NSF is frequently the "go-to" funding agency. I think the same is often true for a lot of researchers doing fundamental research. In their case, applying for an NSF CAREER is a must, especially if you they are on the tenure track. However, if your work is relevant to NIH, you have experience with the NIH systems, and getting an NSF CAREER award is not critical to your career path, I would say that you're better off putting your efforts into writing that R01. In fact, I generally advise our junior faculty to write their NSF CAREER proposal (because it is expected of them) and then to move over to NIH or DOE as quickly as possible. The funding rate is generally better (though it's still not very good), the amount of funding is more reasonable, and (having served on NIH, DOE, and NSF panels) I prefer the review style of NIH to NSF. The caveat to all of this, of course, is that I come from a different field with its own idiosyncrasies and culture. So do please keep that in mind. Good luck whatever you decide to do!

  • Heavy says:

    Don't do it, doesn't sound worth it in your case.

  • neuropolarbear says:

    It's basically an R01 with roughly similar chance of success.

    Will you lose an R01 cycle doing it? If so, don't do it. If no, then it's just another thing to apply for. (Also, if it will cost you preliminary data that would otherwise go into an R01, don't do it). OTOH you can probably repurpose your rejected A1 as long as you never admit it.

    Those are the criteria. The reframing won't be very hard. The Broader Impacts is really pretty easy to write, even though everyone whines about it (worst of all me when I was writing mine). And "learning a new funding system" is not a real problem. Money is money.

  • Prof. J says:

    You probably should not bother with the career, especially if it is your first time applying to NSF. Then it is doubly a waste of time.... Cynically, I feel like some of the ultra low finding rates are partially due to a nearly complete dissolution of the disciplinary boundaries when it comes to grant applications (and yes I know... Flat budgets from congress+other obvious factors). But the university administrative pressure to "throw your hat in the ring" even when it doesn't belong is all around no good. Drill down on the R-01

  • Mikka says:

    To me the problem is not writing it or health unrelatedness. It's the "Broader impacts" thing. For a regular NSF grant that's pushed to the back, and you can take care of it by saying that you take high school students in the summer and advise minority undergrads in STEM paths. But for a CAREER award all of that has to be integrated in your project, i.e. you having an entire class of high school juniors phenotyping a worm screen, and then following up on the mutants. That sounds to me like an awful lot of work for not that much money. Specially if you're on an NIH oriented tenure track, ain't nobody got time for that!

  • eeke says:

    I don't know. After looking at NIH paylines, the whole fuckin thing is a lottery. Unless you buy a ticket, you have no chance of winning. I'm sure most of us are submitting excellent proposals to the NIH, but only a lucky few will be funded. Unless you already have some kind of steady funding, do it. There might even be an office at your Univ. that can assist with developing your broader impacts (check for outreach offices). Despite what everyone says, this aspect can actually be very, very rewarding and worth the effort.

  • Dr Becca says:

    I totally get the lottery thing. But I guess my question is, when I have a finite amount of time to spend writing grants, what are the best odds? 1 R01 and 1 CAREER, or 2 R01s? My feeling is that the latter is probably the better bet.

  • DrIgg says:

    I can only speak from my perspective, but I think we are at similar points in our careers. My advice is to stick with NIH. Since your research is "undeniably" health related, why would you spend time, financial and mental resources to retool your whole scientific focus to go after a pot of money that has similar funding chances?

    Also, it depends on your P&T committee. In the current funding environment, tenure committees are starting to consider the weight of funding efforts (grant apps that receive good but not fundable scores) in addition to funding successes. Will they recognize the efforts to secure funding from NSF equal with your NIH efforts? In my med school the P&T committee probably wouldn't.

  • Bashir says:

    I think that if NIH grants work fine for you then sticking with that is best. There's certainly a cost to learning a new system and all the little idiosyncrasies, jargon, etc. It just makes it more work than another R01 would be for you.

    I am someone who is very familiar with how NIH does things. I've done F, K and I'm writing an R. I am going to probably end up submitting to NSF (maybe CAREER?). The main reason is that some lines of my work really are outside of what NIH is interested in. If I want that funded NSF is a much better fit.

    I really have no idea about regular vs. CAREER. Seems to be very area dependent?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    There's a very big difference in writing for the two agencies. I've tried to split the difference with little success. I think you're better off focusing on one agency while developing your granting chops.

  • almosttotenure says:

    Your blog is funny - I can enjoy b/c I've nearly crossed the tenure line and can appreciate your concerns. About NSF, it is different, but can be worth the time to submit IF you know that the program officer is interested in your research area. I've had/have foundation, NIH, and NSF money. NSF's is the least amount of money (but same amount of work).

    The thing with the CAREER is that it is all prestige and no $$$. I don't think anyone has ever gotten the CAREER and not received tenure, but that may be wrong.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Wait. Don't you have an R21? If you do, then I don't think you are eligible for a CAREER.

    Here's the deal. To the Bio index where I submitted my CAREER, 2/42 were funded. For those of you at home, that's less than a 5% payline. NIAID (where all my grants go currently) is at 9% and 12% (new-investigators) for R01's.

    I submit to NSF because my pre-tenure letter says I need to submit grants to NSF too.

    Bottom line: If you are not getting pressure from up above (Admin, folks; not deities), no need to fish around NSF with their broader impacts and what not. The success rate is not any different and I doubt DOUBT that those of us who are starting to cast our nets into those waters are going to edge out proposal written by folks 'brought up' in the NSF ways.....

  • Susan says:

    Other things to include in your cost/benefit analysis: you can think of a pre-proposal as a 'free' set of reviews for an R01 submission, extending your A0-1 into an A2(?). Getting down to 4 pages is nontrivial, but may make you reframe your arguments in a way that may later be helpful. Broader impacts (coming up with them, and potentially implementing them) do have a time cost that you cannot recoup at NIH. A CAREER is, I think, at least in my field, higher-profile than an R01.

  • Tom says:

    Exactly the question I was looking for! 🙂 But I am not sure I still have a clear idea on whether to apply for this or not.

    My background is in computational systems biology, and I have applied for grants in both NIH and NSF. On the NSF side, I generally apply for software development grants that can be applied to both biomedical research as well as education. There are two issues that I see with the CAREER.

    1) \($ -- 500k (minus indirects) for five years will pay for about one grad student.
    2) Because of the big focus on outreach and education in the CAREER, from what I've heard, it takes a tremendous amount of effort that is unlikely to be supported by the little budget.

    Basically, the cost/benefit ratio seems very high. The level of \)$ that I am applying for through non-CAREER NSF mechanism is much higher than what I would get from CAREER. While I understand the prestige of CAREER, will the P&T committee discount, say, a 1M grant from NSF only because it's not CAREER?

    With such low paylines, as others also mentioned, we need to put out as many proposals as possible. Even if one gets a CAREER, it seems to me that it will require more time to satisfy its requirements, leaving us with less time to keep applying for additional support and with not that much $ to take our science to the next level. I suppose a CAREER would make sense for fields and projects where the budgets are generally around the $500k level anyway.

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