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How to get your proposal funded
Tony Readhead - Astronomy
The Brutal Facts
NSF states that 30% of proposals are funded But in typical panels I have served on the number has been 10%-20%
A typical astronomy or physics panel may have ~30 proposals of which 10 have been rated “very good-excellent” by mail & panel review, and 5 have been rated “poor-fair”, so 50% of the proposals are rated “good-very good” but these will never be funded.
Of the 10 proposals rated “very good-excellent” only half will be funded and the selection of these over the half which have equal rating is what the panel will spend most of its time on. The panel gives the NSF a ranked ordering.
How do you get your proposal ranked in the top 10%?
Essentials for a funded proposal:
1) Outstanding Science
3) Care in Presentation
no matter how good the science, if the proposal is badly organized, and the presentation is sloppy, containing spelling errors, etc., you will not be funded because there are other proposals with equally good science impeccably presented - don’t underestimate the competition
4) Follow Up
we take this as given or you wouldn’t be here
with funding agency and institution
with funding agency - report significant new developments - you must always appear hungry - don’t drop the ball here
Your Funding Agency
have you already done a significant fraction of the work?
Your Local Support
is any of the work fabrication or to be done off campus?
feasibility & timescale
personnel & other resources. Links with other groups, facilities
justification - aim for complete transparency
10-Point Road Map
1) T-6 months begin discussions with agency, colleagues, collaborators
2) T-2 months begin planning proposal (science, budgets, personnel, facilities)
3) T-6 weeks organize writing proposal: delegate science writing, budgets, management
4) T-3 weeks first draft of proposal due
start weekly telecon
5) T-2 weeks discuss final details with sponsored research
discuss with division chairman
discuss with sponsored research
7) T-1 week final draft -- submit proposal
6) T-1.5 weeks second draft of proposal due
8) T+ 1-6 months “care packages” -- updates on progress to agency
10) Following funding -- keep agency fully informed + involved in press releases, etc.
9) FUNDED! Reduced level - remember that program officers are fighting FOR you!!
The Actual Writing
T-6 weeks organize writing proposal: delegate science writing, budgets, management
T-3 weeks first draft of proposal due
Begin with an outline showing topics to be covered in “prior research” and “project description”
Leave summary to the end - your proposal will evolve
Guidelines on Style:
2) Aim for clarity and be succinct
3) Avoid “purple prose” - it’s very irritating
1) Make sure the layout follows a natural logical flow: not the way you developed the ideas
4) Communicate your excitement about the field
5) Make good use of figures, images, plots. These should be aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand and interpret
6) Avoid meaningless and overused words: “very”, “current”, etc. never use “utilize”
7) Use split infinitives sparingly, if at all. “to boldly go …” etc.
8) Excessive use of the passive voice is boring
9) Polishing: be ruthless in paring down verbiage. Allow enough time to return to review your writing after a significant interval. Spend a day away from your work before final editing.
Response To Referees’ criticisms - try to relax
Always remember that your program officer is on your side don’t personalize the process - she/he would like to fund you The criticisms come from your peer reviewers Your job is to give the program officer the ammunition that she/he needs to counter criticisms either received or anticipated
Distinguish between your errors and the referee’s errors Do your best to respond proactively to all the referee’s points But if you are sure the referee has made a mistake point out where your proposals has addressed the issue adequately
You will find most of the criticisms absolutely maddening! Allow at least 2-3 days before you begin to work out your response
One has to wait a whole year before one can resubmit a proposal - so this is generally not practical. One has to start again and submit a proposal which is significantly different