Why we do science: it’s not all about the applications

October 1, 2011


Senator John Pastore:
 “Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”

Physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson: “No sir, I don’t believe so.”

Pastore: “Nothing at all?”

Wilson: “Nothing at all.”

Pastore: “It has no value in that respect?”

Wilson: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of man, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”

As we busy ourselves writing grants and justifying our existence, it’s good to take a step back.

hat tip to Boing Boing

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The most important line in your grant proposal–DIGG version

September 30, 2011

Now’s the time that many of you are crafting an NSF DIGG proposal, a nice chunk of money available to grad students for the purpose, as the acronym implies, of shoring up your dissertation research. I suspect of all the work done by scientists, dissertations are unusually well represented in high-profile journals. One reason is that they are designed in part by a committee of well intentioned professors, and the constant feedback to the student and her advisor promotes a study that is thorough and thoughtful. DIGGs allow a good dissertation to rise to greatness. And nothing puts you on track to success in Academia like a well known dissertation.

So, here’s a piece of advice for you grant writers. First the general rule, then one specific to DIGGs.

Pay special, extra-special, attention to the formatting requirements. They are there for a reason. Program officers and reviewers need that kind of uniformity so they can find and compare proposal content. If they are looking for a heading that says “Timeline”, and that heading ain’t there, you will peeve somebody who is deciding whether you get a big chunk of money.  A grant proposal is no place to freelance.

And when it comes to DIGGs, you had better have a pretty close to verbatim version of the following statement, near the beginning and near the end of the proposal:

“Based on the results from these experiments, an important extension of this dissertation research will be to _________. And that is exactly what we propose next.”

Tip of the hat to NS


Grants: NSF Graduate Research Fellowship deadlines for 2011

September 1, 2011

NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowships are highly competitive–but really choice–opportunities to live “off the grid” of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and burger-flipping in your first years of grad school. They are also relatively easy to apply for, involving a short research description, personal essay, CV, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. They are sometimes overlooked. We don’t overlook them here on GTDA, and will have more to say about them over the coming month.

The one challenge to someone who is just settling in is that these “NSF Pre-Docs” ask you to make a coherent, compelling case as to what research and outreach you want to do even as you are just learning where everything is on campus. So take a look at the official announcement and the far less bureaucratically  horrifying NSF GRFP webpage and begin daydreaming about your own GRFP application. The deadlines, as you see below, are just around the corner.

Full Proposal Deadline Date:  November 14, 2011

Engineering: November 15, 2011

Mathematical Sciences; Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering; Chemistry; Physics and Astronomy; Materials Research:  November 16, 2011

Social Sciences; Psychology; Geosciences; STEM Education and Learning:  November 18, 2011

Life Sciences: November 18, 2011


On the Five Stages of Proposal Writing

May 24, 2008

I’m preparing to dust off a proposal that was rejected six months ago. It’s a resubmission to the National Science Foundation. In such cases the word submission is particularly apt. When NSF is funding less than 10% of the proposals it receives, one is pretty much resigned to one or more rewrites before you have a chance at funding. And since you often have only one or two chances a year to submit a proposal for 3-5 years of work, well, one doesn’t have to be a whiz on the quantitative side to see proposal writing as a lovely lesson in the brevity of all things mortal.

But I digress.

While dwelling on such things existential it was great to come across FemaleScienceProfessor‘s take on the the process of writing a grant proposal. What emerges is the notion that successful grants have to be in some way transformative, that their writing is not linear but aggregative, that much of it has to do with juggling budgets and filling out forms, and that, when it’s all over (after months of nurturing the baby that you then unceremoniously kick out of the nest), well….I’ll let her do the honors…

And then.. someone in the grants office pushes a button and the proposal is gone. I get an automated email. I am relieved, but there is also a melancholy feeling of emptiness at the departure of the proposal out of my intellectual grasp. What will I do next? I contemplate cleaning my office, but I don’t actually do it.

FSP is a worthwhile blog. Check it out.

See also:

10 steps toward better grant writing

5 ways of dealing with that rejected manuscript

Another GTDA haiku


How far are you from the cutting edge?

December 29, 2006

from ScienceThis time of the year the media is flooded with end of the year lists and retropectives. Science is not immume from this syndrome. So as you ponder (along with the rest of the self-absorbed world) your place in the universe, its not a bad time to read what others are saying are the Grand Challenges and Great Opportunities in Science.

This serves two purposes. First, if it’s in Science magazine, people are talking about it, and it reflects, to some degree the status quo. Part of being a scholar is knowing what the big ideas are in your field, since those ideas are the lingua franca of science.

Second, when you are selling your work (to journals or granting agencies) its not a bad idea to find linkages to what everybody else is talking about and what the status quo thinks is important.

Now, I know this might sound a tad jaded. Perhaps you are working on wombat tunneling behavior because, by golly, that’s what your passionate about. And that’s cool too. But part of teaching (and writing grants and journal articles is teaching) is creating the desire in you reader to learn more. And it certainly helps if you can relate your work to things everybody else is interested in.

Our work in the Antlab? We are all over bullet points one and two above. 😉

h/t to Matt over at Ontogeny .


“It’s the most, wunnerful tiiiiiiime….of the year!”, (or Grant writing 101)

December 20, 2006

Many of us are slogging away during the holidays, getting ready to pitch a grant.

Now there are folks who see this as the worst kind of drudgery. And yes, there is a rather masochistic element to spending a fair bit of time, and a whole lot of creative energy, pitching an idea to NSF when it’s currently funding about 8% of its proposals. Yet at the same time, its a great way to truly focus on what you want to do next, to anticipate what it would be like tromping through a new field site, relishing that new data, and, generally, finding out some cool new stuff.

We’ll be talking a lot about this subject, but I can’t think of a better way to begin than a short introduction by Joan Straumanis’s introduction to the art, science, and politics of writing a winning proposal. It’s built from her time working with Funding for the Improvement of PostSecondary Education (or “FIPSE” to close personal friends). I’ve reprinted it below, if you find roaming around the current administration’s Department of Education website, well, rather icky.

All the points are worth noting, but pay particular attention to

12. Write the abstract last…Write 3 versions: one page (first page of proposal, whether requested or not), one paragraph (if requested), and one line, the proposal title-which you should think of as a mini-abstract (descriptive and intriguing)…. Prepare for the possibility that some sleepy reviewer might read only the abstract.

h/t to SP, who’s also working on a proposal.
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