Why You Need to Re-Submit Your NSF Pre-Proposal

16 Jan

Last year, Travis Wilcoxen and I submitted what was at the time my first NSF pre-proposal for some collaborative work on stress physiology and disease ecology. At that time, finding the time to complete a grant proposal wasn’t too far in left field because I was given some teaching release my 1st semester at Allegheny and my only course was actually co-taught with another faculty member. The reviews came back and they were generally positive (1 Excellent, 1 Very Good, 1 Poor); however, the proposal wasn’t considered for a full proposal.

I spent most of my summer working with 2 of students, one of whom worked on a project whose data was slotted to be used in the re-submission. The data came out beautiful and did a fantastic job in filling in one of the gaps (and critiques) of our previous proposal submission.

About half way through my Fall semester, I was already exhausted from a challenging and demanding semester. Among other things, I had a normal teaching load (at Allegheny, this is 2 courses and also advising Senior Comp Research students) and I was in the midst of putting together my file requesting that my position as a Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) get converted to a tenure-track position at Allegheny and also applying for tenure-track positions at other institutions as a back-up plan. At the time, my inclination was to put the pre-proposal revision on hold, either temporarily or permanently. The dismal NSF funding rate coupled with the fact that I was at a PUI didn’t give me any confidence boost that our re-submission would fare any better than the original proposal.

In November, I officially heard that my position as a VAP at Allegheny was converted to a tenure-track position, which mean that I was also able to re-negotiate a start-up package that reflected the research expectations for a tenure-track faculty member and not a VAP. Given the generous start-up, I was confident that I could continue the research productivity that would satisfy my own expectations for scholarly activity and also what was expected for faculty at Allegheny. Plus, it is not necessary for us to successfully land a large extramural grant to be considered for tenure. I had essentially written off every notion of the re-submission.

Earlier this week, I submitted 2 different NSF pre-proposals. One of which was the re-submission of the proposal on which I am the PI; the second was a 1st time submission for a proposal on which I am the co-PI. What changed? Certainly not the amount of time in any given day nor my commitment to my family during the break before Spring semester.

The first was the reaffirmation that it would improve my research by simply revising and resubmitting the proposal, regardless of whether it was considered for a full proposal or turned down again. I don’t have the time to read as many papers as I did as a postdoc and although I had a productive 1st year at Allegheny (I published 2 projects that I started here with 8 different undergraduate students from my 1st year), I wasn’t writing as much as I hoped (yes, I really do enjoy writing papers. seriously.). At a minimum, revising the proposal would get me past the Abstracts of the hand full of PDFs that had been piling up in the “Need to Read” folder on my desktop. Additionally, it got me back writing. I hadn’t written any type of scientific writing for an audience outside of my Department the entire semester and that was way too long [for me]. I’ve always felt that one of my assets and writing strengths that helped maintain a high publication rate was the fact that I was always writing. I never fell out of practice and it was always easy to pick back up. Fall 2014 I was out of practice and I knew it. Thus, revising this pre-proposal would actually help me later to write up the recent projects that my students and I have completed.

The second was that it would improve my teaching. I am offering a new course this semester: a Junior Seminar on Disease Ecology. My course is designed so that students read some of the classic ideas in disease ecology from a text book and supplement those ideas with student-lead discussions of case studies in the primary literature. I had yet to finish compiling the reading list for this course and I knew that getting back in the literature on stress physiology and disease ecology would also introduce me to some of the newer papers in this field, some of which I ultimately selected for my Disease Ecology course. Although some of you may not have an opportunity to teach a course similar in style as my Junior Seminar, there are always opportunities to work in new case studies into traditional lecture courses.

Lastly (but most importantly), I think that my work can be funded by NSF. I think that my proposal addresses an important gap in knowledge in disease ecology and I think that the results from the projects that I am proposing to do can transform our understanding of why diseases sometimes cause epidemics and other times do not. In the midst of a pretty busy semester, I let the reviews get to me and I convinced myself that NSF wasn’t interested in funding such a small fish in a big pond. But that simply isn’t true. I took a job at a liberal arts college (and subsequently started this blog with two of my friends) because I believed that I can do quality research in this setting. I stand firm in that belief.

So, with the looming deadline for IOS pre-proposals later this evening, I wish you all good luck as you submit yours.

-MDV

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