Monday, September 10, 2012

Happiness Is...

NSF saying yes to your grant... (Isn't that one of the lyrics?)

Once again, thanks to the NSF, I get to remain in business* for the next 3-4 years or so.  (Arguably, a large chunk of the thanks also goes to my colleagues Michael Goodrich and Roberto Tamassia, who allowed me to ride on their long coattails this time.  The grant is CNS-1228598, Privacy Preserving Distributed Storage and Computation -- might as well start putting it in all my documents now!)  

This makes up a bit for my sadness a few months ago, when NSF rejected the other grant proposal I sent in this year.**  Given NSF odds these days, I'm more than excited to go 1 for 2 for the year.  Especially since I've run into the following scenario previously:  I'm at the point where I have about a year plus before my grants will disappear;  I send in proposals and they don't get funded, so I'm a little concerned.  So far when that's happened I send in proposal again the next year, before the money runs out, and the NSF funds something and I'm fine again.  This time through the cycle, I'm not going through that, "Gee, something really better get funded, or..." panic scenario that previously has run through my head.

The other grant rejection, though, still stings.  It was written with a colleague with whom I've written many, many successful papers, one of which has won a major award, another of which has seen some major media attention.  In fact we've written several proposals together... none of which has been funded.  There are undoubtedly reasons for this -- our joint work tends to be interdisciplinary and very speculative, and our proposals are often written about things we dream of working on rather than a more grounded, "Here's exactly what we'll do" level that I find is needed to get at least my proposals funded.

And this summarizes my love-hate relationship with the NSF -- which, admittedly, has a lot, lot more love than hate.  The NSF has always come through for me -- they've funded me steadily since I started as faculty.  On the other hand, they're very much a black box to me -- I still don't have a great idea of what will "work" for them and what won't, so I have to keep sending stuff in and coping with rejection.

Which reminds me -- time to think about what, if any, grants will go in this year.  Medium deadline is soon (Oct 9), but the small deadlines are a ways off (Dec)...

* The research business, that is.
** I also was part of a group that submitted a DARPA proposal, which didn't get funded, but that didn't really cause me sadness, as I've come to expect not getting money from DARPA.


Anonymous said...

I think the NSF's decision-making process is better than any other funding agency I've seen (in the US, or in Europe). The main problem with the NSF is that Congress doesn't give it enough money.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anon #1: Certainly I'd have to agree that, on the whole, the NSF does a great job. (I'm obviously biased, since they just funded me again.) I suppose one can argue at a societal level whether NSF gets "enough" money; I'd like there to be more, since there's non-trivial effort to get it. But getting that balance right -- enough money so that good researchers don't get frustrated, but not enough money so that it's too easy to get funding -- seems challenging.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the NSF does a great job (though I don't know whether the situation in Europe, or with other agencies, is better).

It seems like so many people spend roughly as much time writing proposals as actually doing research. There is something perverse about that: it suggests to me that the "overhead" associated with being funded is far too high.