Virtual workshop provides advice to prospective applicants to career development programs

Road sign says, "Career Get started now"

The purpose of a faculty career development program is to support an investigator in his or her research and instructional development. Some agencies, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have programs that support an investigator at various stages in their career, from beginner, to mid-career, to senior research scientist. Others, like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and some non-Federal agencies, focus on early career development.

Because every agency is different, their respective career development programs have different goals and eligibility requirements. For a comprehensive list of agency-funded career development programs, visit the UC Berkeley Sponsored Programs website.

On Wednesday, March 15, Dr. Carl Batt, Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor at Cornell University, presented a virtual workshop to Miami University faculty on proposal development and career programs, with a special emphasis on the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (NSF CAREER). Dr. Batt shared best practices for developing goals, objectives, and activities for career-focused applications.

Contact the program officer

The first step Batt emphasized for faculty considering a career (or any) grant proposal is to contact the program officer. With funding rates at or below 10%, it is imperative that researchers understand their target funding agency and that they contact the relevant program officer prior to developing a proposal.

Define the problem

Once an appropriate agency and program have been identified, the next step is to define the problem. An applicant needs to identify gaps in the current knowledge-base that they will address in their research plan. Batt suggested investigators stay ahead of the curve, while taking care not to get so far ahead as to be out-of-range of their peer reviewers.

Craft specific objectives

Next, Batt said, is to craft specific objectives. Batt cautioned applicants against developing unrelated objectives. Instead, objectives must be cohesive to address a particular goal. If objectives are too independent, then reviewers may perceive an application to be proposing more than one project– an issue that will keep the proposal from being funded.

Outline a research plan for each objective

Finally, outline a research plan for each objective. Batt encouraged the use of timelines and strategies for dealing with anticipated outcomes/pitfalls.

NSF CAREER

The NSF CAREER program is meant to support teacher-scholars while they build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in STEM research and outreach. For this reason, a CAREER application requires a long-range overview of the applicant’s development plan. Batt pointed out that this long-range perspective makes the NSF CAREER program different from a single-project grant. Another thing that makes a CAREER application  different from a project proposal is that it integrates research and education — both the applicant’s own continuing eduction and how they plan to share their knowledge through instruction and outreach activities. Despite the emphasis on education, Batt cautioned prospective applicants to be aware that “an excellent education plan will not overcome a bad research plan.”

To be eligible for NSF CAREER, faculty must:

  • Hold a Ph.D. in a field supported by NSF
  • Be employed in a tenure-track (or equivalent) position
  • Be untenured as of October 1, 2017
  • Not have submitted to more than three CAREER competitions or received a prior NSF CAREER award

For more information on the NSF CAREER program, other career development programs or general grantsmanship, contact your OARS representative.


Written by Tricia Callahan, Director, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Ladder photo by Charles Rondeau via PublicDomainPictures.net. “Get started now” photo by Pixabay via Pexels. Both public domain.

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