Saturday, June 22, 2013

Like Farts in the Wind

I recently heard some interesting 2nd hand advice from Matt Welsh, whose blog has plenty of advice/rants/raves for tenure track junior faculty.   Matt ended up leaving academia for Google but with regards to writing grants and getting funding, he's said "Focus on writing papers, send out proposals like farts in the wind"; basically, spam granting agencies without a lot of thought.

For some reason this really bothers me.  It is effectively concluding that grantsmanship and actual intellectual merit cannot be accurately measure by the review process, that funding is effectively a crapshoot and you just need to play the game lots and lots in order to get funded.   It's succumbing to the view that folks reviewing your proposals are not going to know much about your area or understand the significance. Papers, on the other hand, tend to be reviewed by researchers more close to your area of expertise and this is where you need to spend your time polishing and honing your message.

Now, after many rounds of NSF review, perhaps I need to stop deluding myself and conclude the same.  But I think that the low funding rate has a lot to do with the perception of randomness in the review process.  Many meritorious proposals just cannot be funded at the current rate (although around 20% for the whole of NSF, it varies widely per program).

Perhaps it's time to get "gassy."

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