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ROI on NSF proposals October 23, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research.
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I had a conversation with my supervisor the other morning.  I am currently writing a proposal to NSF, and I said I may have enough to get a second one together, too.  His response was, “Go ahead, if you think it’s worth the effort.”

I decided to go forward with the second one, but it’s been bothering me because, when you look at it, it’s really NOT worth the effort.  If you get it, it’ll seem like all the time in the world was worth it.  But in reality, not so much.

Not that I have any economic savvy, but my sense is that going after more than one NSF proposal isn’t worth it at all.  Going after one is only worth it if you think you have a spectacular chance.

A big part of the problem is that one can get, at most, 2 months salary from NSF.  That means that if I get one proposal funded, I get 2 months of salary.  If I get more than one funded, I still only get 2 months…not for each project, this is total.

Being on soft money, it seems like NSF is definitely not the way to go.

However, there are intangible benefits in the highly unlikely chance (probably <10%) that I were to get a proposal funded.  Specifically, having some funding under one’s belt makes one far more attractive in terms of hiring into a spot that pays more than two months salary.  If that’s the only criteria, then it appears it’s worth it to go after as many as possible.

Realistically, though, there’s probably more important factors involved, like my desire to sleep and eat.  It’s an optimization problem, and two proposals is my limit.  I simply can’t focus on more than that (and I tried last year).  By focusing on more than one, I’m probably decreasing my odds of getting either because of the need to divide my time.  Of course, I’m already dividing my time between getting other work done, getting my thesis done, teaching, and having a family (and currently not doing the best job of that).  What’s another proposal when you’re already overwhelmed, right?

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