NSF vs ARC: A Postdocs Perspective on American and Australian Research Funding

My first NSF DEB pre-proposal submitted (or any ‘big’ grant for that matter) … hooray! It’s nice to regain head-space to think about something else for a while at least. Even as a co-PI on a pre-proposal, the process was a tad stressful.  To tell you the truth though, I actually enjoyed the process.Maybe because the thinking was in the future tense rather than past (i.e. I was thinking about future research rather than analyzing and writing about great data of the past)? Partly perhaps, but I enjoyed the fact that  Meggan and I worked together nicely and with people across the world to create a 5 page document that sold, what we think at least, is a cool an novel idea. I read it and want to actually do it – I hope reviewers/the panel agree!

If you think about it logically though,  the process looks absurd in that we put so much time and effort into something with an 8% chance of success is clearly insane (see the NSF blog below for trends). And this success rate is pre-Trump! I thought things were bad in Australia, but this actually makes the Australian Research Council  (ARC) equivalent grants (Discovery or DECRA) seem like a ‘good’ bet with success rates of around ~17% (see below). I wonder where the cutoff is? I wonder at what % success will researchers even bother submitting anything? Or is even 1% success worth the effort considering the reward? This situation is clearly stressful for faculty, but for postdocs like myself who rely on this type of funding to ‘make a name’ and to get a gig (read tenure track position or another postdoc) it’s nearly too much. Nonetheless, I somehow push it to the back of my brain and continue to do what I enjoy doing (and hope is of some use to society). Should we move to NZ, Canada, Europe or Asia? Any perspective on these countries/continents would be great.

Even if we don’t get funded which is highly likely, we can no doubt use these ideas in other grants. Fingers crossed of course! Nonetheless, it has been an excellent learning experience and I’ve had fun helping craft the pre-proposal. There are excellent resources out there that have helped enormously and I feel are valuable for grant writing in general (the NSF DEB blog and Mike Kaspari’s blog below for example).  Hopefully, one day things will get better and less of the collective grant writing effort will be wasted.

DEB Numbers: FY 2016 Wrap-Up


On writing a strong NSF pre-proposal


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