The Office of Research and Engagement recently hosted a workshop focused on funding opportunities at the National Science Foundation presented by Engin Serpersu, professor of biochemistry and cellular biology at UT, who is serving as the Rotating Program Director for NSF’s Molecular Biophysics Cluster, Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Directorate for Biological Sciences. In his presentation at ORE’s NSF Workshop for Biological Sciences, Serpersu offered insights into how NSF prioritizes its portfolio, tips on proposal development, and resources available on the NSF website.
In a panel discussion, faculty members shared tips for success with NSF, along with suggestions for building strong collaborations. These included Steve Abel, assistant professor of chemical engineering; Gladys Alexandre, professor of biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology (BCMB); Brad Binder, associate professor of BCMB, Barry Bruce, professor of BCMB; Tessa Burch-Smith, assistant professor of BCMB; Liz Howell, professor of BCMB; David Jenkins, associate professor of chemistry; Jaan Mannik, assistant professor of physics, and Dan Roberts, professor of BCMB.
Tips for success:
- Always contact the program director before submitting a proposal. Prepare a one-page white paper that highlights your plans, and send it along with an email requesting a schedule phone conversation. Many agreed that the best way to meet program directors is at conferences, where information conversations can be especially constructive.
- Read the GPG before you begin.
- Be serious about your efforts related to broadening participation. Visit the NSF website to learn more. Be creative, and find something you truly believe in. Reviewers will respond to strong, genuine ideas.
- Realize that the Project Summary is the most important page in the proposal. All reviewers will read that, while not all will read your full proposal. Clear writing is key, and a weak introduction will sink you. As one presenter suggested, think “Why would grandma think this is important?”
- Use your best ideas now; don’t save them for later. Successful proposals stand out from the pack and are not afraid of taking risks.
- When building collaborations, find people with mutual interests in underlying science, not just methods. Allow time to develop ideas, preliminary models, etc. Realize that collaborations add complexity, which increases difficulty and time demands. However, in today’s environment of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research, such collaborations are often the key to funding future research.
- Current news from the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences can be found in their new blog.
ORE is planning additional workshops to facilitate proposal development and collaborations. Faculty who are interested in engaging in this process can contact Sharon Pound in ORE’s Research Development Team.