Monday, June 8, 2009

Why won't they call?

It's that time of year again; that nail biting, anxious, 'why don't they love me', maybe they called while I was in the bathroom, time of year. No, no, no, I don't mean the new National Academy of Science members announcements. That came out end of April, and I noticed I was passed over once again this year in what I can only interpret as blatant ageism. I mean, how is someone as young as me supposed to accumulate the absurdly high research record the Academy 'demands' for consideration?

No, it's the time of year when the yays and nays start to filter out of NSF for the DEB panels (that's Division of Environmental Biology for my non-ecology/evolution friends). NSF program directors tend to call with good news (or send you a blanket form letter with bad news). This results in all sorts of interesting behavior this time of year, especially from junior people. I find it surprisingly similar to those awkward early stages of dating:

1) Excitement: I know the odds are not in my favor. Afterall, NSF is so totally hot right now. They've been rejecting 92% of the proposals that hit on them....but my proposal(s) totally rocked! How could they reject me?

2) Doubt: The "yays' are supposed to filter out quickly...if NSF was totally into me, I think perhaps maybe I should have heard by now?

3) Denial: No one else seems to have heard anything. Well, no one but that one guy who got a 'yes', but that was for such a totally different panel. I'm sure my panel is just busy or, you know, out of town or something. They'll call. Hopefully. Maybe.

4) Insanity: Maybe they just don't like to leave messages. I have been out of my office lately, working in the lab. Did I put the lab phone on my profile? What happens if they call and I'm not there? Do they give my money to the next person on the list? Maybe my phone doesn't work (pick up phone, hear dial tone)..oh shit, maybe they  tried to call right then! God I have to pee but I don't dare leave the phone.

5) Depression: They're not going to call. I'm such a loser. How could I have been so stupid to think NSF would ever love someone like me?

6) Binge Eating: ummm, chocolate good.

7) Resignation/delusion: Well, there are more proposal deadlines in the sea. July is starting to look pretty good. In fact, I bet the July panel will LOVE me.

15 comments:

Prof-like Substance said...

No shit. I'm getting a bit sick of waiting to hear back, now a day shy of 6 months since the deadline. I already have two more to submit in July and now I could have less than a month to turn a third around? Why do we always fall for the ones who play hard to get?

Odyssey said...

It can take an interminably long time for the PD's to make all their calls. And this year it may take even longer - it took some time and much effort for the NSF (including the PD's) to decide what to do with the ARRA funds (and they're not done yet!). Just remember, you're still in the game until they tell you otherwise.

Go pee. They'll leave a message.

Comrade Physioprof said...

NSF doesn't have an on-line dealio like NIH's ERA Commons?

Odyssey said...

NSF doesn't have an on-line dealio like NIH's ERA Commons?


Yes and no. They like to call you if you're going to be funded. That way they can let you know immediately what your actual budget will be so you can revise and submit it quickly (and hence you get the money quicker), and will often ask you to address any weaknesses/deficiencies the reviewers might have brought up. They'll (sometimes) email you if you're not being funded (it's somewhat PD dependent). Your actual ranking (score) and reviews will appear on Fastlane somewhat later. This system allows the PD's to get money into the hands of the funded PI's more quickly. It does tend to suck for those ultimately not funded because they can be kept in limbo for what seems like an eternity (but in reality is generally only a few weeks or so).

Odyssey said...

Oh and in the NSF system you're not getting a score and then having to wait around wondering what the funding cut-off line will be and what council will do. It becomes a simple binary process.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

They like to call you if you're going to be funded. That way they can let you know immediately what your actual budget will be so you can revise and submit it quickly (and hence you get the money quicker), and will often ask you to address any weaknesses/deficiencies the reviewers might have brought up.

Wut!? You mean if they have decided they *will* fund you but cut your budget, they make you redo the fucking budget? And if they have decided they *will* fund you, they still want you to respond to the reviewers!?!? WTF!?!?!?

River Tam said...

Yeah, what he said....on all accounts (PLS, Odyssey, and CPP).

@CPP: By the time anything would pop up on fastlane, you either have had your yes for weeks or have probably already received the tough shit form email. And yes, the budget is still negotiable (in a downward direction)...though I would be very happy right now to adjust a budget downward if it got funded.

@Odyssey: The problem with the long lag in getting the no is really the issue PLS is talking about: the turnaround time for the next deadline. I know a bunch of people who got the no so late that they simply couldn't get the revision done in time for the Jan deadlines.

@PLS: Same boat. I have two that might need to be turned around for July and a new one in addition. I would love to know right about now if I'm submitting 2 or 3 proposals in a month!

Odyssey said...

CPP:
NSF doesn't have modular budgets. If they cut you they want to know how you're going to deal with it. [Hint: dropping specific aims is very much the wrong answer.]

I understand it's very much PD-dependent, but yes, they can ask you to respond to the reviewers even after having decided to fund you. I think this has to do with the autonomy the PD's possess. They need to back up their decisions when choosing to fund one meritorious application over another. Keep in mind they don't have as fine a scoring scale as they have at NIH. A PD may have more proposals scored "outstanding" than they have money to fund. They may also decide to fund a young PI who didn't quite make the "outstanding" level, but that has to be done at another proposal's expense. Asking for responses to reviewers can help them justify such decisions.

Prof. Chaos:
A wise PD once advised me to assume I wouldn't get the reviews back in time for the next cycle. If you are lucky enough to get them back within six months (I did once), it's unlikely you will have sufficient time to properly address substantial criticisms. You're generally doing yourself a favor by giving yourself the extra six months to do a really good job with the resubmission. I know that's hard when you're dealing with a tenure clock that seems to tick faster every day, but it really is the best approach.

Anonymous said...

I have just experienced the folowing scenario: I put in for funding from our government agency. The agency tells me they *always* call if you are successful. I go to a funding seminar held by the agency about three weeks after the expected time of the phone call. They re-iterate if successful, you would have got a phone call by now. I've been through all the stages of the list, now I am just fucking depressed. I buy 2 bags of chocolate on the way home. Two days later, I get a letter saying they have funded the proposal. I am so wild! How dare they? This rollercoaster is insane. (Of course, I graciously accept the funding- but let them know I am pretty pissed about their process)

Prof-like Substance said...

Odyssey - This is something I have been strugling with. Do I bother turning the grant I submitted in January around fro July if I hear back this week that it did not get funded. If flip-flopped on this about a dozen times and also considered patching up the holes I can and sending to a fairly new program that I haven't tried yet.

At the moment I'm feeling that if the main problem is lack of prelim data then I am going to blow a lot of start up to solve that and wait until the Jan deadline to resubmit. If the problems are more cosmetic, I might try and throw it in again, but I'm still going to produce the data for January. Of course, if I don't see the reviews in the next two weeks there won't be the option of making the turn around.

Odyssey said...

If the problems are more cosmetic, I might try and throw it in again, but I'm still going to produce the data for January.

If you get the reviews in time this is the right approach. But only if you can truly do a good job of it and the revisions are mostly cosmetic. You have two other proposals you're submitting in July. Can you really do a stellar job on those plus revisions? Only you know the answer to that one. Personally I know I couldn't, so I wouldn't waste my (and the reviewers') time. I would choose between putting off revisions and submitting the other two, or doing the revisions plus one new submission.

Generally you'll be more successful with quality than with quantity.

Anonymous said...

i hear you prof chaos! June is ticking away.... and my nsf angst is only increasing

Prof-like Substance said...

Damnit, one more week down and no notification.

Anonymous said...

have they called yet?

River Tam said...

@anon: no calls. I did get the dreaded form letter for one of my grants but the other is still MIA. Hope you're having better luck!