Chemical Engineering Education, 36(1), 32-33 (Winter 2002).


Richard M. Felder
North Carolina State University

The NSF Early Faculty Development (CAREER) Program Award is the most sought-after recognition a new faculty member can receive. Besides being an impressive addition to the recipient’s resume, the award gives major bragging rights to his or her department and institution. As soon as most new assistant professors move into their offices and boot up their computers, they are expected to begin work on their CAREER proposals—and if they don’t make it on the first attempt they are expected to keep plugging away until they either win the award or are no longer eligible.

When I recently had the pleasure of serving on an NSF review panel, I noticed that certain common mistakes tended to land proposals in the "Sorry—good try, but not quite good enough to get funded" category. If you’re a new faculty member planning to go for a CAREER award, you might consider taking several precautions to avoid these mistakes.

According to the NSF program solicitation, CAREER proposals must include "creative, integrative, and effective research and education plans," and show "excellence in both education and research." The most common mistake I’ve seen is discounting the importance of the education part. It appeared that many of the authors of proposals I reviewed worked long and hard on their research plans, then thought briefly about their education plans and wrote one or two cursory paragraphs about sponsoring undergraduate research projects or developing a new graduate course related to the proposal topic. With very few exceptions, those proposals were not funded.

This outcome makes sense if you think about it. Most CAREER applicants have spent at least four years thinking about the research topic of their proposals and are also smart enough to get knowledgeable senior colleagues to review their research plans. Those plans are consequently excellent in most proposals that make it past the first cut, which means that the education plans often determine who gets the awards. If the education plans are hastily or unimaginatively written, the proposals are not likely to be competitive.

Here are several more specific suggestions.

Doing all these things may not make your proposal a guaranteed winner, but it will unquestionably improve your odds. Good luck.


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