Yesterday evening we sent out award letters for the New Investigator, Joint Venture and Research Development grant programs.The award list will post at our website soon, if it’s not there already.
We’re still busy in the program office with the myriad communications and logistical details of giving out CSUPERB grants. We have yet to announce Curriculum Development, Travel, Presidents’ Commission grant awards – so hold tight out there; we’ll get them made before the fiscal year close. I want to take a break, though, and let you know about our new funding rates. Spoiler: they’ve declined.
All CSUPERB grant and award programs are competitive and involve peer review panels of CSU faculty. We make funding decisions based on 1) recommendations from the CSU faculty proposal review committees, 2) the available CSUPERB budget, and 3) program priorities. We get ranked order lists from review panels. We “pay” down that list as long as we have funds to make grants; this year we have a ~$510,000 budget to make major grants. The Faculty Consensus Group and Strategic Planning Council set “program priorities” each summer and they are reflected in the requests for proposals (RFPs) we issue each fall. In addition the FCG and SPC want to see similar funding rates across all grant programs, if possible. There is no CSUPERB ‘formula’ for campus or disciplinary distribution of funds. The awards made depend on applications received.
CSUPERB calculates “success” or “funding” rates as (the number of awards made) divided by (the number of applications received); we usually report these rates as percentages.
Due to the increase in applications this year across programs, we’re making awards to only 26% of the applicants, down from our average “success rate” of 33%. This year we saw a large spike in the number of applications to the New Investigator and Curriculum Development programs; across grant programs we’ve received 25% more applications this year compared to last year.
Interestingly 77% of the New Investigator applicants were first-time applicants to CSUPERB major grant programs, reflecting new hiring system-wide. We’re making awards to new faculty members in biological sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, bioengineering, physics, geology and kinesiology departments system-wide. They are investigating new coatings for drug-eluting stents, point-of-care diagnostic devices, biosensors, small molecule inhibitors of viral infection, genomic effects of environmental toxins, fundamental mechanisms of cell development, the role of alternative splicing in adaptive evolution and more. Just think of the cool science and engineering projects CSU students will be part of in the coming years!
This funding rate is sad news for faculty applicants who might have been funded at the higher funding rates (we publish those rates in our annual report). We follow national reports and news about peer review, of course. We know that the difference between proposals at the 25% and 30% “pay lines” are negligible and is not predictive of future success or impact. Many disappointed applicants are going to receive the written reviews and wonder why they weren’t funded based on the positive and encouraging things they read there (we’ll send written reviews to applicants later this week).
We hope the written reviews will help PIs focus on points to be made when writing proposals to NSF, NIH and other external-to-the-CSU funding agencies. Each year I get emails saying ‘CSUPERB didn’t fund me – but NSF did!’ I celebrate those moments too. Each new research grant represents uncharted discovery opportunities for the CSU’s students.
What I advise between now and next February’s proposal deadline is to: 1) call the CSUPERB program office for advice and pointers (we run a proposal writing workshop* at each CSU Biotechnology Symposium), 2) sit down with a colleague who has won CSUPERB funding to get tips and advice, 3) write a new draft (far in advance of the next deadline!) for a general review panel – not a panel of experts in your subspecialty (!) and 4) have someone else willing to read it, able to red-line edit like crazy, and who is not an expert in your subspecialty. Last – but definitely not least – address ALL the CSUPERB review criteria in your proposal. It’s not only about the science or technology at CSUPERB. It’s also about demonstrated need, future plans, student involvement and/or partnerships (depending on what RFP you’re answering!).
Grantsmanship requires life-long learning. Sometimes it can feel like there is never enough time to learn when you’re teaching multiple sections of organic chemistry, working with a student researcher on a lab protocol, writing proposals, serving on committees, and trying to move a research idea forward. But – pace yourself – take the time to read a lot, follow Twitter feeds from experts in your field, get advice from colleagues, find a mentor to help, stay grounded in why you chose this career, and rest. In academia there is always another deadline ahead.
*Find here a slide deck from our January 2016 CSUPERB proposal writing workshop. It’s dated – assume details reported here will be different for the next review cycle!