Thursday, June 19, 2008

NSF says no. Not yet.

I rode my bike into work for the first time today, determined to do the ~8 mile round trip this way as much as possible. It was a beautiful morning and I was glad to be cycling through Carbondale.

Even though I'd learned via early-morning email that our request for National Science Foundation (NSF) funding was denied. Our proposal, which included collaborators at SIUC, the U. of Illinois, UC-Berkeley, and others was to use Emriver models to teach science fundamentals to undergrads and GK-12 students.

It was a damn good proposal. We at LRRD spent well over 250 person-hours, at a cost of at least $15,000, (I worked for free, add pay for me, triple that) on it. We worked through the Christmas and New Year's holidays to finalize and submit. NSF proposals aren't for the weak at heart. There were sentences we rewrote many times to get them just right.

Here's a sentence from NSF's review summary:

No statistical data is (sic) available to shared (sic) light into (sic) the outcomes.

In fairness, the reviewers have a lot of material to plow through. Cara read the reviews first and said, "Steve, you just have to take deep breaths as you're reading." We aimed very high, and knew the odds of funding on first submission weren't good. None of us are surprised we were denied. But it stings to see your agonized-over prose reviewed thus.

We know LRRD is one of the most well-meaning capitalist enterprises on the planet, but how to convey that? I've worked for no pay for nearly a year now, if anybody's listening.

Our NSF-savvy collaborators and supporters at SIUC tell me our overall rating (good-to-very-good) was very positive, and that we should definitely re-submit.

Even if NSF never gives us money, there are great benefits from this effort. We found our colleagues at Winona State this way, and also put together a comprehensive lit review on moveable-bed river models (finding out ours is the best). We developed strong ties with colleagues at SIUC, whom we admire all the more now. We were honored these scientists wanted to collaborate with us.

And LRRD is doing very well otherwise.

Cara did some incredible work keeping track of the entire process and writing the proposal, among other things. Thanks to Cara, Kate, and everybody else.

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