The following proposal was submitted to the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program (NSF#0319145). The proposal was a collaborative initiative that built on the existing strengths of the entire academic unit and explicitly details how an award would complement current departmental infrastructures and expand existing initiatives. The key for instrumentation grants is to avoid writing proposals that appear to be “wish lists” that indicate what researchers “might” do with a new toy. Instead, instrumentation grants must be closely associated with current research, unit infrastructures, and individual (as well as unit) capacities. Beyond the current research agenda, this proposal clearly identifies linkages between research and the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. Additionally, the proposal also outlines an outreach component and provides for public data sharing.
While this proposal was funded, it was funded on the third submission. Ironically, the subsequent submissions were revised only slightly. While some grant writers would have significantly re-tooled their applications in response to reviewer and panel feedback, the structure of NSF programs is such that every competition is a new competition with a restructured panel and often entirely new reviewers. For this reason, the authors believed the original submission was competitive and chose to only slightly revise the later two submissions. The revisions were minor in nature and included only staffing and figure updates. This approach was successful in that each competition is new, NSF programs are fund dependent, and the prevailing principle is “first past the post”. That is to say, NSF does not approach grant competitions as developmental exercises. However, not all grant competitions are the same and grant writers should be attentive to the policies, procedures, and practices of agencies and foundations. cr]