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NSF and the number of PI’s March 5, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Particle Physics, Physics, Science.

A number of my colleagues here at WSU and I are writing an IGERT proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) this year. What is IGERT? Well, IGERT stands for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. In other words, a grant program designed to support educational activities (fellowships for graduate students plus program development) in a new or “hot” research direction. Another important aspect of this program is that it has to “interdisciplinary” (I guess that is also what is meant by the word “integrative”). At any rate, this is one of thise programs that involve several department or even universities and so, it is very competitive. Only up to four preliminary proposals from any given university are allowed and then only three full proposals are possible if NSF gives a nod at the pre-proposal stage. So it is a rigorous three-stage proposal program (one extra hurdle is an internal university competition, which we already passed).

But I digressed a bit. The reason for this post is to ask a question: what is the point of restricting the number of PIs for proposals like that to five??? The IGERT proposals usually are a collaborative efforts of many professors (we have 8 professors from three different department); I’ve seen as many as 19 investigators participating in IGERT. So why only five?

I don’t know the answer, maybe someone can tell me what it is. Of course, there are special mechanisms to include more than five faculty on that type of grant — include them as “senior researchers.”  My problem with that is that once you are not classified as a PI or co-PI, there is a perception that yearly faculty departmental review would not count that grant as “yours…”

We’ll have to see how it works in practice: this Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant was renewed this year with only two PIs — this is another example of a new policy from NSF —  so on a renewal I’m listed as “senior personnel” and have no access to that grant on Fastlane (which is NSF’s computer system for submission and renewal of grants). Why is that done this way? Beats me…


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