Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Post: Update from the CRA Career Mentoring Workshop, Day II

(ed note: Jeff Phillips is at the CRA Career Mentoring Workshop. His Day 1 dispatch is here)

It is day two at the CRA Career Mentoring Workshop.

Today was all about funding, with speakers from NIH (Terry Yoo), DARPA (Peter Lee), Laboratory for Telecommunications Science (Mark Segal), and NSF (Jan Cuny). Jeanette Wing, the assistant director at NSF CISE also made an appearance at reception yesterday.

(ed. note: I just heard that Jeannette Wing is leaving CISE in July. This is sad news - she was a strong and dynamic presence at CISE)

NIH advertised having a lot of money (about $30 billion, compared to $7 billion in NSF). The NIH has many sub-institutes with many different topics, but all applications are funneled through grants.gov. Terry Yoo was very enthusiastic about us applying for a piece of his large pie. It seems a bit tricky, however, to fit a pure computer science project into one of these institutes, specific health-related applications are enough.

We all (CI Fellows) thanked Peter Lee who helped spearhead the CI Fellows program. He recently joined DARPA to head the Transformational Convergence Technology Office (TCTO or "tic-toe"), a new program that will oversee many funded computer science programs. See the DARPA_News twitter feed for information on DARPA solicitations. Among other goals of this office, is to eliminate harsh "go or no go" conditions associated with DARPA grants.
For young researchers, look for CSG or YSA programs, similar in some ways to NSF CAREER awards.

The Laboratory of Telecommunications Science is part of NSA. They hire many many Ph.D.s for advanced computer science research. He could not tell us specifics about what they do, but compared it to an industrial research labs (e.g. AT&T, Yahoo Research, etc.). Movement between research parts and non-research parts is more fluid and is pretty hands on. Even the theoretical computer scientists and mathematicians they hire often build systems to implement their work.

To get funding through them, they generally have close and specific collaborations with faculty. The best way to start a relationship is sending a student on a summer internship (maybe even an undergrad) or via a sabbatical.

Jan Cuny from NSF decided she did not need to convince us that we should apply to NSF; rather, she just assumed we would and gave a howto on applying for NSF grants. Most important tip: **talk to program officers!** (before you submit). Otherwise, it is hard to give specific summaries from her talk (the slides will eventually be online--definitely look for them). The presentation nicely demystified some of the reviewing process; such as how grants are reviewed and why she may choose a certain proposal (for diversity) that scored slightly lower than another unfunded proposal. The other key advice: follow the guidelines precisely and carefully, make it easy for reviewers, and focus the content section on proposed work, not existing work.

A parting thought. It has been great to see many friends who are recent faculty or postdocs, in areas who I might not meet in my normal conferences. But it was a bit odd to have such a large fraction of my competition for jobs in the next year or two in the same room. The funding agencies were definitely here advertising how to get their funding, but if we did not realize that this was important, we would probably not have much luck getting jobs. If you were a department looking to hire to someone, perhaps it would have made sense to come here to recruit postdocs to apply ? Although I guess that is a bit optimistic, as it is a hirer's market.

Is there some way that having many people looking for jobs all in one place can facilitate the hiring process, or has this been out-dated with the electronic age? I would argue that personal interaction is underrated, and would help universities figure out not just who has a great resume on paper, but is also great to personally interact with.

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