Thursday, November 05, 2009

Begging for money

The past several weeks I've been working on funding proposals for the National Science Foundation.  This just means I'm asking the government for money to do research.  And, despite what you may think, the government is stingy.  There are a lot of astronomers, and limited resources for research.  We have to spell out our proposed research in only 15 pages, and in that small amount of space we have to make people excited about our research and convince them that it is important and will succeed.  We have to anticipate and answer questions the reviewers will have about our science and proposed methods. 

We also have to justify every penny we plan to spend.  It's not  easy.  How do you accurately estimate the costs of attending a conference that you know will happen somewhere in the world in either 2012 or 2013?  How many trips to which telescopes will we have to take?  Will we need new computers along the line?  What will our salary needs be over the next three or four years? This is hard, too.  My salary needs will be a lot less if I am offered a job as a professor somewhere, as that will pay my salary for at least 9 months of the year.  But will I get that job this year?  Or next year?  Or the year after that?  How many papers announcing our results will we need to write?  How many pages will each of these papers be?  How much money will I need for phone bills and photocopying in 2012?

We also have to discuss how our research will make an impact in the world outside of astronomy research.  This includes what sort of education and public outreach we will do if we get the money (such as this blogging or the teacher workshops I've helped with in the past).  The National Science Foundation takes this section of proposals very seriously.  If we want money, we cannot merely hide in our offices, write inscrutable scientific papers, and spend taxpayer money.  We have to show that we are sharing what we learn with the world outside of academia.

Anyway, that's a big reason I've been kinda quiet recently.  In 10 days, this will all be a bad dream, and I can get back to writing job applications.  And 2 or 3 months from now, that will be finished, and I can get around to writing proposals to use telescopes.  After that is done, I can get back to doing science.  Or it may be time to start applying for more funding.  We shall see.

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