Today is the day there will be a collective groan across the land of NSF Bio. Roughly 80% of y'all who submitted preproposals to either DEB or IOS divisions will know by the end of the day (directly or indirectly) that you'll not be planning a full proposal for August, but a rewritten January 2014 preproposal. Many of you, myself included, already have that news.
I have to say that my attitude on the preproposals has changed as I have been more involved in the process. I'll admit right off the bat that having funding and not hitting the preproposal process as my introduction to NSF likely plays an enormous role in my reflections on the changes. I am sure I would be terrified as a new PI in the system or if I was facing a >year funding gap. No doubt I will down the road.
However, my experience has been that getting papers written has been incredibly difficult while churning 2-3 full grant applications twice a year. On top of teaching. On top of travel. On top of seeing my family once in a while. One thing the preproposals do is prevent people from sinking a ton of time into a proposal that is not ready for Prime Time. Little consolation, I know, but it's depressing to look at the trail of dead proposals I've left in my wake.
What does leave me uncomfortable is that every crucified proposal is a learning experience. Not only is it giving new PIs grantsmitting chops, it helps to learn How Things Work. For me, this was rather critical experience that I continue to learn from.
So, what is the solution for the new peeps? You're going to have to get feedback informally and from a bunch of people. Find someone who has been on the panel you're submitting to or at least a related panel. Swallow your pride and listen to the feedback you're getting. You may have a brilliant idea, but maybe you're writing to the wrong audience. Maybe the pitch is all wrong.
Oh, and get your ass on a panel.