NSF DEB data from 2012 shows distrubing trends

Dec 21 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Fresh off the data release by IOS, DEB has sent out a similar (though slightly harder to decipher) dataset. Let's break down the data!

Preliminary Proposals submitted: 1624 across 4 clusters

Panel recommendation for invitation: 395

Preliminary proposals invited: 380

Overall Invitation rate: 23.4%

So, the invite rate for DEB was slightly lower than the 30% invited by IOS. What about the early career and PUI peeps?

Groups of concern:

Early Career Investigators

Preliminary proposals submitted: 401

Preliminary proposals invited: 82

Invitation rate: 20.4 %

Primarily Undergraduate Institutions

Preliminary proposals submitted: 287

Preliminary proposals invited: 47

Invitation rate: 16.4%

Okay, the Early Career people at DEB seem to be getting similar invite rates as those in IOS, but those from PUIs are having more success in DEB at jumping the preproposal hoop. What about the full proposals?

Full Proposal Panels – Fall 2012:

Full Proposals submitted: 380

Panel Recommended for Funding: 259

Panel Recommendation Rate: 68%

Anticipated Overall Funding Rate: 22%

Here's where comparisons to the IOS data get murky. The DEB data are reported as "Recommended for funding" include proposals "across three categories, High Priority, Medium Priority, and Low Priority for Funding". Also, these numbers are based on the budget under the Continuing Resolution, which is 80% of last year's budget. The IOS numbers were all based on "High Priority" status, so we're looking at apples and oranges here. We can tease a bit out of the concern categories, however.

Early Career Investigators

Full Proposals Submitted: 82

Recommended for funding: 29

Success Rate: 35%

If we use the numbers from the section on EC preproposals (401 total), we get a success rate of only 7% for the Early Career people in the new system. That rates is less than half the 16% from last year and well below the ~12% success rate in the two previous years. How about the PUIs?

Primarily Undergraduate Institutions

Full Proposals submitted: 47

Recommended for funding: 18

Success Rate: 38.3%

Calculating from the 287 preproposals submitted, we see a success rate of 6.3%. Again, we see over a 50% drop in success rate from last year, and the previous 5 years where rates have averaged around 12%. Despite the high "success rates" listed in these sections, the total funded need to be compared to the total submitted, not just those that jumped the preproposal bar.

What does it all mean? The numbers make it look like DEB does have significant reason to be worried about its Early Career and PUI categories of investigators in the new system. Both groups have taken a hit in their ability to compete, as was the initial concern. So far, the IOS numbers do not show the same trend, so we should be asking what the two divisions are doing so differently.

Food for thought this holiday season.

11 responses so far

  • Joshua King says:

    I know I'm going to be bring this up early and often in my tenure discussions and whenever my department discusses tenure. These odds make it almost certain that many people will come up for tenure with one or less standard grants from NSF. This should be a wake up call for administrators, state legislatures, and senior faculty. Here in Florida, our major research universities have all seen budget cuts of around 50% since 2007. If you add in the increasing difficulty for getting federal funding, this adds up to trouble for faculty, especially younger faculty, at research universities.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Josh, how much credit towards tenure did you get after the move? Are expectations at your new place such that you would need two NSF grants to get tenure?

  • iGrrrl says:

    So, pulling out the Early Career and PUI numbers, the success rates for (what I assume are) established investigators at R1 institutions would be about 23 %, counting from pre-proposal. It's hard to know whether there are overlapping data with respect to Early Career faculty at PUIs, so that number is likely imprecise and possibly a bit high. Even so, that is startlingly different from the 6.2% for PUIs and 7.3% for Early Career. These data are really striking and troubling. Anyone have a sense for what effect these unintended consequences might have on the pre-proposal policy?

  • Joshua King says:

    I got more or less full credit for my grant (2 years toward tenure). It has been suggested that getting a second grant would make my tenure more of a certainty. It is a fuzzy area because there is not much time before I go up, my University is a major research university - with the expectations that go along with that, and from their perspective they want to see that I have established my own program and that I'm not just going to run on fumes from my last grant (although 3 of the 4 years of that grant are being carried out here).

    My concern with the future of DEB, though, has less to do with my own situation and more to do with the fact that with such low success rates and such low investment from my and other state governments, it is really going to put a pinch on early career people. As I start to graduate PhD's from my lab it is difficult for me, in good conscience, to accept new students who have intentions of going into academia. This is not a trivial thing that any PI should dismiss as these student are faced with major hurdles on the road to a successful career that was already tough, and is now even tougher.

  • Kati says:

    This article describes things in layman's terms: http://www.psmag.com/science/the-real-science-gap-16191/

    Here's a quote: "And today’s postdocs rarely pursue their own ideas or work with the greats of their field. Nearly every faculty member with a research grant — and that is just about every tenure-track or tenured member of a science department at any of several hundred universities — now uses postdocs to do the bench work for the project. Paid out of the grant, these highly skilled employees might earn $40,000 a year for 60 or more hours a week in the lab. A lucky few will eventually land faculty posts, but even most of those won’t get traditional permanent spots with the potential of tenure protection. The majority of today’s new faculty hires are “soft money” jobs with titles like “research assistant professor” and an employment term lasting only as long as the specific grant that supports it."

  • Jacquelyn says:

    This worries me, not only for the obvious reasons-- low success rate compounded by fewer opportunities-- but also because it doesn't seem to jive with what NSF's reports have said. That is, they basically say there's no real difference in funding rate, because --I think-- they don't carry the calculations to that last step. I also talked to a PO about my grant, who said there was no influence on funding rate, and that early-career folks did well (and cited the outcome report). Maybe I'm missing something, but it appears as though NSF hasn't acknowledged the decline?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Well, in fairness, I have talked to some people at DEB and the wording of the email that went out may have been a bit misleading. The data are going to be explored in detail on the new DEB blog when it launches and I think that'll give us a much better idea of what is going on. Another take on the numbers is at Jabberwocky http://jabberwocky.weecology.org/2013/01/07/the-nsf-proposal-revolution-the-deb-data/

  • Alan Townsend says:

    All, I've tried to clarify on one important piece of the story in a post at http://alantownsend.net/.

    Short version: the sizable (and unusual) budget cut so far this FY is the major driver of any differences in success rates, not only because of the cut itself, but because that cut amplifies in terms of its effects on $ available for new awards. So it’s key to hold off for a while and see what happens over the rest of FY13 before conclusions about success rates this year (vs others) can be drawn.

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