The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a grant program that aims to support early-career tenure-track faculty in building a research group and a career in academia as independent scholars. Unique from other grant awards, the CAREER supports a single PI, pre-tenure, and provides a 5-year period of support. Hence, the CAREER program provides an important opportunity for faculty to build and demonstrate research vision and independence.
I joined Northeastern’s Khoury College in 2020, and having previously received a CAREER award (in 2019), volunteered to participate in a “CAREER club” mentoring circle mentor every year since. In Fall 2022, I took over the faculty lead role of the CAREER club, working with our amazing Jane Kokernak, Andrea Stith and Abhinandan Shetty to refine the organization of the mentoring program. This year’s CAREER club features much more structure to help applicants develop and refine their project ideas, growing a proposal idea from an elevator pitch to a short draft and eventually to a full-length proposal. We also began with a bootcamp that discussed the NSF review criteria of “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts,” along with examples of how to highlight these qualities in a proposal. We meet every Monday over lunch (the college arranges for catering from Flour Bakery) between January and the CAREER deadline.
- Khoury College CAREER Club 2023 Syllabus (has a writing timeline and direct links to various resources)
- Advice on writing a CAREER Proposal by Mike Ernst
- Advice on choosing an NSF project title by the NSF Division of Environmental Biology blog staff
- “NSF CAREER Proposal Writing Tips” collection of short essays edited by ZJ Pei
Resources provided by the NSF:
- CAREER Program Solicitation - The solicitation is a long document. If you are not familiar with the NSF review process, pay close attention to the section “Merit Review Criteria,” which describes the exact criteria on which panelists will be asked to evaluate each proposal.
- NSF Virtual Grants Conference - YouTube playlist of virtual NSF event. See particularly the sessions on “Merit Review Process” and CISE
- NSF CISE CAREER Workshop - A description of the program and an opportunity to interact 1:1 with NSF program directors. Past recordings can be found on YouTube, but participating live is a great opportunity.
- Austin Henley’s CAREER proposal and blog post, 2022
- Amy Ko’s CAREER proposal, 2009
- My CAREER proposal, 2019 (note that every reviewer rightfully commented that there was insufficient integration of an education plan in my proposal; I would not suggest repeating that mistake)
Also, I would suggest using the NSF Award Search to find titles and abstracts of recently funded CAREER proposals in your research area. You may find recent awards from those who do related research. When I was preparing my proposal, I found that a few people in my extended network had recently had projects funded… in addition to the insights gleaned from the title + public abstract, I also sent a few polite emails to the PIs asking for advice and/or their proposals (which were even more useful!).