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Divison of Planetary Science & NASA Present Proposal Writing Workshop

October 13, 2010

Last week, many in our community attended the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Science in Pasadena, CA.  If you weren’t able to attend, check out The Planetary Society and Astronomy.com for some great coverage of the sessions.  Emily Lakdawalla wrote about several science sessions at The Planetary Society blog and spoke at Sunday’s Career Panel.  Liz Kruesi covered the sessions for Astronomy.com.  In addition, the newly-formed DPS Professional Development Committee held an Early Career Workshop the day before the conference began.  We invite you to send in posts recapping the workshop and/or the conference sessions; the first one appears today, courtesy NASA’s Program Scientist for the Europa Jupiter System Mission, Mars Exploration Rover, and Cassini.  You also know him as the Early Career Fellowship Discipline Scientist: Curt Niebur.

The DPS Professional Development Committee invited me to conduct the Planetary Science Division’s Proposal Writing Workshop as part of the day-long Early Career Workshop held at the DPS conference last week.  This proposal workshop is based on the cumulative experience of a handful of current and former Discipline Scientists who have managed a variety of R&A programs at NASA HQ.  It presents a lot of specific insights on the elements of successful (and unsuccessful) proposals and how the review process works, and I encourage you to attend the workshop at LPSC this year so you can hear about them.  In the meantime, I’ll offer the philosophical meanderings below and hope that you fund them useful:

  • There is a money tree, but you have to dutifully tend to its needs.  The funding you need is out there, but you need to work to make it yours.  Do your research: read the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences opportunity each year and study the program descriptions, pick apart the Guidebook for Proposers, and learn the stats and nuances of the programs to which you plan to submit proposals. Develop the skills you need: serve on review panels, attend workshops, start writing proposals.  Your research publications don’t effortlessly fall out of the sky, and you shouldn’t expect your funding to either. 
  • Its not personal, its a proposal.  A good (or bad) proposal is a reflection of your ability as a proposal writer, not a reflection of your ability as a scientist.  Please don’t equate the two!  All of you have dedicated years (or decades) to developing your skills as a scientist, but I doubt you have spent the same amount of time on your proposal writing skills.  After all, none of us became scientists because of our passion for proposal writing. 
  • Get moving now.  Whether you are a graduate student or a postdoc, you need to start working now.  Ask your advisors to see their proposals and reviews.  Volunteer to serve on review panels.  Form research collaborations.  Attend workshops.  Network.  The best way to learn how to write proposals is to actually write proposals.  Be realistic: it is unlikely that your first (or second) proposal will be selected.  But it is only failure if you refuse to learn anything from the experience.  Take charge of your career: decide where you want to go, develop the skills you need to get there, and get moving!
Thanks, Curt! 
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