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<< Back to November 2004 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the November 2004 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 16/No. 5]

CISE Update: Adjusting to the Increase in Proposals

By Michael Pazzani, Kamal Abdali, Greg Andrews, and Sangtae Kim

The number of proposals submitted to the CISE directorate at NSF has increased substantially over the past five years. A companion article, “CISE 1994-2004: A Decade in Review,” discusses the statistics in more detail. Here we discuss how CISE is adapting to the increase in proposals while pursuing its mission.

The Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering has three goals:

  1. To enable the United States to uphold a position of world leadership in computing, communications, and information science and engineering.
  2. To promote understanding of the principles and uses of advanced computing, communications, and information systems in service to society.
  3. To contribute to universal, transparent, and affordable participation in an information-based society.

To achieve its goals, CISE supports research in all areas of computer and information science and engineering, helps to develop and maintain cutting-edge national computing and information infrastructure for research and education, and contributes to the education and training of the next generation of computer scientists.

A few general principles guide our policy decisions:

Very low proposal acceptance rates are harmful to the computing research and education community and should be avoided. We realize that the community as a whole puts a great deal of effort into writing proposals, and we are grateful to those who volunteer to serve on review panels.

  • CISE will continue to fund a broad and diverse group of principal investigators to fulfill its research and educational mission.
  • CISE strives to fund the most innovative projects with the potential for the greatest impact, and to seek peer input on both the intellectual merit and broader impacts of projects proposed.
  • Collaborative, multidisciplinary research is encouraged. However, CISE-funded research should lead to advances in computer and information science and engineering.
  • CISE will continue to emphasize certain areas of critical importance, such as computer and network security, but will also continue to ensure that funding is available for a broad range of core computer science research. This will ensure that we avoid creating funding gaps that are harmful to the long-term success of computer science.

There are several reasons for the increase in the number of proposals submitted to CISE. First, there has been an increase in computer science faculty nationally. Second, some other funding agencies and some private companies have reduced support for computer science research at universities. Third, the field of computer science has expanded to take on a broader mission (e.g., by including new areas such as bioinformatics).

We will illustrate how CISE is adjusting to the increase in proposals in the Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) division. IIS received 1,220 proposals in FY2002, 2,029 in FY2003, and 2,636 in FY2004. In FY2003, NSF received a substantial budget increase and IIS funded more awards than in any prior year. However, the budget increase did not keep up with the number of proposals. As a consequence, IIS declined more proposals and a higher percentage of proposals in FY2003 than in prior years.

The growth in proposals in 2004 was not accompanied by a substantial budget increase. Without some adjustments to our plans, acceptance rates in 2004 would be below 10 percent in many competitions. Consequently, only a few IIS solicitations will have their usual winter deadlines; the deadlines for the other solicitations will be delayed from the winter to the spring of 2005.

Specifically, Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience, Universal Access, and Science and Engineering Information Integration and Informatics (SEIII) will continue with their December 2004 deadlines as planned. All other IIS solicitations will have their deadlines delayed until mid-April 2005. FY2005 funds will be used to fund some additional proposals that were submitted in FY2004 to the competitions with unacceptably low acceptance rates, as well as 2005 CAREER awards and awards in the solicitations with December deadlines. Proposals submitted in April 2005 will be funded with FY2006 funds. We anticipate that the deadlines for all IIS programs will be the same in 2006 as in 2005 (e.g., proposals submitted in April 2006 will be funded in October 2006 with FY2007 funds).

One advantage of this adaptation is that some high-quality proposals submitted to IIS in FY2004 that would not otherwise have been funded will indeed be funded. If these proposals were not funded, it is likely that updated versions of them would be submitted again, and we would place an additional burden on the CISE community by asking them to review them again.

Another advantage of this adaptation is that funds provided to NSF will be available to the IIS research community earlier in the fiscal year. While in most years the community receives the majority of NSF funding in the last quarter of the fiscal year, in 2005 most funds will be distributed in the first quarter of the fiscal year (allowing students to be hired earlier, for example).

Of course, the disadvantage of this adaptation is that PIs who were intending to write proposals for the winter deadline in hopes of receiving funding in the late summer will not be able to receive funding until the early fall. The effects of this delay can be mitigated by requesting no-cost extensions or supplements to existing grants, by applying to grant solicitations with winter deadlines (such as SEIII), and by NSF notifying PIs of award decisions as early as possible so PIs may elect to charge some costs to grants up to 90 days before the grant is received.

CISE is exploring similar strategies in the Computing and Communication Foundations division. The Theoretical Foundations cluster and the Emerging Models and Technologies for Computing cluster will have proposal deadlines in January and February 2005, respectively, and awards will be made during the summer of 2005. The deadline for the Computing Processes and Artifacts cluster will be delayed until May 2005, with awards made in the late fall of that year. The other CISE divisions, CNS and SCI, will have the same or earlier deadlines for their programs in 2005.

Two other adaptations are also worth noting. First, CISE will limit the number of proposals that one may submit to some competitions, and will enforce regulations that prohibit sending virtually identical proposals simultaneously to more than one competition. The goal here is to reduce the number of proposals, while sending the message that it is better to invest one’s time in one high-quality, innovative proposal than to spread one’s efforts over many proposals of perhaps lesser quality.

Second, CISE is coordinating with a variety of agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Library of Congress, and National Institutes of Health to fund proposals of mutual interest. Additional funds provided by these agencies help NSF and these agencies achieve the common goal of supporting innovative research.

Lastly, computing faculty are encouraged to consider funding opportunities not only in CISE, but also in NSF’s priority areas (i.e., Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Biocomplexity in the Environment, Mathematical Sciences, and Human and Social Dynamics), centers (e.g., Science and Technology Centers, Science of Learning Centers, and Engineering Research Centers), cross-directorate programs (e.g., Major Research Instrumentation and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship), and other NSF programs where information technology advances might play an enabling role.

While CISE wishes that it could return to the days of 35 percent acceptance rates, by creatively adapting to the changing environment according to the principles enumerated in this article, we believe that CISE can fulfill its mission by investing in the people, tools, and ideas that enable the United States to uphold a position of world leadership in computing, communications, and information science and engineering.

The authors are Division Directors at NSF in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE): Michael Pazzani, Information & Intelligent Systems (IIS); Kamal Abdali, Computing & Communication Foundations (CCF); Greg Andrews, Computer & Network Services (CNS); and Sangtae Kim, Software and Tools for High-End Computing (SCI).

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