What is the general process for considering whether or not to fund research proposals?
We only have enough money to fund about 12 percent of the proposals we receive. First, we send all proposals out for external (adhoc) review by experts in the field. After we get those reviews back, we hold a review panel with about 15 experts from the US and Canada, here at NSF. Those panelists sort the proposals into A B and C categories according to external reviews and their own assessments of the proposals' merits. Their sorting serves as a recommendation to the program officer, who then makes his/her own decision on what to recommend for funding.
We consider many factors in deciding what gets funded, including the quality of the proposal, the theoretical importance of the work, the experience and capability of the investigators, and other factors such as geographic and institutional diversity, and portfolio balance.
What is the strangest proposal you have seen since you have been at the NSF?
For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot comment on proposals that were not funded. But there have been some odd ones, as well as some that are really far-reaching and innovative, but maybe just not ready for prime time.
What does a typical day look like for you- morning until bedtime?
I ride my bicycle into work by 9 in the morning, catch up on emails, meet with colleagues about proposals that they are interested in funding, have phone conferences with investigators and potential investigators, attend training sessions, attend departmental meetings and brownbag talks, and try to shoehorn in some reading on my own interests, which are in embodied cognition, attention, and (lately) Bayesian statistics. My primary work activities involve reading proposals, writing justifications for proposal declines and awards, soliciting adhoc reviewers, and running review panels for my program (Perception Action & Cognition) and other programs.
After work, I take a bicycle ride on a local canal path or trail, or go out to dinner with colleagues and other people I know in the area. Washington DC has a lot to see and do.
Will you return to the University of Kentucky after your three year assignment at the NSF?
Yes. My main challenge will be to resume my research program, and to leverage my experience at NSF into some kinds of activities that will help UK be more competitive in getting federal funding.
Has working at the NSF changed your view on science and how it is administered at the governmental level?
Yes, very much so. I have had a couple of federal grants (NIH and NSF) but knew almost nothing about things work in DC. I've also learned a lot about the political process; NSF is an independent branch of the federal government. At the science level, I have been exposed to so much new stuff in Cognitive Science and other behavioral sciences, including economics, geography, and anthropology. I've gained a real appreciation for other ways of seeing the world. Academics tend to get compartmentalized into their own subfields, so this has been great exposure.
About Lawrence Gottlob
Dr. Lawrence Gottlob is a program director at the NSF in the area of Perception, Action & Cognition . He is an experimental psychologist who studies visual attention and cognitive aging. He has been at UK since 2001 and is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. His PhD is from Arizona State and he did a postdoc at Duke University.