Embrace the Leapfrog

Another day, another NSF grant rejection.

Scores were E, V, V, V (E=excellent, V=very good). I haven’t seen the report yet, they probably won’t show up till next week.

The scores are only a little better than last year, although I thought the proposal itself was MUCH better than last year.

(Update: Did get the reviews, really very positive. Still no dice.)

Oh, well. Off to lick wounds and edit a student’s paper.

To that end, some levity.


(Middle Boy says he came up with these on his own, but he might be fibbing.)

Joke 1: Germanium, nickel, uranium, and sulfur worked together on a science project. It was GeNiUS!

Joke 2: I was going to work on my science homework, but then I thought, “NaH…”

(He drew a box around each symbol, like in the periodic table, with Na saying sodium and H saying hydrogen).

By the way, Middle Boy is 9. The Nerd Force is strong with the young one!


$hit my students recently wrote in drafts of technical manuscripts:

Point 1 is no secret

One of the first orders of business  was to determine…

This is surely the handiwork of [a physical phenomenon, i.e., something decidedly without hands or the ability to come up with evil plots]

It is possible to judge… using the squint test, squinting at thousands of plots is tiring on the eyes…

and my favorite

[B]y embracing the leapfrog nature [of an explicit algorithm for solving partial differential equations]…

Clearly, this (rough, pen only) drawing had to happen:


Embrace the (giant) leapfrog!




  1. I’m a current grad student, and I love love LOVE your “$hit my students recently wrote” section. It helps me realize that there are certain things I should just NEVER put in research articles, no matter how brilliant and poetic and inventive I may think I’m being.

  2. The status of our NSF proposal over the last three years (reworked substantially each submission):

    2014: F, G, VG, VG
    2015: VG/G, E/VG, VG
    2016: VG, E, E, VG/G

    Still not funded this last round. Time to call it quits? My mentor/colleague basically will not endorse my even attempting to submit NSF proposals at this point in time. I think the funding rate for our university is something like 3% (we do some decent research, but very much not a big shot school). He insists that we try for DOD money or aim for other programs where we actually have a chance of funding.

  3. @M: I am so sorry!

    I read my reviews and of the 4 reviews 3 are glowing and one has some concerns, which I don’t think are damning. One who gave me a V was ridiculously full of praise — I mean, if you like it so much and want to have it funded, give it an E then!

    On the one hand, this incessant revising and resubmitting is really frustrating. On the other hand, I know that some of the most successful people simply keep resubmitting and eventually it works, maybe not for every proposal but for many. My main frustration is that NSF has gone to allowing unsolicited proposals once a year, so even if you have multiple projects that fit with a given program you have to artificially diversify (since they won’t allow for more than one submission to a given program) which then leads to some of these random reviews… I wish we had more annual submission periods, like NIH.

    Anyway, I am so sorry M! This is horribly frustrating. You are obviously in the realm of now having a very, very good proposal. I guess you need to luck out and hit 3 or 4 E’s? I know this is cold comfort, but perhaps touch up just a little and resubmit? You are allowed to submit similar proposals to multiple agencies (just not allowed to receive money from multiple agencies for the same work).

    I would do this faculty job till I die, if it weren’t for the soul-crushing nature of endless futile proposal writing.

  4. Ugh. I feel your pain. It is like wack-a-mole. I agree with you–the endless cycle of proposal writing is the worst part of this job.

    Your students are funnier than mine are. My bad drafts are just painful.

  5. Your students are funnier than mine are. My bad drafts are just painful.

    @PA: Plenty of painful ones here, too. But the funny ones are much better post grant declination.

  6. Really sorry to hear about your grant rejection. Better luck next time? Is this one a revise & resubmit? Or a totally retool before resubmitting?

    Finished your book on Wed. Really enjoyed it and have already lent it to a colleague.

  7. @EarthSciProf: I am glad you enjoyed the book!

    As for the proposal, I thought it was in pretty good shape this time — it got a major makeover for this submission and based on the reviews it was pretty effective at conveying what I wanted to do, that the questions were interesting and important, and that I had a unique and original plan to address them. I have to talk to the program manager to see if it’s worth resubmitting or if I should try a somewhat different program. Which would then mess with my ability to submit another grant I was planning on retooling… Ah, choices. But, onward and upward, always!

  8. @ xykademiqz sorry to hear about your rejection. But scores of E,V,V,V are very good scores. May be one more E and you might have been in.

    I am submitting mine in the coming week. We are kind in the same position as yours. Figners crossed and submission button ON 😛

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