Thursday, April 29, 2010

Department of Defense and You

NSF funding isn't enough to maintain a group. While some focus on NIH, in my field, going to DoD (army, navy, air force) is the way. All three branches of DoD have young investigator programs (YIPs). To be eligible, you have to be a U.S. citizen, and you must be no more than 5 years out from your PhD. These requirements whittle down the playing field, so your chances of being funded - if you're eligible - are seemingly high. (Although the last ONR YIP funding rate was < 10%, sigh).

The problem is with getting your foot in the door. For NSF, you can submit an idea - your idea with whatever application you like. But for DoD, you need to bounce ideas off of the program manager to find what fits into their program. If you've got a great idea but it doesn't fit in with the goals of DoD, then it won't get funded. So in other words, communicating with a program director prior to submission is critical.

Now for the YIP. I am exceedingly frustrated with the way program managers in DoD uniformly ignore young investigators - even those inquiring about YIP. You can call, email, send in unsolicited white papers, and there is a brick wall of silence. It's not just me. Mr. JP has the brick wall. Colleagues get the brick wall. So then, I ask, who is getting these YIPs? I talked with one colleague who is a star, and he gets the brick wall from other military branches. With this particular YIP that he got, someone actually wrote back. Other advice is to arrange appointments with the PMs when you are in DC. That's a great idea, and I would love for that to happen. But my emails and calls saying, "Hey, I'm in your neck of the woods, let's talk," get ignored.

So you know what? I'm submitting my YIP anyways, with or without your input. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Dr. Shellie said...

I got the ARO young investigator. Like you, most of the people I called or emailed ignored me. I repeatedly called or emailed until I got one or two on the phone, but they were not terribly interested. Eventually, I found a program manager who I had met before at a conference. When I called him, he remembered seeing my talk, was very friendly, and was interested in my applying for the YIP.

Don't worry, keep persisting. Use any connection you can find -- ask your postdoc advisor and grad school advisor who they are funded by and if they can send an email introducing you. For DARPA, I believe it is less dependent on the program manager as all applications are handled by one person, rather than different applications going to the PM closest to that field.

Dr. Shellie said...

PS: DARPA PM's are not supposed to talk to you about the YIP in particular. I got a very cold brush-off when I tried it. This is different from the usual modus operandi for seed grants and other DARPA funding. ONR, ARO and AFOSR PM's will in principle talk to you if you can get a hold of them.

Balancing Act said...

Thanks for the tip about the YIPs. I'm not there yet, but will hopefully be in 2 years so it is good to know of thee already.

geekmommyprof said...

To get any of the DOD young investigator awards, you must make a connection with the PM. They have to *want* to fund you as part of their program, as these awards are usually partly YIP funds partly PM's program's funds.

You ought to go to Washington and talk to the PM in person, email white papers, etc., and cultivate a relationship, otherwise it's a no go.

A good way is to be introduced to a PM by a senior well funded colleague. Then you start emailing the PM and try to deepen the relationship.

It takes time but is worth it.

I don't think any of them are particularly easy to get a hold of, though, so don't take it personally if the don't answer email or voicemail.