During the six-month NSF CAREER Proposal Mentoring program, principal investigators will prepare a competitive proposal alongside the mentoring team. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

UCF Sees the Average Number of NSF CAREER Award Recipients Quadruple

By: Kissimmee Crum on

The average number of faculty named U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER award recipients at UCF has more than quadrupled since the Office of Research launched a mentoring program in 2019.

The National Science Foundation CAREER Proposal Mentoring program was created to increase the success rate of faculty who go after the five-year monetary awards.

The award recognizes promising early career researchers who have the potential to serve as academic role models and lead their respective fields. These awards are among the most prestigious in the nation for up-and-coming faculty. Many recipients go on to receive big grants from government agencies.

Before 2019, the average number of faculty receiving the awards was 1.75 per year. Since 2019, the average has jumped to 7.66 awards per year, with 2019 being a banner year with 12 recipients who were awarded more than $4 million.

“This is an investment in our people,” says Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for Research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies. The Office of Research is funding the program university wide. “It is a sound investment, and I am happy to continue to support the program so that more of our faculty have an opportunity to go after the grant.”

Klonoff named Saiful Khondaker, a professor with joint appointments in the NanoScience Technology Center, the Department of Physics, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, an OR Fellow in 2018 and asked him to lead the program. He had piloted a smaller version of the program at the NanoScience Technology Center.

“We are just the catalyst,” says Khondaker. “It’s the faculty members who have done all the hard work and deserve all the credit. It’s a taxing process, but the success our faculty have had is incredible.”

The program will begin the next cycle in January 2022. Faculty interested in the program are encouraged to visit the program’s website for more information.

How it works

During the six-month program, principal investigators will prepare a competitive proposal alongside the mentoring team.

The program does this by assisting researchers in highlighting their unique projects and giving principal investigators extensive insights into the minds of the proposal reviewers. Participants have the opportunity to voice their concerns and share their ideas with past awardees and other experts in the field while mentors provide helpful criticism and tips on how to write impactful NSF CAREER proposals.

The mentoring program typically begins in late January and ends in July. Participants complete a multi-step process, which results in a complete CAREER proposal.

Khondaker, who is also a CAREER awardee, meets with each participant to help them prepare a draft proposal and summary. Participants also get to pitch their proposal and receive verbal and written feedback from a department-level committee of past NSF CAREER recipients and other experienced NSF-funded faculty. Participants also receive mentorship to aid in proposal revisions and reviews to perfect their proposal for submission.

Winston Schoenfeld, associate vice president for research and professor of optics and photonics, and Michael Macedonia, assistant vice president for research and innovation, are working together alongside Khondaker to expand the mentoring program to other early career funding opportunities in other agencies.

“The goal is to provide programming that positions our researchers to realize similar success in other early career funding opportunities,” Schoenfeld says.

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