Proposal development team wins national honors for its NSF CAREER Club

Office of Research and Economic Development

Dan Moser, May 10, 2023

Proposal development team wins national honors for its NSF CAREER Club

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Proposal Development has been honored with a national award for its work helping faculty earn National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program grants, known as CAREER awards.

OPD received a 2023 Innovation Award from the National Organization of Research Development Professionals, the only professional association dedicated solely to research development, at its annual conference May 10 in Arlington, Virginia.

OPD was honored for its efforts to assist Nebraska faculty in becoming more competitive for external funding through participation in its NSF CAREER Club. Created in 2017, NSF CAREER Club includes engagement with NSF program officers, mentoring and coaching from experienced administrators and staff, access to an external consultant, one-on-one guidance on developing education and outreach plans, pre-submission expert external review and regularly scheduled access to space for quiet writing time. 

“We pride ourselves on our support for research faculty at all stages of their careers, and OPD’s CAREER Club is essential in helping our early-career faculty learn how to tap into NSF funding and begin to build their research programs,” said Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development. “It’s gratifying to see our proposal development team recognized by their peers nationally.”

OPD’s efforts have made a difference, with CAREER awards to Nebraska faculty tripling over the last five years, including seven in 2021-22. Most of the awards were received the first time a researcher submitted a proposal. More than 80% of faculty who submit a CAREER proposal participate in the club; of these, up to half strategically postpone submission or select a more appropriate funding mechanism or sponsor. Among those who participate in the club and submit an NSF CAREER proposal, the success rate is more than 50%.

Faculty who have participated in the club and received CAREER awards have high praise for the program.

Mohammad Ghashami, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, compared the experience to a pottery workshop.

“You take in your unformed raw clay and start describing the somewhat blurry idea you have in mind. Then, OPD will rotate the wheel and guide your hands to form the most beautiful piece of art you could imagine out of your clay,” he said.

Ghashami added, “The OPD team’s expertise in proposal development has been invaluable in ensuring that proposals are well-structured, compelling and meet the funding agency’s requirements. Their commitment to the success of the faculty is evident in their willingness to provide personalized support and guidance at every stage of the process. Their deep understanding of the funding landscape enables them to offer insights and strategies to help researchers position their proposals for success.”

Limei Zhang, associate professor of biochemistry, said, “The OPD staff offers exceptional and personalized services. Working with OPD for proposal development creates a strong sense of teamwork and ignites creativity as we strive toward our shared goals.”

Rebecca Wachs, assistant professor of biological systems engineering, called the CAREER Club “one of the most valuable grant writing experiences I have gone through.”

“Through this club, I was guided by the OPD team and an external mentor to craft an impactful research vision with a united educational component, which was funded on the first try,” Wachs said.

Proposal development team members are director Tisha Gilreath Mullen, Amanda Bohlin, Matthew Dwyer, Katie Pelland and Jaclyn Tan. The unit is housed in the Office of Research and Economic Development.

OPD’s CAREER Club is among the longest-running cohort-based research development programs in the nation. NORDP Innovation Awards recognize individuals and groups that leverage skills or resources to kick-start innovation in research development in ways that generate evidence of promise or demonstrable results.

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