Incoming call: National Science Foundation

I knew grad school was about publish or perish—and in the meantime—secure some funding. What I did not know was that this daunting, impersonal process would contain happy instances of genuine personal interaction, like when a program officer called me to award funding over the phone.

The National Science Foundation is a government funded organization that supports a large chunk of federally-funded basic science research. Virtually every incoming graduate student  is encouraged to apply for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, referred to as the GRFP on the streets. Part of the science lingo I had to learn in my first year of graduate school were all of the grant acronyms. The DDIG is the Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, which funds research that allows PhD Candidates to take their work to the next level.

I had almost forgotten about my NSF DDIG grant proposal since I submitted it in October. Five months between deadline and verdict is a normal timeline for grants, which is both frustrating and a saving grace. The grace comes in taking some time apart from my own writing long enough to forget about it, lessening the blow to my writing ego when the funding judgement day arrives.

This time judgement day came in the middle of my commute to work as I was singing along to my guilty pleasure cd from a musical I saw in New York: If/Then. Not only am I obsessed with Idina Menzel, but I also love the challenge in this story about wondering “what if” along with every decision and life event, big or small.

And then Doug called.

It wasn’t completely out of the blue, since he sent me an email to inform me he wanted to call about my proposal, but the email sent me into a panic that something was missing or I selected the wrong category in the online application and my proposal was rejected without review. I was prepared to defend why this grant would improve my dissertation when Doug said, “Congratulations!” As he walked me through the logistics, I could not get over the fact that a program officer from the National Science Foundation called me instead of informing me mechanically by email. Hearing someone’s voice and knowing their name felt personal and genuine. Classy move, Doug.


Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.