NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships provide 3 years of funding for US citizens and permanent residents pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are at accredited US institutions.    Students can apply as late as the fall term of their second year of graduate school.    The deadline for applications in computer science is November 4; applications in mathematical sciences are due November 5.

NSF appointment of Rao Kosaraju as CCF Division Director

See message below from Farnam Jahanian (head of CISE at NSF).  Thanks in advance to Rao Kosaraju for taking on this very important position, and to Susanne Hambrusch for all she has done as CCF Division Director!


From: CISE Announcements [mailto:CISE-ANNOUNCE@LISTSERV.NSF.GOV] On Behalf Of Jahanian, Farnam
Sent: Thursday, August 29, 2013 4:27 PM
Subject: Appointment of Dr. Rao Kosaraju as CCF Division Director at NSF

Dear CISE Community,

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Professsor Rao Kosaraju to the position of Director of the CISE Division of Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF), effective January 2014.

Prof. Kosaraju will be joining the National Science Foundation (NSF) from the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), where he is currently the Edward J. Schaefer Professor of Computer Science. He has been on the JHU faculty since 1969, where he has served in the departments of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, including as Department Chair for Computer Science. Prof. Kosaraju has made significant contributions to the design and analysis of parallel and sequential algorithms. His current research interests span a wide range of topics, from efficient pattern-matching algorithms to computational biology and immune system theory. A prolific scholar, he is a widely recognized leader in the computer science community.  His research has been supported by NSF, the U.S. Army Research Office, and the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology).

Prof. Kosaraju holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, an M. Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology, and a B. Eng. from Andhra University. He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and has been an editor for a number of journals, including the SIAM Journal on Computing. He is known for his enthusiasm for service and excellence in computing education, for which he has received numerous awards. He has served on Advisory Committees and External Review Boards for a variety of universities. From 1985-1991, he served on NSF’s Advisory Committee for Computer and Computation Research (now the CISE Advisory Committee), which he chaired from 1989-1991. We are confidant that he will successfully represent the diverse spectrum of research areas covered in CCF and that he will significantly contribute to CISE’s mission in advancing the frontiers of computing, communications and information science and engineering.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Susanne Hambrusch for her many contributions to CISE and the computing community. She served as DD from 2010 to 2013, leading CCF in its mission to support research and education projects that explore the foundations of computing and communications devices and their usage. In addition to her stewardship of the CCF core programs, Susanne successfully led the development of several crosscutting programs and initiatives at NSF including CyberSEES, the interdisciplinary Faculty Program in Quantum Information Science, eXploiting Parallelism and Scalability (XPS), and the US-Israel Collaboration in Computer Science. Furthermore, during her tenure at NSF, she worked tirelessly to increase the number of Graduate Research Fellowships for students pursuing CISE disciplines. She returns to Purdue University at the end of August 2013.  Susanne has been an invaluable member of the CISE leadership team. NSF greatly appreciates Susanne’s many contributions and her efforts on behalf of the CISE community.

On behalf of the CISE Directorate, I would like to thank the external search committee members (http://www.nsf.gov/cise/ccf/CCF_DD_SearchCommittee.pdf) for their excellent work in identifying an extraordinary pool of candidates for this important position. Their service was invaluable in helping NSF identify the right candidate for this job.

I enthusiastically welcome Prof. Kosaraju to the CISE Directorate, and look forward to working with him to advance the frontiers of knowledge in computing and communication foundations. Together, we will ensure that the CISE community continues to lead in the discovery and innovation required to meet our most pressing societal challenges.

Best regards,

Farnam Jahanian
NSF Assistant Director for CISE
National Science Foundation

tel: (703) 292-8900
email: fjahania@nsf.gov
web: http://www.nsf.gov/cise/about.jsp


Call for ACM Award Nominations

See below for upcoming deadlines for ACM Award Nominations.  As usual, the CATCS is available to help with the nomination process (in the form of providing advice, connecting you with others who might help, etc.); just contact a member of the committee.

Note that for ACM Fellow Nominations, the candidate must have been a Professional Member of ACM (not just SIGACT member) for at least 5 years continuously.  Similarly, becoming an IEEE Fellow requires 5 years of continuous IEEE membership (not just IEEE Computer Society Membership).

In addition to the awards below, note that there are also several SIGACT-specific awards.


From: Rosemary McGuinness
Sent: Friday, August 16, 2013 3:51 PM
Subject: Call for Award Nominations


As part of its mission, ACM brings broad recognition to outstanding technical and professional achievements in the computing and information technology community. Each year our award committees evaluate the contributions of candidates in a wide spectrum of professional and technological arenas.

We welcome nominations by ACM members of those who deserve recognition for their accomplishments. Please refer to the ACM Awards website at http://awards.acm.org for:

• award descriptions and information on former winners

• nomination procedures, members of the 2013 Award Committees, and contact information

Each award has its own nomination cycle. The following nominations are due this Fall.

Nominations due September 5:

Fellows:  ACM’s most prestigious member grade which recognizes the top 1% of members

Nominations due October 31:

ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award:   best doctoral dissertation in computer science and engineering

Nominations due November 30, 2013:

A.M. Turing Award:   major contributions of lasting importance to computing

ACM – Infosys Foundation Award:   personal contributions by young scientists and system developers

Distinguished Service Award:    service contributions to the computing community at large

Grace Murray Hopper Award:   outstanding young computer professional, based on a single recent major technical or service contribution

Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award:   theoretical accomplishments that have had significant impact on practice

Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award:   advancing new teaching methodologies, curriculum development in computing, or significant contributions to ACM’s educational mission

Outstanding Contribution to ACM Award:   outstanding contributions to ACM, in both value and degree

ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award:   career contributions with breadth or that bridge computer science and other disciplines

Software System Award:    developing a software system that has had a lasting influence

For SIG-specific Awards, please visit http://awards.acm.org.

Cherri Pancake (pancake@nacse.org), ACM Awards Committee Chair
Elisa Bertino (bertino@cerias.purdue.edu), SIG Governing Board Awards Committee Liaison
Rosemary McGuinness (mcguinness@acm.org), ACM Awards Committee Liaison

AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

U.S. Citizens with PhDs in theoretical computer science (or other fields) who have an interest in policy and/or public service should consider applying for a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship.  These provide opportunities to serve for up to 3 years working with Congress or a federal agency on science-related policymaking.  In particular, there are opportunities within the NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences & Engineering (CISE).

Applications are due by November 1. 

We also encourage people from the TCS community to think about proposing a session on an exciting area of research at a future AAAS Meeting.  Such a session typically would involve 3-4 speakers giving talks aimed at a general audience, and are a great way to increase the public awareness and visibility of the field.  The sessions for the February 2014 meeting are already decided, but eventually there should be an open call for proposals for the 2015 meeting.

NSF Algorithmic Foundations and SaTC solicitations

NSF has released its 2013-14 solicitations for its Core Programs, including the “Algorithmic Foundations (AF)” program, which is the core program focused on theoretical computer science.  Contrary to possible historical reputations, the AF program has had quite reasonable grant sizes and funding rates in recent years, so do consider sending a proposal!  The relevant deadlines are:

- medium proposals ($500k-$1.2m): Oct 15
- large proposals ($1.2m-$3m): Nov 19
- small proposals ($0-$500k): Jan 17.

Note that the small deadline is now in January, rather than December.

The same deadlines also apply for the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program, which funds a lot of TCS work in cryptography, security, and privacy.   Instead of a “large” category, the SaTC program has “frontier” proposals, which can be as large as $10m.  And it also accepts proposals in “cybersecurity education,” with a deadline of Dec 19.

FOCS 2013 workshops

Continuing the tradition of recent FOCS/STOC conferences, FOCS 2013 will have a workshop-and-tutorials day on Saturday, October 26, immediately preceding the main conferences. Chris Umans and I are the workshop chairs. We invite researchers to submit workshop or tutorial proposals. This is an opportunity to expose the FOCS audience to your favorite topic. The proposal is relatively light-weight – no more than 2 pages – so Chris and I encourage you to start thinking of ideas for great workshops/tutorials at FOCS.  The proposal submission deadline is August 15. See the details here: FOCS-2013-workshops-call

Additionally, if you have thoughts on topics for workshops/tutorials you would like to see at FOCS, but do not consider yourself an organizer, feel free to send them to Chris and me. We’ll do our best to find organizers.

Simons Institute Symposium on Visions for the Theory of Computing

The Simons Institute held an inspiring Symposium on Visions for the Theory of Computing at the end of May.  You can read a summary of the talks by Christos Papadimitriou and watch videos of the presentations.

Presentation at STOC business meeting

Here are the slides from the STOC 2013 CATCS Report.  Probably the most important slide is the list of upcoming deadlines:

STOC grant-writing panel recap

Moses Charikar and I organized a grant writing panel at STOC 2013. The panel was well attended and I think (or at least hope) provided useful information to the audience, thanks to our great panelists: Joan FeigenbaumPiotr IndykBala Kalyanasundaram, and Salil Vadhan.

Panelists had many insights on aspects of achieving funding, some highlights that stuck in my memory:

1) There are many funding opportunities out there apart from the “obvious” sources (i.e., NSF theoretical foundations) – check those out.  Don’t be afraid to contact people with lots of funding experience for advice or even to ask (if appropriate) to join future large projects.

2) That said, you should always make sure that you actually want to do the proposed research, and shouldn’t join a project you don’t care about just for the funding. This is particularly true for large projects or funding from “mission oriented” (as opposed to “basic science oriented”) agencies, where the funding often comes with plenty of strings attached.

3) If you work in theoretical CS in the U.S., you should definitely consider applying  for grants from the Computing and Communication Foundations division (and in particular the Algorithmic Foundations program). Grants have gotten bigger and competition smaller than people may remember from past years, and it’s definitely worth the trouble.

4) NSF program officers are your friends, they are more than happy to talk to you, and can often help you find the right program for your proposal.

5) Especially (but not only) in NSF CCF grants, people understand that theory research is unpredictable. If you’ve done good research in the area, nobody will blame you for not solving the particular problems you set out in your proposal. That said, the proposal should have a mix of problems of various difficulty and “speculativeness”.  If the proposal just lists some important open problem without suggesting that you have any new approach to solve them, it’s unlikely to get funded.

6) Collaborative projects are much easier to manage when it’s 2-3 PI’s (primary investigators) who are close collaborators than project involving a large number (say 7 or more) PI’s.

7) Writing a proposal involves making choices – how big the team, one area or interdisciplinary, contain everything you want to work on or leave topics for future proposals, apply to NSF or to more  “mission oriented” sources of funding. All those choices are non-trivial and have pros and cons, which you’d do well to consider carefully and consult with people who’s had experience.

8) Proposals (especially but not only large multidisciplinary ones) often don’t get funded in the first attempt. People said they found that the proposal became better and the team more cohesive in future iterations.

While some of the advice is universal, we did not have a panelist with specific expertise in funding outside the U.S. We hope to have some guest posts on this blog about this topic in the future, though in the meantime we would welcome tips about resources on grant writing in the comments.

One such resource that could be very useful was collected by Moses Charikar and Piotr Indyk – this is a collection of  successful NSF CAREER proposals  along  with retrospective comments by the authors. We are truly grateful to these researchers for making available this valuable resource to anyone that is considering submitting a grant proposal. Salil Vadhan also made available his multi-disciplinary grant proposal.

People might also find useful  Joan Feigenbaum’s presentation from the event.

Advice from Sanjeev Arora on writing grant proposals

In advance of the grant writing panel to be held this Saturday 8pm at STOC, Sanjeev Arora put together some very useful tips for people writing grant proposals. These tips as well as others will be discussed on Saturday by our panelists: Joan Feigenbaum, Piotr IndykBala Kalyanasundaram, and Salil Vadhan.

The panel will be moderated by Moses Charikar and me.

Advice on writing a research grant proposal.

Sanjeev Arora

Professor of Computer Science,
Princeton University

April 2013

  1. Approach it with a positive attitude: it is a necessary part of your job along with writing papers, giving good talks, following the research in your field, PhD advising etc. Remember: the better you get at it, the less frequently you need to do it.What I like about the current peer review system (at least in computer science) is that it allows young researchers with good, imaginative proposals to get funded, leaving more senior researchers in the dust.  I’ve seen it happen a lot.

    Another positive aspect for me is that this system forces me to evaluate myself every couple of years, and figure out what I should do next.

  2. Don’t forget the basics: a grant proposal has to identify a problem or set of problems; outline what is lacking in current approaches; and sketch how you will address these deficiencies and solve the problem. Along the way it should argue that you are the right person to do this work. Usually it’s best to weave your past track record subtly into the entire narrative instead of relegating it to a separate section at the end. Keep in mind that reviewers are asked to judge the proposal based upon the research that is being proposed, and not merely upon the past track record of the PI. (Of course, in practice reviewers rely a lot upon the past track record.)Also, it is useful —for proposer as well as the reviewer— if the proposal states concrete “project goals” sprinkled throughout the writeup. (Create a separate latex environment for this.) Instead of saying something wishy washy like “We plan to further explore area x”  say: “Project Goal 4: Use technique blah to design a polynomial time algorithm for problem foo.” Ideally this concrete goal should come after a paragraph or two where you have sketched the prior art, and explained the importance of this goal.

    Avoid the temptation to cut and paste text verbatim from your recent papers (or even worse, actual theorems riddled with messy parameters). A research proposal is more like an expository article geared to a broad audience —at least the couple of opening sections.

  3. In addition to getting the basics right, you should pay attention to the other stuff and do your groundwork. Carefully read the program solicitation, and if possible, talk to NSF program officers.  They attend conferences, answer emails, take phone calls, etc.  Obviously, they will be most candid in face to face conversations. (Keep your conversation short and to the point, though.) They can give you a sense of funding trends and current buzzwords at NSF, saying things like: “There are three buzzwords in the program solicitation but the last one is more important to us than the first two.” Or “Your work seems relevant to area X and there is a program in area X that is looking to fund foundational work.”  Colleagues can also be useful in this process.Such groundwork is especially useful for a new funding program that is in the pipeline. If you know about it in advance, you could have a proposal idea ready —or collaborators lined up—when the solicitation comes out. In general it is much easier to get funded in the first year or two of a new program, before it gets overwhelmed by “proposal pressure.”
  4. While writing your proposal, be sure to address the buzzwords you have discovered as part of (3). I don’t mean to make all this sound shallow or dishonest. Obviously, if your work has no implication for national security, you shouldn’t claim any. But if there happen to be some, do point them out. (Don’t exaggerate; reviewers are smart.) Another example: if you enjoy working with high school students and have an excellent track record in it, consider making that a component of your proposal. There are no fixed rules, and anything that helps you stand out from the crowd is fine and good.Put yourself in the reviewers’ shoes as you  write. They have limited time and have usually received highly specific instructions from NSF (usually including the buzzwords from the solicitation).  Make it easy for them to evaluate your proposal. Use short sections with descriptive titles, especially “Broader Impact”, “Postdoc mentoring plan” etc. that NSF wants them to specifically comment on. Use short, declarative sentences that are easy to parse.
  5. Conversely, if you are ever asked to serve on a selection panel, take careful notes on what worked in the proposals you reviewed and what didn’t. What aspects did the panel dislike? Of course, the quality of research is the most important aspect. But panels can be harsh on good researchers who clearly didn’t put in the time in crafting a good proposal, or who had obviously not read the solicitation carefully.
  6. Ask colleagues for advice as well as examples of their successful proposals. (Do it indirectly so you don’t put them on the spot. Most people are happy to help.) Ask colleagues who are not in your subarea as well. I find it very stimulating to read a well-crafted proposal not in my research area.
  7. Work out a writing schedule that works for you. I like to do a 1-page sketch to collect my thoughts and then modify it as I ponder it for several weeks. But then I do the actual writing fairly close to the deadline when I am more focused and efficient. If you plan to seek feedback on your draft, allow time for that.


Crosscutting solicitations are often judged by panels composed of people from different specialities. So write appropriately. Suppose you wish to work on theory problems arising in computer systems. Be sure to read some successful systems proposals and learn what aspects are important to systems reviewers. Talk to systems colleagues and learn a bit of their lingo. A day or two of such legwork will really pay off, and also improve your research.

Most panelists will not know your past record, and it has to come through clearly in the proposal.

The “groundwork” aspect described earlier (talking to program officers, etc.) is  very important for crosscutting program. Some program officers will even go to the trouble of listening to your proposal idea and give you valuable feedback. Sometimes they will give you feedback on a rejected proposal and suggest changes that could allow it to succeed in future.

Things like broader impact, training of underrepresented groups, etc. can be very important.  Pay attention to the solicitation’s “buzzwords.” All of this advice is is especially relevant for larger projects. Again, I don’t mean to advocate any dishonesty; just keep those aspects in your mind.

Often crosscutting proposals involve collaboration. The proposal usually should contain contributions from all team members, but one individual should take charge to make the proposal read well. Panels look for the following: Does this collaborative team make sense? How likely is it that these people will actually work together? Have they collaborated before? If your team involves people in different geographical locations, you need to sketch out a plan for how this collaboration will happen: regular meetings, joint postdocs, whatever. (It is wise to give such a plan even if all people are in one place. Sometimes solicitations will require such plans.) Also give a rationale for the team’s composition. (“Doing such a project calls for a mix of skills x, y, z. On our team we have skills x, y, z.”) Ideally do this mental exercise sufficiently ahead of the deadline so you can seek additional collaborators if you realize your team needs to be fleshed out.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers