I was talking the other day with a colleague. They had just received their first NSF award ever. As a full professor. This person has obviously had funding from other sources in the past but had submitted a fair number of NSF proposals to this point. Noting that it was odd to finally hit one when funding rates are at their lowest in a while, our discussion turned to what made this one different.
What my colleague said then should surprise no one who has been paying attention here and elsewhere in the science bloggosphere. They said that early in their career, they had not made any effort to go to NSF and get involved with a panel. Only a few years back they did so and it dramatically changed how they framed and wrote their proposal.
You know who else never landed an NSF grant until getting his ass on a panel? This guy.
If you are a junior PI or postdoc who plans to apply to NSF, you NEED to be thinking about getting on a panel. Now, this can be a little tricky because you are likely applying to the panel closest to your expertise, but find a related panel and Make. It. Happen.
People often ask how one gets on a panel and the answer is fairly simple. Ask. Decide on a panel and email or call the PO. Tell them you're an early career person and really want to get involved in a panel. Unlike NIH, NSF makes a concerted effort to involve early career people in the review process. Both panels I have been on has been skewed towards more junior people and has included 2 postdocs in the mix. Use this to your advantage!
I have already gotten two emails requesting willing participants for the spring preproposals, so now is the time to get on the list. Don't wait, email your PO this week and get to DC.