Congratulations to Benjamin Nachman (Physical Sciences Area), Marlene Turner (Physical Sciences Area), and Antoine Wojdyla (Energy Sciences Area), the Lab scientists who have been selected as awardees for the DOE Office of Science’s FY22 Early Career Research Program (ECRP). In addition, faculty scientists Matt Pyle (Physical Sciences Area), Daniel Stolper (Earth & Environmental Sciences Area), and Michael Zaletel (Energy Sciences Area) received Early Career awards through their UC Berkeley affiliations.
The Early Career Research Program awards are among the most prestigious in the country, available to both university and DOE national lab researchers who have received their Ph.D. within the last ten years. Researchers at national laboratories can receive awards of up to $2.5 million over five years to pursue their research. University researchers, whose awards cover their work during the summer, receive funding of up to $750,000 over five years.
But what exactly is the ECRP and how is it different from other funding opportunities? What do Lab researchers need to know about it?
One thing to know is that the program is extremely competitive. This year, 27 awards were given to researchers at 13 national labs, selected from 618 applications. Applicants must carefully consider what they bring to a DOE program as an emerging scientist and leader. Despite the highly competitive nature of the ECRP, Berkeley Lab has done very well in the past, attracting 48 awards since the ECRP was established in 2010.
A Strategic Opportunity
In addition to seeking compelling ideas for research, DOE program managers look for how proposed ECRP projects create synergy with what is already supported at the national labs by the Office of Science, primarily programs and resources, including user facilities and capabilities.
Carol Burns, the Lab’s Deputy Director for Research and Chief Research Officer, said: “The ECRP is not your typical funding opportunity. It is a strategic opportunity for both the Lab and for the researchers. Applicants from Berkeley Lab really need to show how the research can only be done here, and not anywhere else.”
Some research project ideas cross over into other divisions and areas. Potential applicants must first discuss their ideas with the leaders who manage these programs at the Lab. “There are several examples of past winners whose projects required them to reach across programmatic lines. The expertise and perspective they found from the Lab leads for these programs gave them an edge in the competition,” said Kristin Balder-Froid, Head of Strategic Development in the Lab’s Strategic Partnerships Office.
Tips from Past Winners
Pre-proposals for the ECRP are usually due in the fall, with full applications due early the following year. With so many past ECRP award winners, the Lab has collected many helpful tips on developing successful ECRP proposals. Below are just a few:
- At the pre-proposal stage, past winners advise that articulating the scientific details may be less important than laying out why the DOE ought to think that this is an important project to fund.
- Be explicit about why the time for your idea is now, and how this project will impact your field.
- Make a strong case for why you are the best person to do the proposed work.
- Talk to your division director, senior scientists (including scientists from other divisions), and peers to get feedback.
- Do your homework. Find out what other projects have been funded and the priorities of Office of Science programs, so that you can consider how your project is distinctive and strategically important.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Investigators can try up to three times. Many Berkeley Lab applicants have been successful on their second or third attempts.
For additional information and tips for submitting a strong ECRP proposal, visit the Lab’s ECRP website (which includes resources and tips, as well as recordings of previous Directors’ Roundtable discussions with past winners) or contact your ECRP area and divisional representative.