University of California at Berkeley

Navigating Berkeley's First Electronic Proposal Submission To the National Science Foundation

Recently I went to the Sponsored Projects Office's "Town Hall Meeting." This gathering, like the previous ones, was intended to inform of us how SPO is changing and coping with the onslaught of new rules and technologies.

This organization has evolved into a user-friendly entity and has truly facilitated my work in the quick-changing realm of grants and contracts. Throughout the meeting, various speakers quite frankly admitted that they are coping with so much new technology that what they were telling us at the time might be entirely irrelevant in the very near future.

But a little pamphlet from the National Science Foundation caught my eye. Titled "Fastlane," it was concise and fast reading. A small paragraph in it said it was possible to upload NSF proposals on the Internet.

With my students facing an Oct. 15 deadline for submission of doctoral dissertation improvement grant proposals, I decided to give Fastlane a try.

It involves pin numbers and the whole bit; all of which must come from NSF via none other than SPO senior research administrator Neil Maxwell.

After obtaining this initial blast-off information, Neil and I knew that it would not be our last encounter. He wrote up some instructions on the system's idiosyncrasies, and I was rolling. But first you have to have Netscape, Acrobat PDF Writer (Portable Document Format) and, if you want to be able to read your work, Acrobat Reader preferably 2.1. (I have 2.0.1 and stand on shaky ground.)

Things were going pretty well, but I soon discovered that NSF is on the frontier too, constantly searching and destroying bugs in the system.

I had email correspondence with some NSF person who often had to say, "Sorry," or, "You're a Mac person; why not try communicating with us on a PC?"

I'm used to driving an automatic, not a stick shift, but his point is a valid one. All the translating programs and fancy mice do not necessarily make the two systems cooperate. I told this to Neil as D-Day approached, and he urged me to keep trying, because this would be the first successful electronic transmission of a proposal on this campus.

I decided to strain my eyes for a couple more days.

On D-Day, Neil invited me to come to his office and use his computer (a PC) to accomplish the mission. He is charged with keeping SPO informed and up-to-date with regard to computer technology, and with his help we worked up three proposals.

The greatest asset for solving odd computer quirks, I discovered with much help from Neil, is patience. A computer is an off/on, one-two being, and often it appreciates smaller doses of simpler things.

I'm glad to have done it. I don't know how much paper we actually saved, because I am sure hard copies will be created somewhere. The kicker was Neil's last remark, "Hey Charlie, don't forget we need a SPAF."

Sometime this week, buddy.


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