May 27, 2009

Frustrated with FastLane

For quite a few years now, the NSF has used a website called FastLane for grant proposals. It has everything: submission guidelines, reporting functions, etc. It is supposed to be a convenient way to apply for and monitor one or more grants. In theory, FastLane works better than submitting a proposal on paper to a snail-mail address (yes, granting agencies still exist that want more than one hard copy mailed to them). But in practice, FastLane is impossible for graduate students to use.

Submission was relatively easy, actually. When I applied for my grant back in 2006, I just had to input my advisor's name and email as the principal investigator (PI) and submit the proposal as myself, the co-PI. I think the only signature to be gotten was handed over to my own Office of Sponsored Research, which they either scan and send or keep on file. Easy enough, but everything got weird from there.

As the co-PI, I didn't merit even an email from the NSF when my grant was awarded. I found out by email from my advisor, who had received word of the proposal's acceptance. UNC's OSR also emailed me a few days later to notify me. Getting money out was actually fairly easy, inasmuch as getting advances and reimbursement from the Office of Contracts & Grants is ever easy. All I had to do was submit receipts or a signed request for an advance, and they more or less ponied up the cash from the grant without the PI's signature. That worked well through 2007, but with multiple-year grants, the NSF wants to know what their money's been up to.

Since I spent most of the money in 2007, I was required to write an annual report in 2008. Problem was, I didn't know this because by this point, I was no longer allowed to access FastLane. Or rather, I was no longer allowed to access my grant. Previously, I had been able to check its status and print out copies of grant documents, although I couldn't submit reports. I have no idea why my access mysteriously disappeared. My advisor, however, as the PI was still on the grant and was receiving all the notices of overdue reports. Which he didn't realize weren't forwarded on to me. So the 2007 annual report was really quite late. This particular grant was set to last for two years, then expire around August 2008. Again, not something I knew because I couldn't access my grant on the website. Fortunately, my advisor did submit an extension request that time so that I could use the remainder of the money on C/N isotope analysis.

The grant is again set to expire in September of 2009. I met with my advisor a couple months ago to see what I needed to do in order to be granted an extension, just in case. Turns out, I couldn't apply for an extension immediately because my 2008 annual report was way overdue, again owing to the fact that I didn't have any idea when or if one was due. Fortunately, at this time, the department secretary who handles all the grant paperwork started forwarding me the notices from FastLane. So the NSF sends notifications to my advisor and to my department secretary, but not to me, the co-PI. (Don't get me started on how annoying it is to be merely the co-PI when I wrote the entire grant and benefit solely from it.)

I got another forward today: my annual report is still overdue. Not a good way to start the morning; I forwarded this report to my advisor a month ago. Now I'm waiting on an email from him to see what's up with its submission before I give up and call over to the OSR to see if someone there can submit the report for me. And while I'm at it, perhaps I can get myself reinstated on FastLane as someone who can actually take some amount of control over my own grant money. Granted, there's only about $400 left in my NSF account, but it's silly to waste it when I can spend it on oxygen analysis or another nice set of calipers.

Turns out, my advisor is waiting on someone in OSR to reset his FastLane password so that he can submit the report. Which makes me more frustrated, because I'm now waiting on someone waiting on someone else with no recourse for getting accomplished the one simple thing I need to do so that the NSF doesn't take away my remaining piddly amount of money. Grrr. I might call over to OSR anyway. It is my grant, after all.

1 comments:

software dissertation topics said...

Well… that’s attractive post rustrated with FastLane but to be straightforward i have a hard time figuring it… wonder how others think about this..

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