Thursday, September 1, 2011

We Got the Grant and the Exciting Research Begins!

Writing proposals is a very time-consuming and challenging endeavor.

And, once a proposal is submitted to an organization or funding agency for peer review, ultimately getting funding to conduct the research described in the proposal, is far from guaranteed. In many competitive calls for proposals less that 15% of the proposals will get funded.

So why bother to take the time out of one's busy schedule to engage in such an activity, which does not guarantee a positive pay-off?

Moreover, why should faculty in business schools, who could be spending their time consulting, teaching in Executive Ed, etc., even bother to write proposals?

I write proposals because I truly believe in the research underlying the projects and much frontier research today is multidisciplinary, which means bringing teams together. This may be costly in the sense that there may be travel involved, a new cadre of students to engage in the research and to educate, plus equipment (at the very least, computers) to purchase. Plus, one must scope out the time to be able to do the collaborative research. Hence, to do multidisciplinary research, which crosses boundaries, often requires financial backing and funding.

Of course, one can just go with one's comfortable status quo but I refuse to not be growing and challenging myself, as well as my students and collaborators. Hence, I continue to write proposals and to plant my seeds wherever I can, and to see which ones germinate.

The receipt of a research grant, that has been subject to peer review (I am not talking about earmarked projects which I have never been the beneficiary of), provides a type of validation that is important both professionally and, to me, at least, personally. It means that the community of scholars believes in one's ideas and creativity. This type of recognition gives one an added push to do one's best to excel.

Moreover, it provides a type of freedom to conduct the research because one has attained both the backing of one's peers (who are always anonymous in reviewing the proposals) and the financial support to pursue new, challenging research topics. It also opens up new opportunities -- one may get invited to present the new research at workshops and conferences and to attend special meetings at the funding agency, etc., which can provide venues for additional intellectual exchanges and idea generation.

Plus, when the efforts of writing a proposal result in positive reviews (even after multiple setbacks, and I have had my share of those but I never give up or stop trying) and the funding agency decides to award the grant, one, literally, with all the project co-investigators, glows with happiness and with renewed energy.

We heard the wonderful news this week (and it came after the onslaught of Hurricane Irene). Our multidisciplinary research project consisting of a team of engineers, computer scientists, and me (I will be providing the management science and network economics perspective to the project) has been funded and it is a three year project. It involves multiple institutions and a colleague of mine in the College of Engineering and I at the Isenberg School of Management will be leading the UMass Amherst effort.

A brief abstract of our project, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is below.

Computer networks, in particular the Internet, represent essential infrastructure for business, government, military, and personal communication. Several recent trends in technology and network use have pushed the capabilities required of the Internet beyond what can be provided by the currently deployed infrastructure. This project develops a transformative shift in the design of networks that enables sustained innovation in the core of the network using economic principles. The core idea is that supporting choice is the key aspect of a network architecture that can adapt to emerging solutions for current and future challenges.

The network architecture designed and prototyped in this work aims to:

(1) encourage alternatives to allow users to choose among a range of services,

(2) let users vote with their wallet to reward superior and innovative services,

(3) provides the mechanisms to stay informed on available alternatives and their performances.

Solutions are approached from different directions reflecting the team’s multidisciplinary expertise in computer networking, network systems, management science, and network economics.

The broader impact of this project contributes to enhancing the functionality and usability of the next-generation Internet, which is expected to become an important piece of infrastructure. The project also integrates research and education of graduate and undergraduate students at the participating organizations, where current efforts to integrate underrepresented minorities are continued. Results from this work are disseminated in the form of an open-source prototype and publications.

Now the exciting research begins.

What wonderful news to receive just in time for the new academic 2011-2012 year!