Engaging with DARPA: Stefanie Tomkins @ BU talk

Dr. Stefanie Tomkins of DARPA:DSO gave an enlightening talk on the DARPA application process today at Boston University, introduced by Dr. Gloria Waters, Associate Provost for Research at Boston University. Slides from the DARPA talk are available to the BU community.

Here are some important changes she noted to the DARPA grant application process:

DARPA Young Faculty Awards

are being extended to faculty 0-8 years post-appointment, including tenured faculty. Previously these awards were restricted to 0-5 years post-appointment faculty. The grants are $250K/year for two years. Director’s Award adds $500K to the grant.

Two-step application process for DARPA Young Faculty Awards

The current acceptance rate for DARPA Young Faculty Awards is about 10%. Grant applications consume a great deal of time to create and read, and DARPA Program Managers are particularly picky about their requirements being met and fleshed out in the grant applications. Thus a new process is being started where a one-page abstract will be submitted, and then upon acceptance of the abstract, a much higher acceptance rate is expected for full grant applications

She also noted some overall facts to realize about DARPA grant applications:

Personal contact with a DARPA PM is important

Like any grant application, personal contact with a PM pre-app to ensure you understand scope and intent is important. The PMs and directors do realize that sometimes the right PM wasn’t available, and they have seen applications come out of the blue get funded, although far more funded grants came from a one-on-one discussion with a PM beforehand.

DARPA PM’s rotate frequently

Given the fixed 3-5 year term for DARPA PMs, they are hungry for progress and only take on grants fitting right into their mindset and needs. However, the 20-25% turnover rate means every month new PMs are coming aboard, so timing and luck are key elements of a DARPA grant application. On average, 45 projects are started a year – but like BAAs and RFIs, they tend to come in batches.

DARPA 6.2 grants can happen at universities too

DARPA 6.1 basic research grants are well-known to be suitable for open publications, foreign researchers and the like. DARPA 6.2 early applied research grants to universities can also be tailored to meet university openness requirements, about which Boston University is particularly particular.

RFIs as lead-in to BAA

If a PM knows your name from a positive response to an RFI, you might exploit the trend of BAAs coming out on nearly identical topics to RFIs a year later.

Hearing about DARPA grant opportunities

DARPA uses http://www.grants.gov and https://www.fbo.gov to announce opportunities. The flurry of emails are worth skimming beyond the title and first sentence–sometimes the second paragraph reveals it’s an interdisciplinary grant in your field.