An NSF CAREER award is a coveted jewel for many young investigators. It’s not too early to get started before the next submission dates. Sometime ago, in an internet search I stumbled on a doctoral dissertation in communications that analyzed the features of successful NSF CAREER awards. You can find it here to download and read for yourself, OR you can sign up for my newsletter and get the summary report for any upcoming dates.
It was a lot of work to reduce a 200+ page dissertation to a 10 page summary report that is useful to the scientific research community. In my opinion the findings are applicable for most research grant applications. Not surprisingly, they align with my experiences as a PI and faculty member. New researchers can gain insight into the entire proposal process, while experienced researchers will find this a good review and reinforcement. There is something for everyone here and the opportunity to learn something new.