AAAS Best practices Course - Working with NSF

Below are some notes from the AAAS course.

The NSF's annual budget is >$7B 40-50k / year. Funding success is around 20%. The NSB is selected by the U.S. President. The board sets the core merit review that NSF uses. NSF is organized into 7 directorates. Look in the "about" section to find the organizational list and find the directorate that most closely matches your research focus.

How to find funding

  1. Dedicated menu to search on the website
  2. site
  3. Within division of interest
    1. Special announcements, etc
    2. This can provide useful context
    3. Deeper knowledge about opportunity and help with grant writing
    4. CAREER, etc are special grants
  4. Crosscutting programs (OIA)
  5. Subscribe to RSS and email alerts
  6. Program officers - feel free to contact PMs. Ask early, ask often ("view staff" on division)
  7. Direct route
  8. Succinct email
  9. Or phone for longer conversations/questions
  10. If can't find a specific RFP, call PM and discuss your research (ask)
  11. Know about due dates

Who handles your proposal?

  1. 70% NSF staff are full time
  2. 30% rotators (less than 3 years) - active researchers
  3. SO, researcher in your field
  4. Proposal Review Process
    1. Panel Review - 3 panelists, write review and meet as group to discuss and rank proposal (~60% of applications)
    2. Mail in comments with discussion and ranking (ad how reviewers) ~30%
    3. Some NSF PM will make decision (usually rapid or small)
    4. Predictable time line - funding decision within 6 months
    5. Look for review process in RFP

Pitfalls that happen before Peer Review

  1. Read RFP closely
  2. Fastlane - NSF online proposal submission -usually through SPO
  3. Confirm submission process in advance
  4. Exceptions - Postdoc, you will need to have a Fastlane login
  5. Website problems - SPO should know of issues
  6. Once submitted, PM looks for compliance with PAPPG, e.g. Guidelines in RFP and PAPPG - read RFP very carefully
  7. Common ones - RWR returned w/o review - will happen w/in 4 weeks usually

Avoid rejection before review

  1. 2005 - 2014 - 3-5% were rejected without review
  2. Not responsive to announcement, duplicates, past deadline, etc
  3. Formatting requirements - follow closely
  4. Add page numbers
  5. Length requirements must be followed
  6. Cover sheet, summary, TOC, Desc, Refs, Bios, Budget, Justification, C&P, Des, facilities, other resources are required (in PAPPG and RFP)
  7. Special information and supplemental information don't count toward page limit. 
  8. Check the 1st page - Letter of intent, pre-proposal, etc
  9. Search "in addition to" to look for special requirements of soliciation

NSF Unique Review Criteria

  1. Address review criteria in proposal, consider 5 elements under intellectual merit and broader impacts
  2. What is potential for proposed activity to
    1. Benefit society or advance societal outcomes
    2. Advance knowledge and understanding in and outside of field
    3. To what extent do proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, potentially transformative concepts
    4. Is plan for carrying out proposed activities well-reasoned, organized and rational? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?
    5. How well qualified is the individual, team, institution to conduct activities
    6. Are there adequate resources available to PI to carry out proposal activities (at home or with collaborators)
  3. Broader impacts is a specific NSF requirement
  4. Advance discovery through training (undergrads, K-12, grad students)
  5. Broadening participation - URM, URG
  6. Enhance infrastructure - collaborations with industry, international, etc
  7. Broaden dissemination - outreach, to the public
  8. Benefits to society - e.g. Inform public policy, industry, national security
  9. In PAPPG is the long definition of what NSF considers broader impacts. Broadly, it's
    1. Broadening Participation
    2. STEM training
    3. Improved well being
    4. Academic/industry
  10. Failure to provide Broader impacts can lead to rejection, consider
  11. How will impact be measured?
  12. is there already a measured baseline against which researcher will quantify success (in group, university, etc)
  13. Are there examples in university of similar impacts being achieved by other groups?
  14. Will you be replicating a proven model for success or will you work creatively to achieve impacts in a new way?
  15. Increase success by focusing in broader impacts


  1. The programs and requirement evolve, check the soliciations
  2. Check the NSF site for updates
  3. Develop a relationship with program manager(s)
  4. Keep up to date on latest PAPPG

 Q&A with COO of AAAS - Celest Rolfing

  1. Biggest shift relevant to applications: NSF wants to see more interdisciplinary/collaborative proposals
  2. Effective ways for PIs to stay informed in MPS: Advisory meetings are open to public
  3. Requirements that are overlooked by PI:
    1. report on prior research,
    2. should choose past grant most closely related to research
  4. Resubmission of rejected proposals: don't turn it around too quickly, reach out to program manager  for guidance on when/where to resubmit
  5. MPS: basic science research - successful Broader impacts, play to strength and passions
  6. Insight to PI for first timers
  7. reach out to the program manger. They are available to talk to you
  8. offer services as a reviewer is the best way of learning to write a successful proposal