NSF Grant Application Mentor

If you are currently preparing your NSF grant application, are soon to renew an existing grant, or will be seeking NSF funding in the near future look no further.This unique 217-page, how-to manual coaches you on how to optimally prepare the vital components of your NSF grant application one section at a time! It includes all 2014 updates and revisions required to meet NSF’s revised version of the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG), announced on February 2014.

  • NSF Grant Application Mentor: An Educational How-to Manual

    Section 1: Preparation: What Every Researcher Should Know Before You Start Applying

    A good grant proposal always begins with a good idea, and like any scientist, you are full of good ideas. But the process of obtaining funding from NSF requires more than a good (or great) idea, more than a great project or a great team. For one thing, the idea must be distilled and honed, built into something more like a thesis, then developed into a coherent and robust project.

    Before tackling that important task, you must first determine whether your idea belongs at NSF and whether you qualify as an applicant.

    And then it’s time to write. You should schedule this task in consultation with the submission guidelines pertinent to the NSF program to which you are applying. In addition, you should coordinate your calendar with your team, to ensure that the proposal gets the critical vetting it will likely need to be successful. In the rest of this chapter, we will add detail to the steps in this process.

    Inside this section, you will gain a full introduction to the NSF grant-making system, with an overview of NSF divisions and eligibility rules. Experts discuss strategies for launching a successful grant-writing effort: choosing a topic and project, creating a title and outline, contacting a program director, and establishing a writing schedule. In addition, you will receive advice on honing hypotheses and identifying helpful team members

    Section 2: Knowing Your Audience: Understand NSF’s Review Criteria and Reviewers

    Consider this blunt advice from Thomas Statler, PhD, current program director at NSF: Know your audience and communicate with them effectively. Write your proposal so that it gives the reviewers what they need to understand, not what you want to say.

    “Know your audience.” That is important advice for anyone writing anything, but it is especially critical when writing a grant proposal. Your proposal is not being written for your friends or colleagues, for your department chair or tenure committee, or for the government or taxpayers. It is being written for a program director and some reviewers. That is your audience. That is your only audience.

    In this chapter, we will explore the criteria by which this audience will judge your proposal. These criteria are unique to NSF, and they amount to far more than just “write clearly and have a hypothesis.” The NSF merit criteria are tied to the Foundation’s Core Values statement, and NSF signals their importance by returning without review those proposals that fail to address the criteria — explicitly — in the one-page Project Summary that leads off every application.

    In other words, you cannot write an effective NSF proposal without knowing your audience, and you cannot know your audience without a solid understanding of the NSF merit review criteria. Therefore, we will first discuss the criteria in depth, and then turn to some specific strategies for identifying and communicating with your target audience as you write.

    Section 3: Successfully Present Your Project and Your Individual Qualifications

    The NSF grant application requires you to outline your research topic and your plan, in an all-important section called the Project Summary.

    In this part of the application, storytelling is a key goal and a valuable skill. You seek to get your reviewers excited about your proposal, so that they decide to champion your work. You want to tell a story, with an introduction, some characters, a problem or challenge, and a satisfying conclusion. The Project Summary is an encapsulation of your bigger story, with less detail but more drama.

    This section is important for at least two reasons. First, it sets the tone of your proposal; ideally, it attracts the attention and piques the interest of reviewers. Second, it directly addresses the most important criteria used in merit review at NSF: intellectual merit and broader impacts. If your Project Summary fails to specifically and separately address those two criteria, NSF will return your proposal without review. That’s how important those criteria are, and that’s how important the Project Summary is.

    So, in this chapter, we will look at what makes a good Project Summary, looking at examples from successful proposals, after reviewing NSF’s basic formatting requirements. We also examine biographical sketches and look at some ways to use them creatively to enhance your proposal.

    Section 4: How to Document Your Resources and Commitment to the Research Community

    A major component of the intellectual merit criterion concerns access to resources. Together with your biographical sketch and other evidence of your team’s qualifications, documenting the resources of your institution establishes your suitability to tackle the project you have proposed. In addition, these descriptions can portray your institution as one worthy of an NSF investment, especially if you are considering an equipment grant. This section of the proposal, therefore, should not be taken lightly. Recall what Tom Statler emphasized in his advice to investigators: you must convince reviewers that “you are the go-to guy/gal to do the work.”

    In this chapter, we will dissect NSF’s expectations for describing institutional resources, and we will look at examples from successful proposals.

    We will then turn to your responsibilities to the research community, with regard to the sharing and management of data and other products of your research.

    Section 5: Demonstrating the Significance of Your Research Topic

    The meat of your proposal, where you describe in detail the activities you aim to undertake, is the Project Description. When you talk about writing a grant, it is almost certainly the Project Description you have in mind. It is the main attraction. It is the place where you make the case for your ideas and your plan.

    There are some specific things you need to know as you tackle the Project Description, and we will discuss them in this chapter. But the main tools you will need are tools we have already emphasized in previous chapters. You will need to write clearly and succinctly; you will need to think like a reviewer and remain reviewer-focused; and you will need to specifically highlight the broader impacts of your work. This is why the chapter on the building of the main attraction is the fifth of seven — those tools are central to your success.

    In this chapter, we will examine the requirements for this all-important section — the page limit, rules for the use of URLs, and inclusion of results from prior NSF grants. Then we will look at strategies for creating a compelling narrative, looking at examples from successful proposals and building on the strategies emphasized in previous chapters in this manual. We will conclude with some remarks on references cited, which (happily) are not included in your 15-page limit, and a brief look at renewals and at strategies for resubmission.

    Section 6: NSF Special Considerations: Reporting and Compliance Essentials for Human Subjects and Animals

    If the Project Description is the “main event,” then the budget and the preparation of supplementary materials must seem like sideshows or petty annoyances. But in fact, these elements are fundamental components of your application. Putting together a clear and well-justified budget requires careful thought — the same kind that is necessary to generate a strong and compelling research proposal.

    In this chapter, we will consider concepts and recommendations in preparing budgets, and look at examples of budget justification narratives from successful proposals. Then we will examine some of the special considerations that you may need to disclose or document in your proposal.

    Section 7: The NSF Review Process: Tactics for Submitting a Winning Proposal

    In the previous six chapters, we have walked through the process of preparing the key aspects of an NSF proposal. If you have completed all of those steps, then you are quite close to the end. Really, all you need to do is upload those files to a website — it takes about ten minutes.

    Just kidding. Submitting your proposal is a bit more complicated than that, and it is likely that you have a few tasks to complete before you have all the parts of your application assembled. In this final chapter, we will look at the tasks that constitute the end game in this process. We will suggest a template for a checklist, provide a basic overview of the use of the NSF FastLane system, and then sketch the events that transpire after your proposal is received by NSF. We will also look quickly at the Grants.gov system, an alternative to FastLane that you may consider.

    > Starting the Grant Application Process
    > Qualifying for an NSF Grant
    > Making a Plan
    > Choosing and Defining the Project
    > Establish a Writing Schedule

    > Knowing Your Audience: NSF Review Criteria and Reviewers
    > Understanding the NSF Merit Review Criteria
    > Writing for Your Audience: The Reviewers

    > Presenting Your Project and Your Individual Qualifications
    > Before You Begin Writing: Notes on Formatting
    > Designing and Writing Your Project Summary
    > Using Biographical Sketches to Highlight Your Expertise
    > Special Considerations When Writing Collaborative Proposals

    > Documenting Your Resources and Your Commitment to the Research Community
    > Detail Your Facilities and Resources
    > Another Important Resource: Your Collaborators
    > Developing and Writing Your Data Management Plan

    > Demonstrating the Significance of Your Research Topic
    > The Project Description: Length and Rules
    > The Project Description: Content Expectations
    > Outlining and Organizing the Project Description
    > Writing the Project Description
    > Using References Wisely
    > Special Instructions for Renewals and Resubmissions

    > Budgeting and Special Topics
    > Creating and Justifying Your Budge
    > Special Considerations: Animal Research, Use of Human Subjects, and Postdoctoral Training

    > Submission and Review of Your Proposal
    > Assembling Your Application Materials
    > Using the FastLane System
    > Using Grants.gov
    > What Happens Next: Review and Processing of Your Proposal


  • In addition to insider guidance and step-by-step instruction, you will also find a variety of educational elements throughout each chapter of your manual making this the most comprehensive guide available today:

    Strategy Strategy: Keep these expert pointers in mind before making your next move. Different strategies can be found throughout every chapter.
    TIP Tip: Experts shine light on the do´s and dont´s of each process. Learn from the veterans as they guide you every step of the way.
    Remember Remember: These are the insider recommendations you shouldn’t forget. Always keep these specific items in mind as you advance through the grant application process.
    Directly quoted NSF information You will find directly quoted NSF information in every chapter followed by an expert review of this sometimes obscure information.
    Paraphrased NSF information Authors also provide paraphrased NSF information to help you understand specific requirements.
    Directly quoted information from successful NSF grant applications Along with how-to examples and guides, you will also find directly quoted information from successful NSF grant applications!

  • About the Consulting Editor —
    Stephen Matheson, PhD

    Dr. Stephen Matheson has a master’s degree in toxicology from Rutgers University and UMDNJ, and a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Arizona. He completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School, working in developmental neuroscience in the MGH Cancer Center. Dr. Matheson taught at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan for 10 years, and collaborated with researchers at the Van Andel Research Institute while teaching in the graduate school of the Van Andel Institute. While in academia, Dr. Matheson was a PI or co-PI on several NSF grants, including three successful MRI proposals, and wrote a successful NIH R15 proposal. He has reviewed NSF grant proposals and scientific manuscripts for several journals.

    Dr. Matheson currently works as a scientific editor at a major multidisciplinary journal of the life sciences, while writing and consulting. He lives in the Boston area and enjoys music, cycling, coffee, and scientific ideas.

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    BONUS BONUS! Order your manual today and receive the NSF Grant Application Webcast Library, including 7 unique Webcasts in MP4 format, absolutely FREE!(a $179 value). Webcasts include the following topics:

    • Starting the Grant Application Process
    • Merit Review Criteria
    • Presenting Your Project and Your Individual Qualifications
    • Successfully Documenting Your Resources and Commitment to the Research Community
    • Demonstrating the Significance of Your Research Topic
    • Budgeting and Special Considerations
    • Submission and Review of Your Proposal

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    This manual is brought to you as a training tool by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. The presented information is not connected with the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor is it endorsed by this agency. All views expressed are those personally held by the authors and are not official government policies or opinions.

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