What are best practices for contacting a program officer?

  1. Identify a program officer (PO) who oversees the grant program whose objectives most closely match the core themes of your research. Look for best fit in directorate, division, or program solicitation: each will list contacts.
  2. Write a brief pre-abstract summarizing your proposed project: 1/4 page summary is preferable, 1/2 page is acceptable.
  3.  Start with an e-mail to your PO that provides the pre-abstract, and suggests possible times to connect via phone call.
  4.  Make the call: describe your project again, and ask if you might discuss issues the PO raised in the email.
  5.  Conduct a successful conversation that includes asking
    • Does my project fall within your current priorities?
    • What would you recommend to improve my chances for a favorable review?
    • What are some of the common pitfalls for proposal rejections?

For more, check these resources:

Can We Talk? article 
What to Say – and Not Say – to Program Officers

What criteria are used to review my proposal?

Two primary review criteria

All proposals submitted to NSF are reviewed utilizing the two merit review criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. Since NSF urges reviewers to consider these five review elements (listed below and in the PAPPG’s Merit Review Principles and Criteria) on both criteria, principal investigators should – through the use of appropriate subheadings, italicized and boldfaced text, and other formatting – make it easy for reviewers to find language in their proposal’s project description and related documents that will let the reviewer score the project positively against these elements.

  • What is the potential for the proposed activity to
    • advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields [Intellectual Merit];
    •  benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes [Broader Impacts]? 
  • To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  • Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?
  • How well qualified is the individual, team, or institution to conduct the proposed activities?
  • Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home institution or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

Grid used by reviewers

Reviewers are asked to fill in this grid with comment(s) in each quadrant:

Reviewer grid

Some resources for meeting the merit review criteria

  • the connector Broader Impacts. This University of Missouri page was established as a response to the National Science Foundation’s emphasis on the integration of education and outreach into research projects.
  • Perspectives on Broader Impacts. This publication presents highlights from the Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit in April 2014, including perspectives from NSF, university leaders, and university participants. Included are examples of approaches used by various PIs to ensure the scientific and societal relevance of their research. The article acknowledges BIONIC (Broader Impacts and Outreach Network for Institutional Collaboration), a five-year project funded by a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network grant (award abstract #1408736, started August 2014), in support of professionals who assist researchers in designing, implementing, and evaluating the broader impacts activities for NSF proposals and awards. 

Important Notes about “Broader Impacts”

The Project Description must include a section labeled “Broader Impacts” (explained in the Content section of PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.d) that addresses the project’s potential broader impacts and advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societal relevant outcomes. Address the question “Who will care?”

Such outcomes include, but are not limited to:

  • full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM);
  • improved STEM education and educator development at any level;
  • increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology;
  • improved well-being of individuals in society;
  • development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce;
  • increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others;
  • improved national security; increased economic competitiveness of the United States; and
  • enhanced infrastructure for research and education.

Who are senior personnel?

The term “senior personnel” describes PI/co-PIs who are “responsible for the scientific or technical direction of the project,” along with other key personnel involved such as faculty associates. For all senior personnel, a biographical sketch, current and pending support information, and a collaborators and other affiliations spreadsheet are required. A distinct additional category is “Other personnel” that includes postdoctoral scholars, other professionals, graduate students, undergraduate students, and miscellaneous others working on the project in a non-research capacity. For more explanation, see the PAPPG Exhibit II-7: Definitions of Categories.

How do I complete a Current and Pending Support form?

For NSF, as outlined in the PAPPG (NSF20-1), a Current and Pending Support (CPS) section:

  • must be separately provided through use of an NSF-approved format, for each individual designated as senior personnel on the proposal
  • provides information on all resources made available to an individual in support of and/or related to all of his/her research efforts, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value
  • includes in-kind contributions (such as office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students; general rule is: in-kind contribution with PI time commitment put in CPS, in-kind contribution intended for use on the project but not PI time commitment, put in Facilities)
  • must be provided for this project, for ongoing projects, and for any proposals currently under consideration from whatever source, irrespective of whether such support is provided through the proposing organization or is provided directly to the individual
  • is to show the total award amount for the entire award period covered (including indirect costs), as well as the number of person-months (or partial person-months) per year to be devoted to the project by the individual (see more on person-months in the section below)

The use of an NSF-approved format for current and pending support will be required upon implementation of the PAPPG (NSF 20-1), for all proposals submitted or due on or after June 1, 2020.

NSF Approved Formats for creating current & pending support are:

  • SciENcv – partnering with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this SciENcv: Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae is an NSF-approved format for use in preparation of the current and pending support section of an NSF proposal. Adoption of a single, common researcher profile system for Federal grants reduces administrative burden for researchers. SciENcv will produce NSF-compliant PDF versions of the current & pending support format. Proposers must save these documents and submit them as part of their proposals via FastLane, Research.gov or Grants.gov.
  • NSF Fillable PDF – this NSF fillable PDF in the current & pending support format, can be downloaded from this page, completed, and uploaded as part of a proposal via FastLane, Research.gov, or Grants.gov.

What are person months and how do I calculate them?

What is the definition of “person months”?

The term “person months” refers to the effort – amount of time – that PI/coPI(s), and other senior personnel will devote to a specific project. The effort is based on the organization’s regular academic year, summer, or calendar year. For example, if the regular schedule is 9 months and 30% effort will be devoted to the project, a total of 3 months should be listed as academic months. See other approaches below.

How do I calculate the person-months per year committed to the project?

Multiply the percentage of your effort associated with the project times the number of months of your appointment (i.e., 25% of a 9 month academic year appointment equals 2.25 person months {9 x 0.25= 2.25}; 10% of a 12 month calendar appointment equals 1.2 person months {12 x 0.10 = 1.2})

OR, if you know the number of hours, days, or weeks to be devoted to the project, person-months can be obtained by calculating the portion.

For example, working 5 days on a project = 1 week/4 total weeks in a month = 0.25 person months. Since a month includes a working day or two more than four weeks, an alternate way to calculate would be 5 days/22 work days in most months = 0.23 person-months. Simply said

  • Using weeks: multiply number of weeks by 0.23 to get person months (3 weeks x 0.23 = 0.69 person months) OR
  • Using days: multiply number of days by 0.05 to get person months (4 days x 0.05 = 0.20 person months)

In the NSF Fillable PDF for current and pending support, person months are inputted for each year of the project.

Can I compensate a colleague from another institution as part of my research project?

If your project involves a collaborator at an institution other than Carleton, you may need to include a subaward or contract in your budget. Documentation of the decision to include another entity – whether subrecipient or contractor – is required. Complete the checklist and sign this “Determining Subrecipient versus Contractor Status” form.

What might cause my proposal to be returned without review?

Refer to the PAPPG section Proposals Not Accepted or Returned Without Review for the full list of 10 reasons, including, “does not meet NSF proposal preparation requirements, such as page limitations, formatting instructions, and electronic submission, as specified in Part I of the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (see Chapters II.AII.B, and II.C), the NSF Grants.gov Application Guide or program solicitation.”