More musing on the NSF Bio changes

Aug 18 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

So we've all had a day to think about what these new changes in the NSF Bio application process will mean for us. Other than the stuff I brought up yesterday, one of the big things that sticks out to me that we're going to have to adapt to is the preproposal. I don't mean as a step in the process, but rather where the bar is for getting past this stage. Will preliminary data need to be demonstrated to the extent it is currently required? Will that be the major hurdle, or can we pay some lip service to this and sell the idea more? How do we compress a proposal idea into 1/3 the space and make it convincing?

To a certain extent, NIHers went through this transition a few years ago when the application for major awards was shifted from 25 to 12 pages, but this is a bit different. We'll be justifying 3 years of work in less than 4 pages of text (page one is just for personnel and don't forget that Broader Impacts has to show up in the preproposal too). The new RFA indicates that the following 5 criteria must be met by the 4 page preproposal:

"Conceptual Framework" or "Objectives" or "Specific Aims"
"Rationale and Significance" or "Background"
"Hypotheses" or "Research Question (s)"
"Research Approach" or "Experimental Plan"
"Broader Impacts"

Economy of space is going to be huge. Do you include figures? How hard do you sell the approach vs. the significance? Obviously this is going to be case-by-case, but there will be enormous amount work involved in creating preproposals for each planned January submission rather than updating an existing proposal.

Another unresolved question is whether the panels that screen the preproposals will have the same membership as the panels that read the full proposals, or not. To my knowledge, neither IOS or DEB has a history of carry-over in panel membership, so does that change or not? Will there be feedback associated with accepted and rejected preproposals or will there simply be notification of the decision? Particularly in cases where the preproposal is accepted, the feedback from the pre-panel might be counter to the opinions of the full panel if they are different. There is some potential here for some messy situations.

What are others seeing that concerns them most?

2 responses so far

  • pinus says:

    You have to do a preproposal for DoD grants as well. I have found that most people put in a bit of preliminary data in support of the basic ideas.

  • Dan says:

    I agree completely about the messiness. I think that the hard thing for this first round is that panel members are going to have different ideas about this. In a few years, people's expectation will hopefully stabilize and we'll know what to target.

    I was planning to put my first NSF grant in January. Now the process is even more daunting...

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