NSF progress reporting: How much, how little?

May 24 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers], Uncategorized

Suddenly the date for my NSF progress report has come up. This is the first time I'm assembling a progress report for my own grant, so I am walking into this a little blind. There is little in the way of guidelines and the responses from colleagues when I've asked "how much detail do you include in your progress reports?" has scaled linearly with my perception of how much time they sink into these type of tasks.

So how much do people generally write? How much info do you include on the students supported by the grant (let's assume that not everyone who got paid off the grant was working directly on the project).

Where is the line between adequate and not quite enough?

13 responses so far

  • anon says:

    I really wish I had the answer to this. My first NSF progress report was 5+ pages (for the results section). I doubt anyone even bothered to read it, because I was approved for the next year of funding within the same day I submitted it. I am now struggling with the year 2 progress report, and again have no fuckin idea whether a summary is sufficient, or if I should describe the data in detail, which would require no less than 25 figures.

  • No idea about NSF progress reports, but my experience with NIH is the following:

    The first few progress reports I wrote as a n00b were like three-four page mini-grants with formal data figures with legends and all thatte shitte. Over time, as I received zero feedback or evidence that anyone ever even looked at them, I got more and more cursory. Nowadays, I write about one page (in 11pt Georgia, of course) of actual content describing progress this past year and plans for the next year, without any figures or actual data shown at all.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    This was more along the lines I was thinking, especially since we've only had 9 months to make any progress (NSF reports are due 3 months prior to the new fiscal).

  • lylebot says:

    We (my co-PI and me) did not write much in our first NSF report. Some copy-pasted abstracts, a bit of boilerplate text in some of the fields. Our PO sent it back saying we hadn't reported any progress on broader impacts. We called her up, discussed it.a bit, revised and resubmitted, and she accepted it. No big deal.

    The main lesson I learned from that is that the reports are read, but if they aren't satisfactory it's far from the end of the world (assuming you're getting research done I guess).

  • ScienceProfessor says:

    It depends on (1) the PO -- some want to see a detailed report and will bounce it back if it doesn't include every conference abstract and broader impacts etc. and others will accept anything -- you might know which kind of PO you have until you have submitted a report though; and (2) what do you want to get out of writing the report? If you just want to get it over with and do the minimum, that's fine, but I have found it useful to involve students and postdocs in the report-writing, asking them for brief reports of their component of the project. This can be useful for them and me for tangible reasons (keeping track of progress, having fodder for the report) and for intangible reasons (they feel more involved in the grant and see what is involved in having such a grant). I don't spend a huge amount of time on reports, but I do like them to be detailed enough so that I can see progress from report to report; I find this personally satisfying.

  • anonymous says:

    I once had an annual report bounced back from a program officer because it lacked sufficient detail. Now, my reports are massive works of art, showing in great detail what we did, what we found, and what the broader effects have been. I'm convinced that it was instrumental in getting a renewal and a good look at a new proposal sent to the same panel. So many people do blow them off that, if done well, it stands out.

  • ianqui says:

    The individual experience is fascinating! I'm pretty sure that no one reads ours, since they also get approved within a day. I usually write 1-2 pages for my results, and I have never included any graphs. I'm pretty sure that my PO just wants to see that some progress was made, but the write up doesn't even have to be that coherent. I'm certain that my reports had nothing to do with being given a continuing grant or with getting my second grant (it's not like the panel saw my progress reports).

    But, YMMV. My directorate is SBE, not a hard science.

  • profguy says:

    I am in a physical science field. Have been a faculty for more than a decade and written many reports, for three different agencies and many POs. I do a reasonable job, but have NEVER had any direct evidence that ANY PO has actually read a report. I'm not saying they don't, but I've never had any feedback of any kind on the content. Once, early on, I nagged a PO to tell me if what I had sent was ok, and she said "well, it could be a little longer". So I do know that she had counted the pages... that's the most response I've ever got, and I only got that because I asked for it.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I like FSP's idea of having the lab peeps on the grant help out with the package, I think that will be helpful for everyone. However, I'm interested in how much detail people get into on the individuals employed by the grant. Does it matter?

  • Drugmonkey says:

    NIH limits you to 2 pages, so this really constrains how much you can put in there. Is NSF open-ended?

    I was tasked with these as a postdoc and I have continued that in my lab as well- one place to help the postdocs see what the job entails and why we make at least a pass at sticking to the Aims....

    I've only ever once had a PO say anything about the Progress Report but that wasn't over the way it was written. More about complaining about the project direction (which was, as it happens, sticking to the grant proposal as tightly as any I've ever had)

  • [...] NIH land (and apparently at NSF) the annual Progress Report functions as the application for the next non-competing interval of [...]

  • proflikesubstance says:

    There is no limit here and a long series of questions filled out through FastLane, leaving it totally ambiguous.

  • Odyssey says:

    My PO once bounced one of my reports back saying I hadn't added enough detail about what I had done since the previous report. Clearly he reads them. Err on the side of detail.

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