Demystifying the NSF Process

Chasing butterflies in the Mountains
photo courtesy of

National Science Foundation Research in the Liberal Arts

Sometimes chasing after grants feels like a frivolous waste of time, especially when proposals go unfunded.  Navigating requests for proposals can be frustrating, and understanding guidelines can be an exercise in futility.  While there may be no magic net, so to speak, understanding the process and following the guidelines to the letter will help.

Dr. Anita Guerrini recently published a piece in the History of Science Society Newsletter about navigating the National Science Foundation (NSF) submission process.  In so doing, she created a valuable resource for understanding NSF from a humanities perspective.

Understanding the Proposal Process

From conceptualizing the project to interpreting the daunting 180 page Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG), from writing to revising, and from submitting to the review process, Dr. Guerrini shares her experience and insights.  She writes:

“The Project Description should be as precise as possible about two main things: what you are going to do during the period of your grant, and what the final products of your research will be.”

In 2015, assisted Dr. Guerrini with an NSF submission titled, The Bone Collectors: Life, Death, and Commerce in Early Modern Europe.  The project was “to complete research and begin writing a book on the making and collecting of skeletons and bones in early modern Europe (1500-1830).”  The project has “implications for public policy, anthropology, archaeology, and preservation by museums and collectors of human remains.”  Thanks to careful and advanced planning, the proposal was funded.  The project is still in process and I recently met with her to assist with the project reporting requirement mandated by NSF.

She closes her piece in the History of Science Society Newsletter with some really great advice:

“Funding of all sorts is uncertain in our current political climate. But simply the act of writing a proposal is a very useful exercise—small consolation, to be sure, if you do not get funding. Your program officers work very hard to help applicants with the process, and many times will man (and woman) a table at the HSS annual meeting to talk over proposals. They will also give feedback on preliminary proposals. Take advantage of this, even if your next proposal is months or years away. And don’t give up.”

While following this advice is not a magic net, you will certainly experience the thrill and the rewards of research in action.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll dig up a few bones or even catch a few butterflies.

Thanks to Dr. Guerrini for letting me share this on the LARA blog.

To read the full text:

Published in the History of Science Society Newsletter


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