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


What is the CLA-Research Office Research Award Program?

Oregon State University, students
OSU students, unite!

When I first joined the CLA Dean’s Office in 2014, I was asked to manage the CLA Research Award program.  The fund is provided by the OSU Research Office.  The Dean’s office and the Schools match to bring the total available funding to $40,000.  The funds are to support Liberal Arts research activities.  After learning the details and the process, I am grateful for the opportunity to manage the program.

As stated on the CLA Research website, the awards are primarily intended to assist faculty members in the initiation of new creative or scholarly activities and for projects that will result in further external funding, or improve the position of the faculty member in applying for funding.  Furthermore, the project must culminate in a concrete result (a peer-reviewed journal article submitted for publication, a performance, a professional exhibition, a grant proposal).  And moreover, preference is given to projects that enhance the status and visibility of the College and the University. The program helps highlight the research and scholarship efforts of our fellow faculty members. Because at the end of the day, there’s actually quite a lot of liberal arts research happening here at OSU.

2016 CLA Research Awards

In 2016, we received eleven applications.  After a review by a four-member committee, eight proposals were selected for funding.  The projects included research about a film director, another about perception and cognition, others  about identity, pollution, and how cultural capital can help college student success.   We even selected a creative writing project to help an author meet a publisher’s deadline, and a project to collect scholarly essays by OSU CLA researchers on coastal culture resiliency to be published by a leading academic press.  All very exciting and much needed work!  Here is the list of the 2016 funded projects, with links to the researchers’ websites.

  • Nabil Boudraa, Algeria on screen: The Films of Merzak Allouache
  • Nick Dybek, The End of a Perfect Year: A Novel
  • Allison Hurst, Measuring the Acquisition and Deployment of Social and Cultural Capital among First-Generation College Students
  • Christina Leon, Dusty Skin: Manuel Ramos Otero’s Queer Self-Translations
  • Lisa Price, Heritage and Resilience of Coastal and Marine Culture: Views from the Liberal Arts
  • Christopher Sanchez, Enhancing creative cognition via manipulations of perceptual fluency
  • Adam Schwartz, Talking about race with white-identified, U.S.-born Spanish faculty
  • Bryan Tilt, China’s Air Pollution Crisis:  Public Perceptions and Responses

Several of the 2016 awardees have already submitted their reports.  So far, I can say that the award program is doing what it’s supposed to do.  I am looking forward to receiving the other reports.  And I look forward to writing a future blog post detailing the success of some of those projects.

What’s next?

I am looking forward to announcing the 2017 CLA Research Awards.  The deadline just passed.  While I can’t say much about the proposals now, I can say that we received eleven applications again.  Is eleven a magic number?  I thought it was three?

Look for a future blog post on the 2017 awardees.

-Eric Wayne Dickey, CLA Research Program Manager

A new day for Liberal Arts Research

What is Liberal Arts Research?

“Liberal Arts” and “research” are rarely used in the same sentence.  Or are they?  Maybe research and exploration have always been here, and we are simply not trained to see it as such.  Data collection and reflection have always been a part of liberal arts.  Maybe it’s the word “research” itself that has become too narrowly defined.

reflection pool
photo credit: Eric Wayne Dickey

Why blog?

This blog will serve as a platform to showcase the many research activities happening at Oregon State University’s College of Liberal Arts.

What’s next?

The next blog posts will contain information about the open call for proposals for the 2017-2018 CLA Research Awards Program.   I will also post information about the progress and outcomes of the 2016-2017 CLA Research Awards projects.  The award program is co-sponsored by the OSU Research Office, the CLA Office of the Dean, and each of the Schools within CLA.

From Psychological Sciences to Public Policy, Anthropology to Communication, History, Music, Literature, and more, Liberal Arts research is alive and well!