The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards grants to doctoral students to improve the quality of dissertation research. These grants allow doctoral students to undertake significant data-gathering projects and to conduct field research in settings away from their campus which would not otherwise be possible. Proposals are judged on the basis of their scientific merit, including the theoretical importance of the research question and the appropriateness of the proposed data and methodology to be used in addressing the question. 

QUICK LINKS Online grants management for the NSF community 

SU OSP Budget Template: Required in order to develop and submit budgets consistent with current a University rates and policies 

SU OSP Internal Routing and Review (IRR) Form: Required in order to submit an external-grant application 

Why Write an NSF Proposal 

  • An NSF grant could permit you to collect data or undertake research that would not otherwise be possible. 
  • Making connections with more-senior graduate students (particularly those who have received a DDRIG) and faculty scholars in your field can be a key factor in helping you strengthen your application. These conversations can also extend and strengthen your professional network.  
  • The process of applying alone could improve your dissertation or other research activities. 
  • Developing your grant-writing skills early in your academic career gives you more time to hone your abilities and your research story, which will likely lead to more success. 
  • Securing your own funding shows that you have the capacity to be an independent researcher. 


  • Doctoral students enrolled at accredited doctoral degree granting universities and colleges in, and having a campus in, the United States
  • U.S. citizenship is not required.
  • The proposal must be submitted by the University on behalf of the advisor and the graduate student who is at the point of initiating or already conducting dissertation research.
  • The advisor is the Principal Investigator (PI) and the doctoral student whose dissertation research will be supported must be designated as a Co-PI. The student must be the author of the proposal.

What Will the NSF Fund? 

  • Significant data-gathering projects
  • Field research in settings away from campus 

Award amounts vary across programs, from up to $10,000 (excluding indirect costs) to up to $20,000 (excluding indirect costs). Unless otherwise specified in the specific program solicitation, the following costs are allowable for NSF DDRIG proposals:

  • Costs associated with travel and related expenses to conduct research at field sites, archives, specialized collections, and/or facilities away from the student's campus.
  • Costs for data-collection activities, including the conduct of experiments, surveys, and/or questionnaires.
  • Costs for securing data and for archiving data.
  • Costs for equipment necessary for the conduct of the project that will be devoted to the project over the duration of the award. (Note that any equipment purchased with NSF funds becomes property of the awardee organization.)
  • Costs for payments to research subjects and/or language informants.
  • Costs for materials and supplies required for the conduct of the project.
  • Costs for travel to one domestic professional meeting to present preliminary research results and obtain feedback to further improve the project. (Note that NSF will not recommend a DDRIG solely for sharing research results at conferences.)

Programs and Due Dates

Many programs in the seven NSF directorates accept doctoral dissertation improvement grant proposals. Requirements vary across programs, so applicants are advised to consult the relevant program's solicitation and instructions.

Summary of Programs and Due Dates 

Strategies for Success 

  • Start the process early. 
  • Read the entire solicitation very carefully and repeatedly. 
  • Ask questions of your advisor (PI), University grant specialists, and NSF program officer. 
  • Demonstrate review criteria in application materials. 
  • Write clearly, concisely, confidently, and truthfully. 
  • Draw on accomplishments more than aspirations. 
  • Write multiple drafts and show them to others for review. 
  • Check for spelling, grammar, and required formatting. 
  • Verify materials are uploaded correctly in the appropriate places in the application system. 
  • Be ready to submit your application before the deadline day to allow for any unexpected technical issues or system errors. 

Planning Time Required for an NSF DDRIG 

As a general rule, preparing an NSF application takes a minimum of four to six weeks' lead time. In addition to time devoted to writing your project description  and other narrative components that comprise your proposal, you should plan for two weeks ahead of the submission deadline to work with your advisor (PI) and University staff to finalize the complex paperwork required to submit your application. 

Application Submission Process 

These grant awards are not fellowships directly paid to the student or to a student account. Rather, the Office of Sponsored Programs at Syracuse University submits the grant application on behalf of the PI (faculty advisor) and Co-PI (doctoral student) and funds are awarded to the University. Funds are held in a university or department account and utilized by the student for research expenses as described in the application. 

  • You must work with the SU Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) to submit the application.
  • In the Maxwell School, your contact person for assistance and submission is Caroline McMullin (, Research Administrator in the SU Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP). Depending on your academic department, the departmental administrator or budget manager might also be able to help. 
  • Both you and your advisor will need NSF IDs in order to access the FastLane system (see Registering for an NSF ID). 
  • The PI (your advisor) is the applicant in FastLane; if you change the PI after starting the application, all details will be deleted and you will need to start over.

Proposal Development Steps 

  1. Review the DDRIG solicitation from the applicable NSF program. If you are not sure which NSF program you should apply to, talk with your advisor. 
  2. Review recent awards using the "What Has Been Funded (Recent Awards Made Through This Program, with Abstracts)" link on the program page.  
  3. Leverage your network to find successful proposal and/or peers who have been through the application process (whether successful or not). 
  4. Prepare a 1-page summary of your project to send by email to the NSF program officer(s) for your chosen program. Request a phone call to discuss your project, including its fit with the program, or feedback by email.  
  5. Read carefully pertinent sections of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Highlight or otherwise take note of important information. 
  6. Draft your Project Description, Budget Justification, and other components of your application, carefully following the content and format requirements as described in the DDRIG solicitation and PAPPG. 
  7. Obtain written documentation from hosting institution, collaborators, or other auxiliary resources, if applicable. 
  8. Request required documents/information from your advisor/PI (see below), and mark your calendar to follow up to ensure you receive all documents/information well in advance of the submission deadline.
  9. Finalize and submit your proposal and all necessary paperwork to Caroline McMullin ( in OSP well in advance of the deadline. Caroline will review, work with you to revise as needed, and submit the application to the NSF.  

 What You Will Need from Your Advisor/PI

  1. Biographical Sketch
  2. Current and Pending Support
  3. Collaborators and Other Affiliations Information 
  4. PI letter (see solicitation for template language and/or other requirements)
  5. Confirmation of the PI's up-to-date FCOI Significant Financial Interest Disclosure 

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