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.
Research.gov: Online grants management for the NSF community
SU OSP Budget Template (FY21): 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.)
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.
Archaeology & Archaeometry
The Archaeology & Archaeometry Program provides funding for research that furthers anthropologically relevant archaeological knowledge. The program sets no priorities based on time period, geographic region or specific research topic. Full proposals are accepted anytime.
The Biological Anthropology Program supports multifaceted research that works to advance scientific knowledge of human biology and ecology, including the understanding of our evolutionary history and mechanisms that have shaped human and nonhuman primate biological diversity. Full proposals are due in January and July annually.
The Cultural Anthropology Program supports basic scientific research on the causes, consequences, and complexities of human social and cultural variability. Anthropological research spans a wide gamut, and contemporary cultural anthropology is an arena in which diverse research traditions and methodologies are valid. Recognizing the breadth of the field’s contributions to science, the Cultural Anthropology Program welcomes proposals for empirically grounded, theoretically engaged, and methodologically sophisticated research in all sub-fields of cultural anthropology. DDRIG proposals are due in January and August annually.
Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences
The Decision, Risk and Management Sciences Program supports scientific research directed at increasing the understanding and effectiveness of decision making by individuals, groups, organizations, and society. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, doctoral dissertation research improvement grants (DDRIGs), and workshops are funded in the areas of judgment and decision making; decision analysis and decision aids; risk analysis, perception, and communication; societal and public policy decision making; management science and organizational design. DDRIG proposals are due in January and August annually.
The Economics Program supports research designed to improve the understanding of the processes and institutions of the U.S. economy and of the world system of which it is a part. This program also strengthens both empirical and theoretical economic analysis as well as the methods for rigorous research on economic behavior. It supports research in almost every area of economics, including econometrics, economic history, environmental economics, finance, industrial organization, international economics, labor economics, macroeconomics, mathematical economics, and public finance. DDRIG proposals are due in January and August annually.
Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences
The Human-Environment and Geographical (HEGS) Program supports basic scientific research about the nature, causes, and/or consequences of the spatial distribution of human activity and/or environmental processes across a range of scales. Projects about a broad range of topics may be appropriate for support if they enhance fundamental geographical knowledge, concepts, theories, methods, and their application to societal problems and concerns. DDRIG proposals are accepted any time.
Linguistics: Dynamic Language Infrastructure
The Dynamic Language Infrastructure Program supports doctoral research focusing on building dynamic language infrastructure (DLI). Developing language infrastructure includes the documentation and preservations of languages in ways that articulate or advance linguistic theory, as well as the use of digitization techniques and novel computational methods that support and advance the study of language. Special emphasis is given to human languages that are endangered, i.e., understudied and at risk of falling out of use. The program supports the development of the next generation of researchers that contribute to language data management and archiving, and to the analysis of these archives to advance language infrastructure. Funding can support fieldwork and other activities relevant to the digital recording, documenting, and archiving of endangered languages, including the preparation of lexicons, grammars, text samples, and databases. DDRIG proposals are accepted any time.
Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics
The Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics (MMS) Program is an interdisciplinary program in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences that supports the development of innovative, analytical, and statistical methods and models for those sciences. MMS seeks proposals that are methodologically innovative, grounded in theory, and have potential utility for multiple fields within the social and behavioral sciences. As part of its larger portfolio, the MMS Program partners with a consortium of federal statistical agencies to support research proposals that further the development of new and innovative approaches to surveys and to the analysis of survey data. DDRIG proposals are due in January and August annually.
In 2020, APSA received a grant from the NSF to administer the Political Science DDRIG Program for the next three years. See Special Instructions for Applying to the PS-DDRIG Program via APSA.
The Political Science Program at the NSF supports scientific research that advances knowledge and understanding of citizenship, government, and politics. Research proposals are expected to be theoretically motivated, conceptually precise, methodologically rigorous, and empirically oriented. Substantive areas include, but are not limited to, American government and politics, comparative government and politics, international relations, political behavior, political economy, and political institutions. DDRIG proposals are due to APSA in June annually.
Science, Technology, and Society
The Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Program supports research that uses historical, philosophical, and social scientific methods to investigate the intellectual, material, and social facets of the scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical (STEM) disciplines. It encompasses a broad spectrum of STS topics including interdisciplinary studies of ethics, equity, governance, and policy issues that are closely related to STEM disciplines, including medical science. DDRIG proposals are due in August annually.
In 2020, the American Sociological Association (ASA) received a grant from the NSF to administered the Sociology DDRIG Program for the next four years. See Special Instructions for Applying to the Sociology DDRIG Program via ASA.
The Sociology Program at the NSF is intended to provide support to improve the conduct of doctoral dissertation projects undertaken by doctoral students enrolled in U.S. universities. The program supports basic research on all forms of human social organization and processes of individual and institutional change. DDRIG proposals are due to ASA in November annually.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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
- 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.
- Review recent awards using the "What Has Been Funded (Recent Awards Made Through This Program, with Abstracts)" link on the program page.
- Leverage your network to find successful proposal and/or peers who have been through the application process (whether successful or not).
- Prepare a 1-page summary of your project to send by email to the NSF program officer(s) listed in the DDRIG solicitation for your chosen program. Request a phone call to discuss your project, including its fit with the program, or feedback by email.
- Read carefully pertinent sections of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Highlight or otherwise take note of important information.
- 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.
- Obtain written documentation from hosting institution, collaborators, or other auxiliary resources, if applicable.
- 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.
- Finalize and submit your proposal and all necessary paperwork to Caroline McMullin (email@example.com) 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
- Biographical Sketch
- Current and Pending Support
- Collaborators and Other Affiliations Information
- PI letter (see solicitation for template language and/or other requirements)
- Confirmation of the PI's up-to-date FCOI Significant Financial Interest Disclosure