Notes from the NSF...funding opportunities...

Bruce Seely and John Perhonis
Program Directors, Science and Technology Studies

We would like to alert HSS members about funding opportunities at the National Science Foundation's STS Program. We also want to convey to potential applicants a couple of concerns about difficulties found in recent submissions.

STS Program
The Program reviewed 195 proposals in the Fall 2000 and Spring 2001 review cycles, and made 67 awards, including 16 for dissertations. In partial response to the increasing number of proposals, the STS Program received a 7 percent budget increase for FY 2001, to $3,827,000. The situation for FY 2002 is unclear, but projections are for flat budgets. Those interested in learning about the Program's activities are invited to look at the Program Announcement and other information on the STS Program's home page: Awards are made to individual investigators and to collaborative research projects, for dissertation improvement projects, postdoctoral fellowships, professional development fellowship, and for conferences. The Program also entertains proposals each fall for small grants for training and research (SGTRs). Proposals are accepted twice a year, with target dates of February 1 and August 1. By October, a revised program announcement will be posted, and it will govern the Spring 2002 review cycle. The changes are relatively minor clarifications of requirements and expectations, and include a slight increase in the budget guidelines.

Foundation-wide Programs
We want to strongly encourage HSS members to respond to the larger Foundation-wide funding opportunities. For example, a number of scholars and institutions that fall under the science and technology studies banner have received SGTR awards in the recent past; others in the more distant past received larger training grants. Any graduate program that has been supported in this way might consider developing proposals for such competitions as IGERT: Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. This is a very competitive program with proposals usually due in late June. It takes time to prepare such a proposal. But it seems about time for an STS-oriented program to take this step. At the level of individual investigators, there are a number of opportunities to which all scholars in STS, not just historians of science, have responded sparingly. The CAREER program for early faculty investigators, the ADVANCE program to Increase the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers, and MRI, the competition for Major Research Instrumentation are three such examples. Information on these and other Foundation-wide programs can be found at the Cross Cutting/Interdisciplinary Programs home page:

Special Programs
Most new funding at NSF in recent years has gone for targeted research in emerging areas of science and engineering. For the coming year, two special topics are slated for substantial support: Information Technology Research (ITR) and Nanoscale Science and Engineering (NANO). STS scholars should seriously consider submitting proposals because it is now REQUIRED that these programs support projects examining the societal implications of these cutting edge science and engineering fields. Thus research by STS scholars on the historical, philosophical, and social dimensions of these topics can be funded. The specific research emphases for the next funding cycle should be announced in late August, with proposals due at various times in November and January. We strongly encourage STS scholars to participate, as our communities have much to contribute to conversations about emerging sciences and technologies. Indeed, questions about "societal implications" seem tailor-made for the STS researchers. And the funding is significant. ITR had $180 million new dollars in FY 2001, with projects grouped into small (individual investigator proposals with budgets of up to $500,000), medium (larger collaborative projects with budgets of $500,000 to $5 million), and large (centers with budgets up to $15 million) categories. Please watch for the updated program announcements on the Crosscutting Programs page:

Over the past year, a number of proposals have given the STS Advisory Panel (which reviews all proposals) and the Program cause for slight concern. The difficulties can lead to lower evaluations, but are easily correctable. Our goal is to enable you to produce the best proposals possible.

Dissertation Proposals
We are concerned that some of these proposals are not following NSF guidelines. A very few have omitted required elements or presented budgets that do not adhere to the guidelines. Other problems suggest that faculty advisers have not carefully reviewed proposals with their graduate students. The most common difficulties are awkward or unclear writing, very general or weak work plans, and distracting grammatical and spelling errors. A few submissions included bibliographies that identified only the broad formative or theoretical literatures from which students intend to build their projects, and omitted citations to the specific subject content. These difficulties undermine the confidence of evaluators in projects. The Advisory Panel and Program realize dissertation proposals cannot exhibit the maturity of projects from established scholars. But faculty advisers are PIs on these projects for a reason, and proposals ultimately reflect upon them.

Postdoctoral Fellowship Proposals
As with dissertations proposals, the applicant is the co-PI with the sponsoring faculty member as PI. These have increased in number in recent years, and some share problems with the dissertations in terms of clarity and bibliographies. Equally a matter of concern has been postdoc proposals that did not specifically justify the choice of the institution and sponsoring faculty member in terms of the student's plan of research and training. A few proposals have failed to describe both the training component and the research activity. Finally, a number of postdoc proposals have given short shrift to the student's work plan. In the end, competitive postdoctoral fellowship proposals are built through careful cooperation between the applicant and the sponsoring faculty member. The Program and Advisory Panel worry that proposals not exhibiting such contact in the preparation stage will lead to unsatisfactory postdoc experiences.

Current and Pending Support Statements
A number of recent STS proposals of all types have slighted the required Statement on Current and Pending Support. This document should include information about other awards you have already received, as well as the other organizations to which you plan to submit applications covering the same ground as your NSF proposal. We encourage multiple submission of proposals, for NSF is always willing to work out sharing arrangements with sponsors when both find a project meritorious. While some organizations may not allow this, the STS Program can more quickly deal with budgets from multiple funding sources if we know about such possibilities from the outset. So please provide complete information on the Current and Pending Support Form at the time of the initial submission. And remember that investigators have an obligation to notify the STS program as soon as they learn that have been awarded funding for the same research project submitted to NSF.

As always, if you have any questions about the STS Program or submission requirements, please contact us. Information can be found on the STS home page, and Bruce Seely's's email is John handles the dissertation program and can be reached at


(posted 8/13/01)

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