NSF program officer offers strategies for successful proposals

Dr. Thomas Baerwald, Senior Science Advisor, NSF Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences
Dr. Thomas Baerwald, Senior Science Advisor, NSF Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

Towson, Md. (April 7, 2010) More than 35 faculty and staff members attended the March 25 workshop hosted by the College of Graduate Studies and Research on National Science Foundation (NSF) interdisciplinary programs and proposal preparation. The workshop presenter, Thomas Baerwald, senior science advisor, Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, not only discussed funding available through NSF interdisciplinary programs and strategies for securing that funding but also gave some excellent advice on proposal preparation in general.  Following are a few of Baerwald’s tips for preparing a competitive proposal:

  • Read the guidelines. This may seem too basic to mention, but Baerwald noted that it’s immediately clear to reviewers when the applicant has not read or has ignored the guidelines, and that more applicants than one might imagine do submit proposals that do not comply with guidelines.
  • Look over abstracts from prior awards. This can help you to determine whether or not you have a good “fit” with the goals of the program to which you’ll apply. You may consider writing to a project director for a copy of his or her proposal–funded proposals can serve as general guides for preparing competitive proposals to specific programs.
  • Talk to a program officer about specific questions and about your project in general and its fit with the program.
  • Be sure you’re writing for the correct audience: know who will review your proposal and what the review process entails. In many cases, reviewers are generalists rather than specialists and will not understand or respond well to jargon.
  • If your proposal is not funded, read the reviews, allow yourself time to digest them and prepare to revise the proposal for resubmission if the guidelines under which you submitted the proposal allow.You may also wish to talk with a program officer about the reviews.
  • Above all else, give yourself adequate time to write, review and rewrite the proposal. Baerwald suggests completing a first draft (which should be an almost-final version of the proposal) one month prior to the deadline. Then, he suggests asking colleagues from within and outside your discipline to read and  comment bluntly on the draft during the next two weeks.  Return to the draft with these “reviews” in hand, and make changes based on the comments and your own re-read.

To access Thomas Baerwald’s PowerPoint presentations, click here.