Tips for getting funding from the Animal Behavior program at NSF

New awards Regular proposals-

General advice

What makes a successful proposal? A proposal built around a good idea that is viewed by panelists and outside reviewers as novel, exciting and likely to have a significant impact on the field of animal behavior. With the current low funding rate (15%) a lot of good, solid research is not funded. Proposals need to generate excitement among the panelists to make it into the funding range.

All proposals are evaluated on Criterion 1 (scientific and intellectual merit) and Criterion 2 (societal impact). Criterion 2 includes undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral training and mentoring, recruitment and mentoring of students from underrepresented groups, integrating teaching and research, public outreach, conservation of threatened species, research on agriculturally important species and other potential impacts on society. Every investigator needs to address Criterion 2 in their proposal.

Mechanics of proposal preparation and submission- The target dates are January and July 10. Program officers usually will give a two-week extension if contacted in advance.

Program officers use the project summary for the initial sorting of proposals to programs. Make sure the research area and objectives are clear in the project summary so the program officers can assign it to the most appropriate panel for review.

Proposals can be rejected for non-compliance with the Grant Proposal Guidelines. The most common compliance problems are 1) dense fonts with more than 15 characters/inch horizontally and 6 lines/inch vertically, 2) more than 10 publications cited in the biosketch, and 3) missing biosketches or current and pending support pages. Keep in mind that panelists will be reading 20-25 proposals. Many of these proposals will be read in the evening after working on a computer all day. Small, dense fonts that are difficult to read irritate panelists. It is better to leave out information than to use a non-compliant font size. Proposals may be written in the two-column format.

If you work with vertebrate animals, include the date the animal care committee at your institution approved your research plan on the cover sheet.

Request the amount of money you need to carry out the proposed research. We do not recommend cutting the scope of a project to keep the budget down as it may be declined for being too narrow in focus. Alternatively, do not pad a budget because you anticipate a budget cut. When there are competing, equally ranked proposals that are similar in scope, program officers are likely to fund the less expensive proposal.

Program officers often arrange for co-funding with International Programs for research projects with international implications. International Programs is interested in funding projects that give students or post-docs international experience (but not travel to a conference) or establish collaborations with scientists in other countries. They do not pay for scientists from other countries to travel to the US. If you are working with a collaborator in another country, include their biosketch in the proposal and discuss your involvement with scientists and students in that country.

Proposal Review

Proposals will be sent to 6 outside reviewers. Be sure to list all collaborators, advisors and former graduate students in the biosketch so that the proposal is not sent to them to review. Many times the most obvious reviewers can not be used for a given proposal because that person has a proposal submitted to the same program, they have a history of not returning reviews or they have already been assigned two reviews. You will increase the chance that your proposal will be sent to appropriate reviewers if you include a list of at least 10 suggested reviewers. Program officers whose specialties are in areas outside your own may not know of the younger people in your area and welcome suggestions for reviewers.

You may submit a two-page update of your proposal before the panel meets. The update is not sent to the outside reviewers. The updates are difficult for the program officers to keep track of, as they are not in the electronic jacket. Please limit updates to reporting significant new findings, progress in the development of new techniques (i.e. micro satellite probe development) and other significant information that may influence the evaluation of your proposal at panel.

Panels meet to review the proposals in April and October. While the outside reviewers are usually experts within your specialty, the panel covers all areas of animal behavior. Each proposal is reviewed by 2-3 panelists. If your proposal is on sexual selection in fish, it may be reviewed by panelists that work on sexual selection in insects, foraging in fish and primate cognition. Successful proposals appeal to researchers in a variety of sub fields of animal behavior. As you prepare your proposal, think about the potential impact on other taxonomic groups and other areas of animal behavior research. Do not confine your literature review to a single taxonomic group.

Most funding decisions are made within two months of the panel meeting. If your proposal is declined you will be notified by email and the reviews will be available on fastlane. You may want to discuss the reviews with the program officer after you have had time to think about them. The current funding rate for the Animal Behavior program is 15%.

Small Grants for Exploratory Research - The Animal Behavior programs supports projects that can not wait for the normal review process (for example the effects of an oil spill or El Nino event) and projects that have the potential to change how many scientists in an area conduct their research. The latter group may include developing a new technique, a new conceptual idea or a new perspective on a problem. These are considered high risk/high payoff proposals. Submit a 2-page summary of the planned project to the program officer.

Active awards.

If you have an active award you can apply for a supplement. Supplement programs include Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Research Opportunity Awards (ROA) and supplements for disabled scientists. Principle investigators should apply for all supplements via fastlane.

REU supplements are typically $6,000, which includes $1200 for institutional expenses (overhead). The Animal Behavior Program has been making awards of 1 REU supported student per principle investigator. The Animal Behavior Program will provide support for additional students who are members of underrepresented groups. Include the student's CV with the proposal. REU supplements are intended to provide undergraduate students with a meaningful research experience. Principle investigators need to provide a research plan and discuss the student's role in the research project. Students should be encouraged to present their work at a scientific meeting or publish their work if appropriate.

ROA supplements provide an opportunity for a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate college to participate in the research program of an investigator with an active NSF award. These awards are typically for $15,000 and are submitted by the investigator with the active award. The award can cover summer salary, travel, research materials and supplies for the faculty member and students at the undergraduate institution.

The Animal Behavior Program can supplement active awards to facilitate research by scientists and students with disabilities. These supplements cover the cost of special equipment, computer programs and translators to allow students to participate in research and adapt the research environment to the needs of the principle investigator.

The Animal Behavior Program occasionally provides supplements to awards to cover unexpected expenses or take advantage of new opportunities. These are typically made with leftover funds that appear at the end of the fiscal year. Often the amount of funds left over is too small to support a regular award but can be used to supplement existing awards. The best time to apply for a supplement is in April and May.

Prepared by K. Sullivan and S. Vessey - NSF representatives (2001)