Halloween Tricks & Treats: Advice for NSF proposals

October 31, 2014 by Claudia Scholz

Dr. Tasha Inniss of Spelman’s mathematics department was in town last week to share some things she’s learned while serving as program officer at the National Science Foundation for the last year. She was joined by several Spelman faculty members who have served as reviewers for NSF grant programs.
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Here are some tips, tricks and treats from that discussion:


  • Familiarize yourself with Fastlane. (specifically the submission mechanism).
  • Sign up for Fastlane updates (NSF constantly creates new opportunities).
  • Read the Solicitation carefully to ensure you have responded appropriately to all requirements.
  • When in doubt, contact your Program Officer or Spelman’s OSP.
  • Always refer to the GPG & RFP guide.


  • Start the process as early as possible. (Recommended at least 6 months in advance)
  • Consult with your Institution’s Office of Sponsored Programs Office as early as possible.
  • They will assist with as little or as much as you allow. Brief list of services provided: copy editing, uploading documents to Fast Lane, identifying the most appropriate program, strengthening collaborators and assistance with contacting the Program Officer.
  • Build a team that has the appropriate skillset that creates diversity to your proposal.
  • NSF is looking for interdisciplinary collaborations that are innovative and well written. It is beneficial to use a second set of to ensure your proposal reads well.


  • An Evaluation/assessment plan is a key component to the proposal.
  • Provide strong justification that supports your proposal.
  • Failure to provide a strong rationale for something that the solicitation requires but your program may not benefit will result in an unsuccessful proposal.
  • Serving as a reviewer can be time consuming, however it is strongly recommended.
  • You may still serve as a reviewer without having an NSF grant currently or previously funded.
  • Do not fret if your proposal is not funded on the first submission. Review the reviewer’s comments, apply them and keep trying!

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October 2014
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