Selected FAQs for NSF 16-505- part 2 preliminary proposal content and review FAQs

Leading up to Friday’s (1/15/16) deadline for preliminary proposals we are posting selected FAQs for NSF 16-505 to help answer your last minute questions. Note that preliminary proposals are still covered under GPG NSF 15-1 as the new GPG NSF16-1 does not go into effect until after the preliminary proposal deadline.

As always, if you have additional questions please contact a program director.


FAQ 7: What feedback will I receive on my Core track preliminary proposal?

Preliminary proposals will normally be reviewed by a panel of scientists in the discipline, and you will receive a summary of their discussion (the panel summary), as well as individual reviews from three panelists. If you are invited to submit a full proposal, you will have this feedback to help you in preparing the full proposal. We strongly advise that you take this feedback into account, both in full proposal preparation and in any resubmission of the preliminary proposal.


FAQ 8: What criteria will panelists use to evaluate Core track preliminary proposals?

Each preliminary proposal will be assigned to three panelists for written reviews. All NSF rules for Confidentiality and Conflicts of Interest will be followed. The rating scale for written reviews will be: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. A panel summary describing the key points of the panel discussion and the rationale for the proposal’s placement in one of the five panel ranking categories (Outstanding, High, Medium, Low, and Not Competitive) will be provided for each proposal.

As with all NSF proposals, panelists/reviewers will be instructed to evaluate the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the proposed project. Preliminary proposals contain a shorter project description (1 personnel page plus 4 pages of text) and lack much of the documentation associated with a full proposal, including budget, budget justification, equipment and other resources, and current and pending support. Consequently, we expect the reviews of preliminary proposals to focus on the following critical aspects of the work: the questions driving the research, the goals expected to be accomplished, and the approaches employed in the experimental design.

While reviewing, panelists are asked to consider:

    • Are the ideas innovative or potentially transformative?
    • Are the ideas conceptually well grounded?
    • Are the experimental approaches and experimental design feasible and logically linked to the central ideas?
    • Are the PIs well qualified and experienced enough with the approaches to be able to conduct the research?
    • What risks are involved? Can they be overcome?
    • What is the potential impact of the science?
    • Is there a convincing and significant effort made towards broader impacts?

A strong preliminary proposal is one in which the logical flow and significance of the proposed line of investigation are articulated clearly and the broader impacts of the work are apparent. In other words, panelists are asked to identify preliminary proposals that address questions and/or ideas that are most likely to lead to large advances in the field.

Panelists do NOT make specific Invite/Do Not Invite recommendations. These recommendations are made by the Program Directors after the conclusion of the panels.


FAQ9: What criteria will be used to make a decision to Invite or Not Invite a Core track full proposal following the preliminary proposal stage?

Program Directors will make Invite/Do Not Invite decisions based on the scientific merit and broader impacts as well as the balance of awards among sub-disciplines, geographic distribution, types of institutions, and the potential contribution of each award to broadening the participation of individuals from groups traditionally underrepresented in science. These latter considerations comprise the program’s “portfolio balance”.


FAQ 10: How soon will I learn whether a Core track full proposal is invited?

Invitations to submit full proposals will be issued in May each year.


FAQ 11: What is the expected invitation rate for Core track preliminary proposals?

Over the course of the first four years of running the merit review process requiring submission of preliminary proposals, the invitation percentage for full proposals has generally been between 20%-25% of the number of preliminary proposals. We expect future invitation rates or percentages to be similar, depending on the number of preliminary proposals submitted each January. Depending on the number of preliminary proposals received and the amount of funding expected in the following fiscal year, the invitation rate may be adjusted to ensure an appropriate success rate in the full proposal competition (see FAQ #25).

FAQ 25: What is the expected success rate of Core track proposals?

The success rate for invited full proposals is anticipated be in the range of 25%-30%, depending on the invitation rate and availability of funds.


FAQ 12: If I am not invited to submit a full proposal, may I resubmit the preliminary proposal?

The preliminary proposal deadline is in January of each year, and there is no limit on the number of times you may resubmit a preliminary proposal. However, you are strongly advised to take comments from the reviews and panel summary into account when re-submitting, and you are encouraged to talk to your Program Director.


FAQ13: How does the Project Description of the Core track preliminary proposal differ from that of an invited full proposal?

The first page of the preliminary proposal project description (the Personnel page) must list the PI, co-PI(s), and other senior personnel (including leads for sub-awards). For the purposes of this solicitation, senior personnel include the Principal Investigator (PI), any co-PIs, and any other researchers actively involved in achieving and managing the intellectual merit or broader impacts goals of the project. Other senior personnel may include individuals who will provide essential expertise and intellectual engagement in a small but significant component of the overall project such as the lead investigator for a sub-award. Post-doctoral scholars may be listed as other senior personnel. Consultants or collaborators who provide specific technical expertise on a limited portion of the project are not considered other senior personnel, and therefore should not be listed on the Personnel page. They should, however, be listed on the COI sheet (see FAQ #36).

Therefore, project personnel listed on this page should include those people that would be listed on the cover page as PIs or co-PIs in a full proposal, those that would be listed on the budget pages of a full proposal as senior personnel (PI/PD, Co-PI’s, Faculty and Other Senior Associates), and those people who would be participating in similar lead roles on a sub-award in a full proposal. If a multi-institutional Collaborative Research proposal is planned, personnel as listed above from each of the collaborative proposals should also be listed. Each name should be followed by the institutional affiliation, and a single sentence describing that individual’s role in the project. No other text should appear on this page.

For each individual listed on the Personnel page, you must include a Biographical Sketch (2-page limit for each). For individuals who are not listed on the Cover Sheet because of space limitations on that form, but who are listed on the Personnel page, append their Biographical Sketches to the Biographical Sketch of one of the individuals who are listed on the Cover Sheet.

The following 4 pages (pages 2-5) comprise the preliminary proposal narrative, termed Section 2, Project. The general significance of the work, efficacy of the experimental plan, feasibility of technical approaches, and broader impacts plan should be clearly and concisely presented. The available space should be used wisely, with figures limited to essential data or diagrams. Duplication of text between the project summary and project description should be avoided.

For a preliminary proposal the references are limited to 3 pages. The reference section does not count towards the Project Description page limits.


FAQ 18: May I add a co-PI or other senior personnel who were not listed on the Personnel page of the preliminary proposal to the invited full proposal in the Core track?

You may add such senior personnel only after receiving the prior permission of the cognizant Program Director. The Program Directors understand that PIs may wish to add senior personnel based on advice written in panelist reviews and panel summaries stemming from merit review of preliminary proposals, and are more than willing to discuss these possible changes. However, PIs should carefully consider the expertise needed to achieve the goals of the project plan before submitting the preliminary proposal for review because panelists on the preliminary proposal review panels are asked to consider whether the project plan is feasible and whether the senior personnel are qualified to conduct the research.  Permission to add senior personnel to an invited full proposal may not be granted if there is no suggestion of the need to do so in the review materials of the preliminary proposal.

FAQ 19: Will reviewers for full proposals see the reviews I received for the preliminary proposal?

No. All proposals to IOS are treated as new proposals