What is an NSF Dear Colleague Letter (DCL)?

Did you just receive another announcement of a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) from the NSF? Are you wondering what it really means?

DCLs provide a means for rapid communication from the agency and are also used to highlight specific areas of research we’d like to see represented in our submissions.

DCLs vs. Solicitations
The DCL is not a solicitation. Rather, it provides supplementary information to a solicitation. In the BIO Directorate, each Division posts core program research solicitations that call for proposals from the community in the overarching research areas covered by the Division. Any DCL released by a Directorate supplements a core solicitation by describing specific research areas the Division or Directorate would like to see more of from the scientific community.

DCLs may be motivated by gaps in proposal submissions, emerging areas of research, or priorities set at the National, Agency, and/or Directorate level.

What about topics not covered by the DCL?
A DCL does NOT limit the types of questions programs will review but highlight certain areas of opportunity for the scientific community. If your work falls into one of the areas that is a focus of a DCL, contact a Program Director for more information.  Of course, DCLs are only one resource to take the guesswork out of your proposal writing and submission; check the website of programs of interest to identify recently funded awards, and feel free to send a one-page project prospectus to a Program Director for feedback and advice on your planned proposal submission.

More Information
In 2017, Dr. Jean Feldman Head of the Policy Office at NSF discussed the NSF DCL briefly during a presentation to the National Council of University Research Administrators. A link to that video can be found HERE. Please note that this video was not produced by NSF. For official NSF statements on the purpose of Dear Colleague Letters, please see Part 1 Chapter I.C.4 of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG, NSF 22-1).