Important Changes in the Recently Released NSF Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) Program Solicitations
Late in February 2014, officials at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States formally approved two new solicitations for the Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) Program. The two new solicitations replace the previous single solicitation (NSF 12-570) that provided guidance for preparation of all kinds of proposals for consideration by GSS.
The new “regular” GSS solicitation (NSF 14-537) provides instructions for preparation of proposals to GSS for the following kinds of awards: regular research awards; proposals for awards for conferences, workshops, group-travel support, and community-development or community-serving activities; proposals for research coordination network (RCN) awards; and proposals for rapid-response research (RAPID) awards. Instructions for preparation of Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement (DDRI) award proposals now are contained in a free-standing DDRI solicitation (NSF 14-538).
Instructions for preparation of regular research proposals and other non-DDRI proposals are largely unchanged from terms in the previous solicitation, although there is clarification regarding a number of issues, so prospective applicants should be sure to thoroughly read and comply with instructions in the new solicitation. GSS continues its “GSS One-Plus” review system, which means that all new proposals for regular research awards, conference and other kinds of community-serving awards, and RCN awards must be submitted by the first Thursday in September. The next proposal-submission deadline therefore is September 4, 2014. (The deadline for submission of CAREER award proposals is governed by the CAREER solicitation, with the next deadline being July 23, 2014. RAPID award proposals theoretically may be submitted at any time but only following pre-submission communications with the GSS program directors.)
The most significant change in instructions for preparation of regular research and other non-DDRI proposals is that all proposals seeking support for researchers at multiple organizations must now be submitted as a single proposal from one of those organizations, with other organizations supported through subawards. GSS no longer will accept collaborative sets of proposals through which different organizations submit their own proposals that are linked to a common project summary and project description. GSS program directors implemented this change to provide awardees with more flexibility to deal with changes in personnel, organizations, and other issues after awards have been made as well as to facilitate more effective coordination among funded researchers from different organizations.
There are three major changes in the ways that DDRI proposals will be evaluated, one of which is a change in one of the proposal-submission deadlines. The first deadline in a calendar year of the second Thursday in February will remain the same, but the second proposal-submission deadline has been moved from October to the second Thursday in August. This means that the next DDRI proposal-submission deadline is August 14, 2014, with the following deadline being February 12, 2015. GSS program directors made this change to place six months between each of the deadlines, therefore providing more time for effective evaluation and processing of proposals from one round to the next.
A second major change in the DDRI solicitation is that starting now, a doctoral student will be able to submit only two DDRI proposals to GSS while the student is a graduate student. (Proposals submitted for doctoral students prior to March 2014 will not count against this limit.)
A third major change in the DDRI solicitation is that the advisor or another faculty member serving as the principal investigator (PI) of a DDRI proposal is required to submit a signed statement affirming that the student will be able to undertake the proposed research soon after a DDRI award is made. The statement must also affirm that the PI has read the proposal and believes that it makes a strong case for support of the dissertation research project.
The latter two changes were made because an increasing percentage of all DDRI proposals submitted to GSS in recent years have been poorly prepared. The GSS program officers this reflects inadequate time devoted by students to the preparation of proposals and weak or non-existent counsel provided by advisors. The program directors continue to encourage doctoral students to seek DDRI awards when their dissertation research can be significantly improved with the funds provided by these awards. Because of the changes, however, students and their advisors should think carefully about whether a DDRI proposal for a specific competition can make a strong and compelling case for NSF support. If a proposal is not yet at a stage where it can make a persuasive case, the applicants should delay its submission until a stronger proposal can be prepared.
All prospective applicants to GSS should be sure to read the relevant solicitation as well as the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG). Applicants should be aware that if there are different instructions for specific facets of a proposal, the provisions in the relevant solicitation should be used.
Applicants who have questions should direct inquiries to one of more of the GSS program directors. Thomas Baerwald will be continuing to serve as one of the GSS program directors into the second half of 2014, while Kelley Crews and Daniel Hammel will return to home institutions after their terms as visiting scientists. New GSS program directors to replace Crews and Hammel are expected to arrive in August. To ensure that all current GSS program directors receive communications, e-mail messages should be sent to gss-info [at] nsf [dot] gov.
To summarize the major changes:
- GSS now has two solicitations, one for DDRI proposals and another for other kinds of proposals.
- A single proposal for a project involving researchers at multiple organizations must be submitted; collaborative sets of proposals for the same project from multiple organizations no longer will be permitted.
- The proposal-submission deadlines for DDRI proposals submitted to GSS now are the second Thursdays in August and February (making the next deadlines August 14, 2014, and February 12, 2015).
- Starting in March 2014, a doctoral student will be able to submit only two DDRI proposals to GSS while the student is a graduate student. (Proposals submitted for doctoral students prior to March 2014 will not count against this limit.)
- A DDRI proposal submitted to GSS must include a statement signed by the advisor or another faculty member serving as the principal investigator of a proposal affirming that the student will be able to undertake the proposed research soon after a DDRI award is made and that the advisor has read the proposal and believes that it makes a strong case for support of the dissertation research project.