Insight into the NSF pre-proposal process

For some grants the NSF recently changed the structure of applying for funding, and now have a pre proposal process. Ideally these shorter proposals will be less burdensome on the panel reviewers, facilitating faster turn-around time, and also less burdensome on the bulk of PIs who will be rejected from the first round. However, if your pre proposal is accepted, you still have to write a full proposal, for the time being.

Here is an account from one of the reviewers of these new pre proposals, giving some useful advice and observations for time on the panel. Some things that stuck out to me:

“- The Big Idea is no more important than before. In talking to people leading up to writing the preproposals, there was a lot of emphasis on selling your Big Idea. Theoretically there was going to be less emphasis on methods and more on potential. Well, that kinda turned out to be bullshit. They were essentially judged like mini-proposals.”

and,

“- BI still matters. Thought you could short the Broader Impacts section just because it was a preproposal? Wrong. A crappy BI section bumped several proposals to DNI (Do Not Invite)”.

I’d also encourage you to read through the comments section. Reviewers from different panels described alternative experiences with the pre-proposals:

“As long as the panel felt that the PI had had adequate training (for noobies) or had a track record, feasibility was a given.”

And there is a sort of question-answer session about the process. For example:

Cyn April 16, 2012 at 11:43 am
“Theoretically there was going to be less emphasis on methods and more on potential. Well, that kinda turned out to be bullshit.” = Why do you think that happened? Very interesting.

proflikesubstance April 16, 2012 at 11:47 am
The panelists looked over the preproposals and became wary of someone selling a project on hand waving, and there was a lot of it. The better proposals had a Big Idea and backed up the analysis ideas with data, much like a typical full proposal. The POs can say “sell your Big Idea” all they want, but if the panelists aren’t buying you are not getting to the next round.

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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