Grants and the merit review process::National Science Foundation


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Grants and the merit review process The NSF seeks to fulfill its mission chiefly by issuing competitive, limited-term grants in response to specific proposals from the research community. The NSF also makes some contracts. Some proposals are solicited, and some are not; the NSF funds both kinds. The NSF does not operate its own laboratories, unlike other federal research agencies notable examples being the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NSF receives over 50,000 such proposals each year, and funds about 10,000 of them.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Those funded are typically projects that are ranked highest in a 'merit review' process, introduced in 1997.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Reviews are carried out by panels of independent scientists, engineers and educators who are experts in the relevant fields of study, and who are selected by the NSF with particular attention to avoiding conflicts of interest. For example, reviewers cannot work at the NSF itself, nor for the institution that employs the proposing researchers. All proposal evaluations are confidential: the proposing researchers may see them, but they do not see the names of the reviewers.

The first merit review criterion is 'intellectual merit', the second is that of the 'broader societal impact' of the proposed research; the latter has been met with opposition from the scientific and policy communities since its inception in 1997.<ref>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> In June 2010, the National Science Board (NSB), the governing body for NSF and science advisers to both the legislative and executive branches, convened a 'Task Force on Merit Review' to determine "how well the current Merit Review criteria used by the NSF to evaluate all proposals were serving the agency."<ref>NSB (2011). "National Science Foundation's Merit Review Criteria: Review and Revisions." National Science Board. Available at:</ref> The task force reinforced its support for both criteria as appropriate for the goals and aims of the agency, and published a revised version of the merit review criteria in its 2012 report, to clarify and improve the function of the criteria. However, both criteria already had been mandated for all NSF merit review procedures in the 2010 re-authorization of the America COMPETES Act.<ref>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> The Act also includes an emphasis on promoting potentially transformative research, a phrase which has been included in the most recent incarnation of the 'merit review' criteria.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

Most NSF grants go to individuals or small groups of investigators, who carry out research at their home campuses. Other grants provide funding for mid-scale research centers, instruments and facilities that serve researchers from many institutions. Still others fund national-scale facilities that are shared by the research community as a whole. Examples of national facilities include the NSF’s national observatories, with their giant optical and radio telescopes; its Antarctic research sites; its high-end computer facilities and ultra-high-speed network connections; the ships and submersibles used for ocean research; and its gravitational wave observatories.

In addition to researchers and research facilities, NSF grants also support science, engineering and mathematics education from pre-K through graduate school. Undergraduates can receive funding through Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer programs.<ref name="igert"/> Graduate students are supported through Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeships (IGERT)<ref name="igert1"/> and Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) programs<ref name="agep"/> and through the Graduate Research Fellowships, NSF-GRF. K-12 and some community college instructors are eligible to participate in compensated Research Experiences for Teachers programs.<ref name=RET>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> In addition, an early career-development program (CAREER) supports teacher-scholars that most effectively integrate research and education within the mission of their organization, as a foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions.<ref name="nsf2"/>

National Science Foundation sections
Intro  Grants and the merit review process  Scope and organization  History and mission  Public attitudes and understanding  Criticism of the NSF  See also  References  Further reading  External links  

Grants and the merit review process
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