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How to Get NSF Research Funding and Why You Should1

Dianne Maranto
APA Science Directorate 

John Hollenbeck
Michigan State University 

Eduardo Salas
University of Central Florida

Last December, as part of an APA Science Policy outreach effort, the three of us met with staff at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, VA to discuss some of NSFs programs and the potential for I-O and Human Factors psychologists to secure funding and contribute to their research base. NSF has two ongoing programs and one new priority area that hold promise for I-O and human factors research. We want to encourage I-O psychologists to pursue NSF research grants and hope this article will introduce you to the what, how, and why of NSF research.

NSF Programs

NSF 101
NSFs mission is to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense. NSFs FY 2004 budget is about $5.6 billion, $4.3 billion of which will be granted for research. It is organized by seven directorates: Biological Sciences; Computer and Information Science & Engineering; Education and Human Resources; Engineering; Geosciences; Mathematical and Physical Sciences; and Social, Behavioral & Economic (SBE) Sciences. NSFs Web page www.nsf.gov is fairly easy to navigate. Their FY 2004 guide to programs http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/publicat/nsf04009/start.htm    is a good way to begin a general search for funding opportunities at NSF. You can also sign onto their electronic mailing list to receive e-mail notices of program announcements via their custom news service at http://www.nsf.gov/home/cns/index.cfm.
APAs Public Policy Office monitors NSF and actively advocates for research funding for the behavioral and social sciences. If you would like more all-around NSF information, Heather Kelly is the one to contact at hkelly@apa.org. APA also routinely monitors NSF funding announcements and posts notices that may be of interest to I-O psychologists to the PSWIN electronic mailing list http://listserve.apa.org/archives/PSWIN.html. There are three specific programs at NSF that hold promise for I-O and/or human factors research: Decision, Risk and Management Sciences, the Human and Social Dynamics Program, and Innovation and Organizational Change. These programs are described below. 

1Slightly different versions of this article were submitted to two outlets simultaneously. This article is reprinted with permission from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), which published a similar version in March 2004.

Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS) 
The Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS) Program resides within NSFs Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate. DRMS supports research that explores fundamental issues in management science, risk analysis, societal and public policy decision making, behavioral decision making and judgment, organizational design, and decision making under uncertainty. Research should incorporate social, behavioral, or organizational aspects of operational processes and decision making. Research supported by DRMS should (a) have relevance to an operational context, (b) be grounded in theory, (c) be based on empirical observation or be subject to empirical validation, and (d) be generalizable. DRMS funds approximately $5.1 million annually, with about a 20% acceptance rate. Grant proposal deadlines are January 15 and August 15. 

Human and Social Dynamics (HSD)
The Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) priority area is brand new and spans all NSF directorates. The HSD priority area seeks to stimulate breakthroughs in knowledge about human action and development as well as organizational, cultural, and societal adaptation and change. Research about human and social behavior is increasingly characterized by a focus on dynamicson how cognitive systems, individuals, formal and informal organizations, cultures, and societies evolve and change over space and time. Through the HSD priority area, NSF seeks to promote research and education activities that will enable the nation to better understand the causes and ramifications of myriad forms of change that have altered the world in which we live. HSD aims to increase our collective ability to anticipate the complex consequences of change; to better understand the dynamics of human and social behavior at all levels, including that of the human mind; to better understand the cognitive and social structures that create and define change; and to help people and organizations better manage profound or rapid change. Accomplishing these goals requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach across science, engineering, and education including the development of an infrastructure that can support such efforts.

In its first year, the HSD priority area will support research within and across six emphasis areas: agents of change, dynamics of human behavior, decision making and risk, spatial social science, modeling human and social dynamics, and instrumentation and data resource development. For a detailed description of the emphasis areas, go to http://www.nsf.gov/home/ crssprgm/hsd/areas.htm. For 2004, NSF will grant $18 million in an estimated 4060 awards. By the time this edition of TIP is out, the deadline for these (March 31) will have passed, but think about next year. Watch the NSF Web site to see what grants were awarded and start to think about how to establish your own interdisciplinary team to solicit future grants. 

Innovation and Organizational Change (IOC)
The Innovation and Organizational Change (IOC) program seeks to improve the performance of industrial, educational, service, health care, governmental, and other organizations and institutions through the support of research on theories, concepts, and methodologies of innovation and organizational change. It is jointly housed in the SBE, Engineering and EHR Directorates. In order to foster innovation and manage change we need to understand effective approaches to organizational learning and redesign, strategic and cultural change, quality and process improvement, innovation, new product and service development, and the development and integration of new technologies. IOC supports research using theory combined with empirical validation to expand the concepts, models, and methodologies of change in organizations and institutions. Proposers should work with partner organizations in industry, education, health care, government, or service. A high priority of the program is to develop valuable research perspectives across disciplinary lines. IOC grants $75,000 per yeara small sum. But consider this for appropriate projects that could use some additional funding and wouldnt be hurt by having NSFs imprimatur. 

How to Write an NSF Grant Proposal

Some general advice: First, each NSF program spells out its specific requirements in program announcements. For the programs noted, these can be accessed via the links above. Second, bear in mind the bigger picture: NSF values innovative research that advances scientific theory and/or method. They are increasingly focusing on multidisciplinary approaches. And, although they are known for being sponsors of basic research, their mission supports applied research as well. Third, dont be afraid to contact the program officers. Theyre researchers themselves and are often very approachable.

One of the issues we discussed with NSF staff is their peer-review process. Given that I-O psychologists do not traditionally seek funding through NSF, its no surprise that we are absent from their established reviewer panels, which can be discouraging. But, we learned that you can request up to two reviewers when you submit a grant proposal. This may vary by program, so its worth a call to the program officer. On a grander scale, this is an area where organizations like APA, SIOP, and the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society can help by submitting formal nominations for review panels.

There is no silver bullet or a precise prescription on how to write a winning proposal. But, some general tips are worth noting. Remember that your proposal will be peer reviewed. So, ask yourself, what would you look for in a proposal? Usually, we want to see the theoretical grounding of the proposed study. We want to see clearly defined constructs as well as hypotheses. We want to have a good idea of the methodology that will be used and why the investigators have chosen it. And at the end if you are successful, what will the contribution or payoff be? What will be new and exciting? All of these things, we have been trained (hopefully) to do. The final touch must be writinggood writing. 

We think its worth noting that reviewers of any agency dont see first what kind of psychologist (I-O or human factors) is writing the proposal to see if it should be funded. What reviewers look for is ideas, clear ideas, theoretically-based research that advances knowledge. They look for contributions. And so I-O and human factors psychologists have gotten NSF grants on topics like expertise, learning technologies, team effectiveness, human computer interaction, and other similar topics. It is not about who said it but what you have to say. 


Why would an I-O psychologist want to try to secure grant funding from the National Science Foundation? The truth is, we can usually get more money, probably more easily, from other federal departments or agencies and from private corporations. 

Since NSF is a significant national source for nonmedical science funding, being active participants in this domain helps raise the prestige of SIOP. As a society we claim to be working at the intersection of sciencepractitioner interface, but many other psychologists see us only as practitioners. Being active participants at NSF as applicants and reviewers will help bolster our scientific credentials as a discipline. In addition, because of our unique niche at the intersection of science and practice, our group has a much better feel for contextual issues as these relate to building a science on social phenomena. In applying basic psychological research in applied contexts, one inevitably comes across boundary conditions or other difficulties that relate directly to the theory or principles involved. This often calls for a revision of the basic theories in order to better predict and explain social phenomena in complex domains. This is not just application of psychology but rather direct reformulation and improvement of existing psychological theory and principles.

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