The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences announced last week that the majority of its research funding programs will be eliminating proposal deadlines in 2018.
The BIO Directorate has chosen to discontinue current solicitations that include deadlines and the preliminary-proposal mechanism used in the Division of Environmental Biology and the Division of Integrated Organismal Systems by the end of this year. NSF-wide and cross-directorate programs that are co-managed in BIO, however, will continue to have deadlines moving forward.
The decision follows a pilot by the Directorate for Geosciences and the Plant Genome Research Program.
Why is BIO moving in this direction?
The change addresses two long-term issues occurring within and outside of the NSF.
Not too long ago, a number of programs decreased the number of submission windows to one per calendar year. This change came about as a way to halt the steady decline in proposal success rates observed across programs. Additionally, due to the number of proposals being submitted, programs not only saw an increase in the burden on reviewers and program staff but also recognized a decrease in the quality of proposal reviews.
While intervention strategies like decreasing the number of submission windows and requiring preliminary proposals had the positive effect of stabilizing program success rates, they did not go over so well with the research community. Many researchers felt that the move to a single submission window for certain programs stifled the productivity of labs and, while success rates on the surface stabilized, it also resulted in lengthened funding gaps for investigators who were in between grants.
By eliminating deadlines, the BIO Directorate is attempting to address those internal and external concerns. Officials said they also hope that proposal quality and collaboration will increase if researchers can submit proposals throughout the year.
How will it work in BIO?
While BIO has released answers to frequently asked questions to accompany its announcement, the particulars on things like the number of submissions that an investigator can have in the pipeline as well as how proposals will be reviewed if there are no set submission windows have not yet been provided.
If, however, BIO models the change after the GEO Directorate’s Marine Geology and Geophysics Program, which removed proposal deadlines earlier this year, it would depend on what the investigator is submitting. If a proposal has been declined, an investigator must wait 12 months before resubmitting a revised proposal. For investigators submitting different proposals in the same year, there is no limit in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Program. The Plant Genome Research Program, however, limits to the number of submissions an investigator can have to one annually regardless of whether it’s a new proposal or a resubmission.
In the coming months, the BIO Directorate plans to host webinars and presentations on the change. It is unclear if this move is indicative of a larger shift across the agency to remove proposal deadlines.
We will continue to monitor and engage with the NSF to receive additional information and push for policies that benefit the research community.