The National Science Foundation:
Funding for History of Science & Technology Research Projects
By Fred Kronz, Director
Science, Technology, and Society Program
S&S (the Science and Society program) will soon be renamed STS (the Science, Technology, and Society program); nevertheless, it will remain the primary supporter of research in history of science and technology and related areas (philosophy and sociology of science, and ethics/policy and science) at NSF. Useful information about STS including proposal writing and submission, and the review process are provided below. Other initiatives that may be of special interest to historians of science and technology are also discussed.
Modes of Support
STS provides a number of distinct modes of support including doctoral dissertation research improvement grants, post-doctoral fellowships, professional development awards, scholar awards, standard grants, collaborative grants, small grants for training and research, and grants for workshops and conferences. The solicitation characterizes each mode of funding with regards to the activity supported (mainly research, though some have a training/education component and others allow for infrastructure development), eligibility requirements (some only require affiliation with a US institution and others permanent residency status), and budgetary guidelines. See the program solicitation for more details:
It is worth noting that collaborative projects may have a substantial international component. In the proposal, the collaborator affiliated with a US academic institution is designated the PI (principle investigator); the collaborator with a non-US academic institution can then be tied to a sub-award. For details see the new PAPPG (Proposal and Award Polices and Procedures Guide):
Information about other modes of support for international projects is provided below.
A program solicitation for STS should be published on the Web by 1 March 2008. A link to the solicitation will be placed on the SES (Division of Social and Economic Sciences) Web site:
STS plans to increase many budgetary caps by at least 20% for most funding modes. The current caps have been fixed for several years while the associated budget has increased about 6% per year during that time; also, the program’s annual budget for 2007-2008 is $9 million and it is projected to double over the next ten years. If approved, the higher levels will be available for proposals submitted for the 1 August 2008 target date and beyond. Moreover, it will no longer be necessary to submit proposals to one of four component areas, though those areas will continue to be core areas of the program.
Crafting the Proposal
Prospective PIs should pay particular attention to putting together the project description and project summary of their proposals. An effective strategy is to use a successful proposal in your research area as a model. NSF cannot release proposals upon request; they are the intellectual property of the associated PIs. But you are welcome to contact a PI to request a copy of his or her proposal. To obtain information about STS awards, you may search NSF’s Awards Web site:
There are several search modes. A particularly effective mode is by program element. The program element code is 1353 for history and philosophy of science. Each award entry includes the PI’s name, the project title, and an abstract.
Prospective PIs should use special care in addressing the two key criteria that NSF uses to evaluate proposals: intellectual merit and broader impact. These criteria are characterized in the program solicitation. The following supplementary document on broader impacts is also useful:
The new PAPPG (link provided above under “Modes of Support”) includes revised language for the intellectual merit review criterion; the criterion now specifically includes evaluation of proposals for potentially transformative concepts. (The PAPPG also has updated guidance on fonts that may be used when preparing an NSF proposal.)
Finally, there are many common mistakes that are made in project descriptions that should be avoided. They include the following: failure to engage some key relevant literature, failure to map out a detailed plan of research, misplaced emphasis on background information over the proposed project, failure to explain how the results of the project will substantially contribute to the current literature or to the field, failure to explain how the results of the research will be disseminated, failure to characterize the intended audience or how the results of the research might impact teaching or the views of researchers in other areas.
All proposals to STS should be submitted via FastLane:
Those planning to submit proposals to STS are encouraged to request the assistance of their academic institution’s SRO (Sponsored Research Office). The SRO’s grant experts are especially helpful in formulating budgets as well as uploading proposal components via FastLane. It is best to contact the SRO for assistance several months prior to the target date for proposal submission.
The Review Process
For those not familiar with the review process at NSF, the following description of the program’s review process should serve to dispel some of the mystery (though NSF does allow for substantial variation in the review process from one program to another). What follows is a sketch. A more detailed presentation is provided at the following Web site:
STS cycles twice a year. Each cycle is associated with one of two annual target dates, 1 February and 1 August. Most proposals submitted for a specified target date arrive at NSF during the two-week period immediately preceding that date. The “hard” deadline for proposals is understood to mean the target date, unless the PI requests an extension prior to the target date in which case the deadline is extended by one week.
Over a three-day period about three months after the target date, proposals are carefully discussed and then ranked by a panel of experts. Four categories are used: Must Fund, Should Fund, Could Fund, and Do Not Fund. Sub-rankings occur within each category except for the last. Prior to the panel meeting, a minimum of three reviewers evaluates each proposal. Two of those reviewers are panelists, and every effort is made to match proposal topic with the panelists’ expertise. The program also solicits a number of reviews from other experts on the proposal topic. The program sends out a minimum of three review solicitations for each proposal.
Typically, the program recommends all “Must Fund” proposals and about half “Should Fund” proposals for funding. Within a month following the panel meeting, the program notifies most PIs by email about its recommendation intent, either to award or decline. The proposal reviews and panel summary are attached to the notification. If the intent is to decline, the PI may wish to revise and resubmit the proposal for the next target date. The panel summary rarely encourages a PI in the summary to revise and resubmit; when it does, that should be taken seriously.
It takes the program about six months to put forth all award recommendations. After that recommendation is made, it takes another six weeks for it to make its way through the bureaucracy to the Division of Grants and Agreements, which makes the final decision and then issues funds. There is no guarantee implicit or otherwise that an award will be issued until the DGA makes that decision. However, once the program makes an award recommendation, it is quite rare for the DGA not to concur with that decision. Given the timeline indicated above, a reasonable start date for a grant is seven months following the target date, though earlier target dates may be proposed since any research expenses covered by the grant that are incurred up to ninety days prior to receiving the grant may be charged to that grant.
Other Funding Opportunities
There are several funding opportunities at NSF outside of STS that may be of special interest to historians of science and technology.
SciSIP (the Science of Science and Innovation Policy program) funds research that aims to create new explanatory models and analytic tools designed to inform the nation’s public and private sectors about the processes through which investments in science and engineering research are transformed into social and economic outcomes. Both disciplinary and interdisciplinary contributions are needed to meet the goals of the program and collaborative projects are encouraged. Although SciSIP may seem to be targeted more towards social and economic sciences, some historical research may be pertinent. See the following Web site for more information:
Also, this solicitation will undergo evolution from one fiscal year to the next and it may change in an advantageous way for historians of science and technology.
ADVANCE grants (which serve to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines) have been provided to a sizable number of academic institutions. It would be very beneficial for historians of science and technology to become involved in their institution’s ADVANCE grants. Here is a link for more information about these grants:
NSF also encourages broadening participation in science by under-represented groups. These include Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education (POWRE), Faculty Early Career Development Awards (CAREER), Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowships, and Career Advancement Awards for Minority Scientists and Engineers. Other initiatives are focused on specific research topics of potentially great importance. Information about all cross-cutting programs of NSF can be accessed at
OISE (Office of International Science and Engineering) encourages collaboration in all fields of science between American scholars and other scholars throughout the world. Funding is often available for developing such connections at all levels, from graduate students to senior scholars. Here is a link to OISE Web site:
OISE is especially interested in supporting postdoctoral exchanges, and support exists for organizing conferences to open exchange. Research collaborations also are supported. OISE is especially eager to expand connections to the less developed nations, particularly in Africa. STS scholars can obtain INT funding to supplement a regular award, or can apply directly to OISE.
Finally, there is the following proviso in the STS solicitation: Ordinarily STS does not consider proposals focused on historical, philosophical, ethical, or social aspects of medical, clinical bio-medical, or public health research or practice. Generally researchers should contact the National Institutes of Health and/or the National Endowment for the Humanities for support of research in these fields. Here is a useful link for those who wish to pursue such projects:
The STS Program (and NSF more generally) depends on its community of scholars to serve as reviewers. The program cannot make solid and responsible funding decisions without the guidance of experts in its core fields of research. If you are asked to serve as a reviewer on a proposal, please help us out by agreeing to do so (if you can make the time for it) and please be sure to submit your review in a timely manner. Less than half of the scholars who are asked serve as reviewers agree to do so. The process may seem rather impersonal, nevertheless please realize that your efforts are truly appreciated. I surely do appreciate it, as do my fellow program officers, Laurel Smith-Doerr and Steve Zehr.
Members of the history of science and technology community are strongly encouraged to submit proposals to the STS program. Now is a really good time to do so. The number of submissions has been rather low during the last three cycles, the STS budget is growing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, and funding levels will soon be going up.
If you are uncertain as to whether your project is suitable for the STS program, you are welcome to send a query to firstname.lastname@example.org that includes a project summary as an attachment. The summary should be no more than one page—single spacing is okay as long as a reasonable font is used. It should provide pertinent background and a concise description of the research activity that would be supported by the grant, and please include your name on the one-pager.
Finally, if you have any ideas as to how the STS program could better serve the history of science and technology community, then please send your suggestions to email@example.com. STS program officers will discuss it and then one of us will get back to you.