The Grad Student's Guide to Submitting an NSF DDIG Proposal
1. Before you do anything else, check the guidelines to make sure you qualify. All students enrolled in a U.S. institution are eligible, regardless of nationality, however, you must have advanced to candidacy for a Ph.D. degree before the submission deadline to be eligible to submit a proposal. Also, the DDIG site indicates that only proposals whose focus falls within the scope of (1) the scientific area of the Behavioral Systems Cluster of IOS or (2) any scientific area in the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) will be eligible. If you have any doubts about whether your topic falls within the required scope, consult your advisor.
2. Read the complete program solicitation, and also scan through the NSF Grant proposal guide (and ORA tip sheet in the sidebox) to familiarize yourself with the content and formatting requirements of a proposal. It is vital to follow the formatting guidelines extremely carefully. NSF will throw away proposals that are a line too long, etc. Read Spencer Hall and Leonie Moyle's document on what makes a successful DDIG proposal (linked from the sidebox; the award limit is now up to $15,000), and look over the collection of successful EEB DDIG proposals posted on OnCourse.
3. Start working on writing your project description, the 8-page narrative section that serves as the meat of your proposal. Start early. When you need study breaks, work on the next several steps, starting at least two weeks before the deadline. Keep in mind that the IU Office of Research Administration (ORA) requires that all non-science parts of your proposal (budget, justification, biosketches, facilities, funding information, etc.) be submitted to ORA for review 5 business days before the actual NSF deadline, and the science parts (abstract, narrative, bibliography) be submitted for review 2 business days before the NSF deadline.
4. Send an email to ORA at email@example.com requesting that you be added to the NSF FastLane system for the purposes of applying for a Biological Sciences DDIG. They will need to know your full formal name, your IU email address, your undergraduate degree and the year it was awarded, your work (lab) phone number, the name of your advisor. Once you receive your login information by email from FastLane, be sure to login and edit your profile in FastLane to make sure that all your information is complete and accurate.
5. Your advisor must serve as the PI on the proposal; you will be listed as Co-PI/Co-PD. Your advisor may initiate the proposal in FastLane, and then add you as Co-PI on the cover page using your NSF FastLane ID number. Alternatively, you may initiate the proposal in FastLane yourself, add you advisor as co-PI on the cover page form, and then go to the main menu and click the "Change PI" button to switch yourself to co-PI and your advisor to PI.
6. Your advisor must upload their own biosketch into the proposal in FastLane and enter their current and pending grants in the funding area, or give this information to you to add for them.
7. Once you've been added as co-PI, you may access the proposal in FastLane by logging in to the PI/Co-PI Login dialog box on the FastLane Proposals page (https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/jsp/homepage/proposals.jsp).
8. From the FastLane main menu, set SRO access for the proposal to "view and edit but not submit", and then notify your ORA grants specialist that the proposal is available for their review. They prefer not to wait until the last minute to be given this level of access, so don't worry if you don't actually have any documents uploaded or forms filled out yet.
9. Your budget must be approved by ORA before the proposal can be submitted. There's no need to finish your narrative section before you complete your budget. Send your completed budget as an Excel spreadsheet, with the accompanying justification as a Word file, to firstname.lastname@example.org, with a request that your budget be reviewed for an NSF DDIG proposal. It is prudent to send your budget to ORA for review at least 7-10 business days before the deadline. [Note: Be very nice to your ORA grants specialist: this person will be responsible for checking that your entire submission follows all requirements, helping you correct any problems, and getting it submitted on time. You may have need to chat with this person several times before your proposal is submitted; it's okay to ask for his or her direct phone number.]
10. As soon as the budget has been approved by ORA, your proposal can be routed through the IU Kuali Coeus (KC) system. Your PI or an ORA specialist can create the route sheet in KC [you will be listed as co-PI], and then your advisor must electronically "submit" the route sheet to initiate the university approval process. This process can move quite quickly, but it is prudent to start the KC routing process at least 5 business days before the deadline, to allow ample time for all offices to approve the sheet.
11. In addition to the project description that you've already been sweating over—going through multiple revisions with the help of your advisor—there are several other documents you must prepare as separate files to upload in FastLane. Do not wait until the last minute to work on these; the summary and context statements are critical to the success of your proposal, and you will want to go through several revisions of these with your advisor.
a. Biosketch. Use your advisor's as a model, and don't worry if you don't have anything relevant to list for many of the sections. Check the relevant instructions in the current Grant Proposal Guide to make sure you get the format correct.
b. Project Summary. This section is very important, so be sure to follow the instructions in the program solicitation and the Grant Proposal Guide very carefully. If you do not address in this section both review criteria (intellectual merit and the broader impacts) your proposal will not be reviewed.
c. Cited references.
d. Context for Improvement. This is added as a supplemental document.
e. Statement of Candidacy. This is also added as a supplemental document. Ask Gretchen nicely to generate this document as a signed pdf, or you can scan the hard copy she prints for you.
f. Data Management Plan. This is now required for all research proposals. NSF will reject without review any proposal that does not have this file. Work with your advisor on this document; they have access to samples on OnCourse.
g. Supporting Documents. If your proposal involves work outside your PI's lab, you may want to include one of more letters of agreement documenting arrangements you've made to use equipment, visit field sites, work in another lab/department/country, etc. Consult with the person who will sign the letter, but in general the most efficient way to get a letter of this sort is to draft the complete letter yourself, and then send it to your collaborator with a request to edit it and return you a signed copy on their letterhead.
12. There are also several forms that you can fill out within FastLane.
a. Budget. You must enter exactly the numbers you've had approved by ORA. Your ORA grants specialist can help you figure out which costs go on which lines of the budget. Do not forget to upload your budget justification.
b. Support. In addition to any other current and pending grants your PI has, be sure that this proposal is listed as a pending proposal for both you and your advisor. And of course, if you have other grants, be sure to list them as well.
c. Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources. This can be filled out in the form, or you can upload a file with the same categories. It is likely that your advisor already has this information prepared from other proposals, and may even enter it into the proposal for you.
13. Once you have uploaded all required files and supplementary documents, and filled out all the remaining forms, double-check that the cover sheet is completely filled out, and then ask your ORA grants specialist to review your proposal.
14. Once you have fixed any problems your ORA grants specialist finds, and your proposal has been approved for submission, change the proposal setting in the FastLane main menu to "allow SRO access". [Login to FastLane, select the proposal, and then click the "SRO Access" button to set the SRO access level.]
15. Login one last time and download a copy of the entire submission by selecting the print function, and choosing "entire proposal", which will allow you to save a pdf file of the whole thing.
16. Contact your ORA grants specialist, and ask them to submit the proposal. Do make sure you receive confirmation by 5pm of the deadline date that the proposal has been submitted.
17. Thank your advisor and your ORA grants specialist.
18. Do not re-read your proposal until after you've heard the results of the review process. You'll just notice typos and errors and get all stressed out.
19. Take yourself out for a celebratory drink.
[Last updated 15 February 2012.]