The Who’s Who of Grants: Addressing myths about cover pages, status, and credit

A lot of ink has been spilled (bits transferred? attention drained? bandwidth clogged? liquids imbibed? anachronistic metaphors tortured?) with various arguments about the hierarchical nature of science and the race to better position oneself versus one’s colleagues. Whether it’s questions of appropriate authorship, proper acknowledgement, or implicit vs explicit signals for the valuation of individual contributions, it seems like there’s a new discussion every week. Many of these arguments seem to break down around the point where it’s realized that field A, sub-field 1 and field B, sub-field 6 have strikingly different cultures surrounding these issues and the present lessons/problems/solutions from A1 may run counter to the lessons/problems/solutions in B6 even though both use the same short-hand: postdoc problems, authorship problems, tenure credit.

These ongoing cultural dialogues spill over and often get mixed into the proposal and merit review process leading to a proliferation of different beliefs, local customs, and inherited “understandings” of how the system ought to work in your favor if only you had the “right sort” of partner, reviewer, history, etc. In DEB, this is manifest in questions about professional titles, proposal cover pages, biographical sketches and project responsibility.

In this post, we address some of the most frequently encountered myths in this area, with explanations of DEB processes and the supporting NSF policies.


Myth 1: A PI ranks above a Co-PI on an NSF proposal/grant.

Fact: Any persons designated by the institution as principal investigators are equally responsible for the direction of the project and submission of reports. We make no distinction in scientific stature between the designations of PI or Co-PI on a proposal/grant. This is explicit NSF-wide policy.

Any time you put multiple people on the cover page, they are officially all co-equal as PIs and you are telling us that “all of the individuals are equally responsible for the conceptual development of this project and will have equal responsibility for ensuring completion of the totality of the award requirements. If any one (or more) of the named individuals were to experience an incapacitating event this day, the remaining person(s) would be able to carry this project to completion in their absence.”

The only practical difference between Co-PIs is that the name on top is the “contact PI”. That’s not a mark of seniority, it’s a matter of organizational efficiency — if we sent all requests and notifications to all co-listed PIs we’d wind up with a lot on non-responses, duplicate responses, and contradictory responses and no way to determine which one had the final say. It is, however, the responsibility of the contact PI to communicate effectively between NSF and any Co-PIs.


Myth 2: NSF says I can’t be a PI or Co-PI because I’m not tenure-track.

Fact: NSF does not prohibit any individual[i] from being named as a PI or Co-PI based on employment status.

From the Grant Proposal Guide, “NSF welcomes proposals on behalf of all qualified scientists, engineers and educators.” “Qualified” depends on the nature of the project. “[O]n behalf of” is because proposals are not submitted by PIs, they are submitted by institutions[ii].

Because institutions officially submit proposals, they alone are responsible for determining who they are willing to endorse as (co-)responsible for the scientific direction of the proposal. So, the question of whether you, with your present title and employment arrangement, are eligible to be a PI on a proposal can only be addressed by you and your sponsored research office and the answer will vary. However, whether you can be a PI on an award is subject to final approval from NSF (that’s why you need to request approval to substitute PIs on an active award) and there are rare cases where an award might be delayed because of questions about the qualifications of the proposal PI.

NSF does make one specific pronouncement about PI status: we do not encourage naming graduate students as principal investigators on research grants. But this isn’t a ban (it’s just exceedingly rare) and there are other types of grants such as fellowships and dissertation improvement grants where graduate students are intended to be the person responsible for a proposal/grant.


Myth 3: I can only be a PI (on the cover page) of a proposal from my institution.

Fact: Following from the prior myth there are also often questions about requirements on institutional affiliation. But what is “my institution” anyway? Large numbers of researchers have multiple appointments with various academic, educational, non-profit, business, and foreign organizations: any one of which may be an eligible submitting institution.

Simply, you can be a PI of a proposal from any eligible institution that is willing to put you there.

We see proposals all the time with multiple PIs who would primarily associate with different institutions but were designated by the submitting institution as their co-responsible individuals. The contact PI is usually primarily/directly associated with (and usually draws salary from) the submitting institution, but NSF doesn’t require PIs to be employees of the institution and quite often the other names on the list may only be affiliated through sub-awards, intellectual collaborations or adjunct or courtesy appointments. For proposals with sub-awards, the GPG makes it clear that it is a-ok, but in no way required, for the researchers from the other organizations to be Co-PIs if all the institutions agree to it.


Myth 4: All PhD-level participants should be listed as senior personnel. Only PhDs can be senior personnel.

Fact: The Grant Proposal Guide explicitly defines 7 distinct categories of project personnel. There are two types of “senior personnel” and five types of “other personnel” tied to lines in the budget. Elsewhere, the GPG uses the slightly more nebulous term “other senior personnel” as a concise way of saying “faculty-equivalent researchers who aren’t (Co-)PI(s) but are making an important intellectual contribution through their work on this project under whatever professional title they may hold”.

All of the people named as project personnel, whether “senior”, “other senior” or just “other”, should have some sort of direct involvement in carrying out the project. But that’s not all! An entirely different category of individual/institutional involvement called “unfunded collaborations” exists to describe those involved with the project in ways other than carrying out the work (e.g., sending you stored samples, providing site access, etc.).

Of all of these ways for your name to possibly appear in a proposal, only one budget-defined sub-category, “Postdoctoral (Scholar, Fellow, or Other Postdoctoral Position)” specifically requires a PhD or equivalent. And, these Postdoctoral participants are considered “other personnel,” no “senior” involved.

All other personnel types, whether “senior” or “other” or “unfunded collaborator” are defined by the role in the project. The definitions are silent about any prior graduate degree(s).

For instance, Principal Investigators are not required to be PhDs; there are entire classes of awards (e.g., DDIGs) that are specific to pre-PhD individuals (see Myth #2 above) and in other fields and different institution types, it’s common to have professional researchers at the Masters level. There are many senior personnel without PhDs.

There are also many cases, where it’s inappropriate for PhD-level contributors to be listed as any sort of senior personnel. The head of some facility who has agreed to give you access but isn’t doing the work would be an unfunded collaborator: there’s no justification for identifying this person as senior personnel and reviewers will readily note that they aren’t actually working on the project. Other individuals primarily providing a specialty service to the intellectual team (someone being paid to carry out a specific technical task such as a professional evaluator of an educational program or a gene sequencing firm, etc.) may be most appropriately identified as “Other Professionals” (budget Line B) or Consultants (budget Line G3).


Myth 5: I’m on a postdoctoral appointment so I must/can’t… [too many variations to list]

Fact: Postdocing can be rough (citation: see any day on twitter). And, figuring out how to obtain funding for your science while postdocing can be a big part of that[iii]. We get a lot of inquiries about this and it generates lots of problems.

Questions of the usual “can I be a PI” sort are addressed in Myths 2 and 3 above. (Recap: It’s up to your institution.)

Most problems arising from postdocs on proposals can be avoided by following just one rule of thumb: BE CONSISTENT IN THE PROPOSAL.

More specifically, within a proposal an individual who is employed by an institution on a postdoctoral appointment can be a PI OR a postdoc but never both at the same time. You can’t mix and match documentation in your proposal between the two roles.

Consider this: if there’s a postdoc in the proposal, there needs to be a mentoring plan as part of the proposal that describes how the PI will impart new knowledge and skills to the postdoc. If a single individual is both PI and postdoc, that arrangement falls apart.

The title of your position doesn’t matter to us, but how you are represented in the proposal does. So someone on a postdoctoral appointment preparing a proposal as a (Co-)PI should complete all the parts of a proposal including the budget as a (Co-)PI and ignore anything that says “for post-docs…” because you aren’t a postdoc in the context of the proposal; you’re a (Co-)PI. On the other hand, if you want to be listed as a postdoc on the proposal (we think this is a good idea, see the next myth), then your PI must include a mentoring plan, must list any salary for you on the postdoc line of the budget, and must not put you on the cover page as a Co-PI.


Myth 6: Appointing that “junior” researcher to a PI or Co-PI role earns them credit.

Reality-check[iv]: That’s a highly suspect, possibly cynically exploitative, and potentially damaging move for the junior recipient of the “largesse”. Postdocs and grad students, please heed this warning.

Stop and consider who does this benefit? How (or for what purpose)? What is given up? Because, from our perspective this doesn’t favor the junior researcher. Our reasoning is as follows:

Will this help to get the project funded? Some reviewers may buy this maneuver and give the senior researcher collegiality points for promoting a junior person. However, it’s just as likely to be seen as a risk, “why is the less capable person being put in charge?” or a superficial move, “we all know the senior researcher is really in charge.” And, ultimately, the reviewers provide advice. NSF makes the decisions. We’ve seen this before and its effect on the post-review decision-making is generally nil.

Will this help to land a tenure-track position? Possibly, but publications produced as a postdoc or research associate, independent fellowships, and a strong recommendation letter from a successful PI would also demonstrate your abilities much more substantially while preserving beginning investigator status.

What happens if it gets funded? Elevating a postdoc or other (non-tenure track) junior researcher to a PI position does earn them credit as a “PI” in the NSF system. Will this help with tenure? Probably not; grants you received prior to your tenure track position don’t generally count in a tenure package and even if it did count it’s easily discounted by the presence of the senior researcher. What else does PI status mean? Well, for one, it means they will show up as a funded PI and, as we’ve shown, future funding decisions are strongly biased toward giving the money to unfunded PIs. It also means they are no longer eligible as a “beginning investigator” — that person loses the ability to submit their BIO proposals to other funders for simultaneous consideration[v] so it’s limiting their future submission opportunities.

The ONE AND ONLY CASE where this sort of change is probably a good thing is when a postdoc or other PhD-wielding-non-tenure-track-researcher lands that first TT position between a preliminary and full proposal and so could become a PI on a grant that will count fully toward their tenure package.


Myth 7: Being the “lead” PI on a collaborative proposal is more valuable than being the PI of a non-lead collaborating proposal.

Fact: The lead PI in a multi-institutional collaborative project is responsible for more paperwork at the proposal submission stage but if the project is funded, each institution gets a separate award and each PI gets their own credit for a project. This is because once the awards of a collaborative project are made, there’s no longer a link between the records. Each PI shows up as a PI on a separate award with the same independent reporting requirements, independent management responsibilities, and nothing in the public record to identify who “led” at the proposal stage.

We, DEB, can go back to the proposal records and force things together to generate reports that reflect those relationships when necessary, but as far as the official award records are concerned, each PI is responsible only for their award and has no relationship to any other. Some efficiency might be gained from coordinating aspects of reporting for instance, but that’s not a requirement or specific authority granted to one PI above all others.

In fact, the “lead” PI on a multi-institutional collaborative has less responsibility than the contact PI on a collaborative managed as a single proposal with sub-awards, because in that case the contact PI/awardee institution is responsible for overseeing the use of funds and reporting accomplishments of institutions external to their own finance and administrative systems. A major incentive for multi-institutional instead of sub-award collaboration is that separate awards are less work for the lead institution if an award is made.


Myth 8: I need to be a PI or Co-PI to include my biographical sketch.

Fact: The Grant Proposal Guide is very clear on the “who” of biosketches: they should be present for all senior personnel [(Co-)PIs, Faculty Associates, and that nebulous “other senior personnel”], but it also says they can be provided for postdocs, other professionals, and student RAs if they have particularly relevant qualifications[vi].

Many of you are already aware that FastLane creates a spot for a biographical sketch for each of the up to 5 (Co-)PIs on a proposal, which is the likely source of the myth, but figuring out how to do this for anyone else who should/could have one has been a perennial problem.

So, how do you add biosketches of collaborators not listed on the cover page?

On the proposal prep screen in FastLane you can select the button shown below to enter in the names of any additional people and create spaces in which to upload biosketches.

The Add/Delete Non Co-PI Senior Personnel button in FastLane allows a preparer to list additional names for the inclusion of biographical sketches and current and pending support in a proposal.

PLEASE make a note of this advice because as FastLane heads towards more and more pre-submission compliance checking, time-worn workarounds, like uploading all the biosketches as a single PDF, are going to stop working and eventually block your ability to complete submission.

The label says “senior personnel” but that’s misleading because it doesn’t actually set anything with respect to the persons’ roles or responsibilities so you can use this to add biosketches for other senior personnel as well as any other qualifying individuals. It would be awesome if they’d fix that label, but at least it works.

So, with this one simple step, any additional names of individuals beyond the cover page PIs can be associated with the proposal for the purpose of adding biosketches.


[i] Except for the group “persons barred from receiving federal funds“.

[ii] Though an individual can register themself as an institution.

[iii] If you’re in this situation, may we interest you in our previous post on the AAAS Policy Fellowships?

[iv] Since this response is more about experience than referenced current policy, we’ll drop the “fact” label.

[v] Proposals in NSF/BIO are not allowed to be concurrently under consideration with other federal funders; this policy is waived for “beginning investigators” who have never held a federally-funded research grant from any agency.

[vi] Please note however, that this guidance applies to FULL PROPOSALS we have specific restrictions on who can be submitting biosketches with preliminary proposals in DEB.

DDIG Deadline Reminder

We’re a month away from the 2015 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant deadline for DEB (any cluster) and IOS (Behavioral Systems Cluster [Animal Behavior] only).

If you are planning to submit:

Please be sure all of the required paperwork and certifications (especially the “statement that the student has advanced to candidacy for a Ph.D., signed and dated by the department chairperson, graduate dean, or similar administrative official”) will be ready for the submission. Also, please make sure your organizational representative (usually, the Sponsored Research Office (SRO)) is aware of the due date to avoid missing the deadline.


DDIG solicitation (submission instructions):

DDIG Website (with program contacts):

Our previous series on DDIG: part 1, part 2, part 3

You may also be interested in these tips from the IOS blog (note: this was originally posted for LAST YEAR’s DEADLINE. The deadline this year is Oct. 8, 2015):



The Top 13 Questions on NSF IACUC Documentation

Many people in the DEB community work with vertebrate animals, and therefore require approval from their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) to conduct their research.

Since NSF does not oversee or regulate animal research, it is important for investigators to know that a project’s IACUC approval must be adequately documented before program officers can recommend an award for funding. In this blog post we offer answers to common questions regarding the NSF documenting procedures for IACUC protocols[1].

  1. Where can I find information on NSF guidelines regarding IACUCs?

The place to find information is the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG). The GPG contains an entire section on IACUC approval and how to document it in your proposal (Chapter II Proposal Preparation Instructions, D. Special Guidelines, 7. Proposals Involving Vertebrate Animals on page II-28). The GPG is the official policy; this post provides tips intended to help you to efficiently identify and comply with the existing policy.


  1. Where in the proposal is IACUC approval documented?

On the proposal cover page there is a box that should be checked if the proposal includes use of vertebrate animals. Immediately following there is a space to provide the IACUC protocol approval date as well as the Public Health Service (PHS) Animal Welfare Assurance number. The PHS number has to do with your institution’s authorization for vertebrate research and is separate from a particular IACUC approval date or protocol number. Each institution usually has a single, unique PHS number and each protocol/proposal usually has a single, unique IACUC approval number.


  1. What if I have a current IACUC protocol that encompasses the type of work that I am proposing to do in the NSF proposal that I am submitting?

Most proposals submitted to do work with vertebrate animals include preliminary data in the proposal. Presumably, this means that the PI has an approved IACUC protocol to work with vertebrates. If that is the case, we strongly urge investigators to indicate both the IACUC protocol approval date as well as the PHS assurance number for the institution if they need to check the vertebrate box for the proposed work.

If the box for vertebrate animals is checked, and an IACUC approval date and PHS Assurance number are provided on the proposal cover page then no additional IACUC documentation is required for the proposal to be recommended or an award processed (although the program officer may still ask you to email a pdf of the IACUC approval). When the officer from your institution’s Sponsored Research Office (SRO) signs off on the proposal, they are affirming that the approved protocol exists and is congruent with the work outlined in the NSF proposal. It is important to note that this IACUC protocol must still be current at the time of the proposal submission and an approved protocol for the project must be maintained for the duration of the award[2] (most IACUC protocols expire after 3 years).


  1. What if I do not have an approved IACUC protocol for the proposal I am submitting?

If your IACUC protocol is not yet approved, you can indicate that the IACUC approval is “pending” on the cover page. If you fall in this category, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • IACUC committees at large, research-oriented institutions tend to meet regularly and be efficient, whereas those at smaller institutions may take months to consider a protocol. Some don’t meet at all during the summer – which is exactly the time when DEB is under the most pressure to get awards processed. If you have not yet started the IACUC approval process, please be aware of the timelines and recognize that proposals cannot be recommended for funding and awards cannot be processed without this approval.
  • Once granted, NSF must receive a signed letter from your institution indicating this IACUC approval. Since this document affirms that the protocol is consistent with the work outlined in the proposal, the letter must include your institution’s PHS Assurance number, the IACUC approval date, and it must specifically reference the NSF proposal title and number.


  1. What if the research I am proposing to do will take place outside of the United States?

Even if the planned work will take place outside of the U.S., IACUC approval from your home (U.S.) institution is still required since the award is being made to that institution. Often local approval from an international institution will also be necessary. Note that IACUCs vary widely in the extent to which they attempt to regulate research on animals in foreign countries. The bottom line is that you should ask the IACUC at your institution about how they handle international projects that use animals.


  1. If the NSF proposal is for a fellowship or for an individual (e.g. postdoc), how is the documentation for the IACUC different?

For fellowships and proposals to individuals[3], even if there is an IACUC approval date and PHS Assurance number documented on the proposal cover page at the time of submission, a signed letter from the institution must still be submitted to NSF. The letter must include the IACUC approval date, the institution’s PHS Assurance number, and it must specifically reference the NSF proposal title and jacket number. This letter is needed because the award is going to an individual and not an institution.


  1. What if I am applying for a fellowship or award to an individual and I plan to conduct this work outside of the United States?

If the proposal is to fund an individual (not an institution) and the proposed work is to take place outside of the U.S., then a signed letter from the appropriate official at the foreign institution must be submitted to NSF that confirms that the work will comply with applicable laws in that foreign country and that it will adhere to the International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research Involving Animals.


  1. If I am applying for an REU (or any other award supplement) will I need to resubmit IACUC documentation?

Supplements to existing awards generally do not require a separate IACUC approval letter. However, if the IACUC approval on the parent award is more than three years old or if the scope of the project has changed substantially, then a new IACUC approval letter is required.

  • If the scope of the work has changed, in lieu of resubmitting an entirely new IACUC protocol (which would add work for you and your institution’s IACUC committee) an amendment to your existing IACUC protocol may suffice. An amendment is typically much easier to prepare and be reviewed than a new protocol. Check your institution’s IACUC policies to see what types of revisions they recognize as appropriate for a protocol amendment.


  1. If I am submitting a collaborative proposal with multiple institutions will each institution need a separate approved IACUC protocol?

If research with vertebrates will occur at an institution, then that institution must have their own current and approved IACUC documentation – this includes work conducted by a non-lead collaborative institution and work conducted under a subaward. In rare and special circumstances a lead institution may oversee animal work conducted by affiliates of a collaborating institution. However, if you think this case applies to you, we recommend contacting the NSF animal welfare Officer (see contact information below).


  1. My proposed research entails using multiple species and type of vertebrates. Will one IACUC protocol be sufficient?

Depending on the nature of the work, one IACUC may not be sufficient to cover the entire scope of your work. Please confirm with your institution’s IACUC that all of the work is being covered.


  1. I am submitting a proposal to NSF, but I am not sure if the vertebrate animal work in the proposal actually requires IACUC approval (e.g., the research involves only observations of vertebrates in the field).

Ask your institution’s IACUC whether the proposed work warrants IACUC approval. If the IACUC does

not think one is needed, we recommend that you procure an email from the chair of the IACUC committee (using their institution email) stating that IACUC approval is not necessary for the scope of the proposed work. It is always safer to have the committee make this decision rather than making the decision on your own.


  1. What about preserved specimens — will I need an IACUC to work with non-living vertebrate animals from a natural history collection?

IACUC approvals are only necessary for living vertebrate animals.


  1. My proposal doesn’t include vertebrate animals in a research capacity, but my broader impacts outreach activities do involve vertebrate animals. Will I still need IACUC approval?

Most likely IACUC approval is still necessary in this circumstance. Please contact the NSF animal welfare officer for additional information.


Additional resources for model species can be found here:

The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (the Guide)

And resources for taxon specific wild/non-model species can be found here:

Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research

Guidelines to the American Society of Mammalogists for the Use of Wild Mammals in Research

Guidelines for the Use of Fishes in Research

Guidelines for the use of Live Amphibians and Reptiles in Field and Laboratory Research


The NSF Animal Welfare Officer is Dr. Anne Maglia. Specific questions that are not outlined in this blog post or in the GPG can be addressed to and (703) 292-8470.


[1] Most of what is written in this blog post about IACUC preparation also can be applied to Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols, which are required for research involving data collection on human subjects.

[2] Remember that it is the investigator’s responsibility to provide updated IACUC approval documentation on any existing NSF award before the protocol on file expires.

[3] DEB rarely handles these types of proposals, but such opportunities relevant to DEB researchers are found elsewhere in NSF so we decided to address it here.

Myths and FAQs about Project Reporting

Annual and final reports have changed quite a bit over the years. Twenty years ago annual reports and final reports were distinct requirements (see section 340) for which you printed out a form, filled it out and mailed it in. In the early 2000s reporting moved online to FastLane; this allowed a degree of integration with other electronic systems and also brought about the creation of a single template that applied to both annual and final reports. Some people took this to mean that the final report was just another annual report, and others started treating each annual report like a cumulative final report. However, since 1) most reports during the FastLane era were uploaded as unstructured PDF narratives they could be reviewed but weren’t useful for systematic analysis (data mining) and 2) both approaches provided the necessary record of activity, there was no pressure to enforce a standard either way on whether the content was annual or cumulative.

The most recent move, to, came with a more structured web-form-based report template that enables further integration of reporting requirements into companion systems. The structured report data improves compatibility between grant data systems across agencies (e.g., NASA data in search results) and adds records to a database of project results that can automatically compile the cumulative outcomes for any project without the PI having to regurgitate the same items over and over in an ever-expanding list. Once we get beyond the rough period of adjusting to the change, structured reporting of data can be easier to enter and provide greater value for analyses of all types, including those to make a case for future investments in research.

The purpose of this post is to help you shorten the learning curve of reporting, answer some of the common questions we hear from you, and debunk the persistent myths and old habits that no longer fit with current practice.

  1. What does DEB do with project reports?

Reports are required because we need to maintain a record regarding how our investments in research are spent. We use them to make the case to various audiences that funds are being spent on good and important work. Your Program Officers (POs) are responsible for overseeing those funds and need to be able to document that they were used for the approved purposes in an appropriate fashion. Because failure to show that grant money was used productively makes it very difficult to justify sending you more money, POs review each report and will request additional information if critical aspects are weak or missing. Failure to report at all places a flag on your file for missing a requirement of your grant that will block further funding until it is cleared. In short, reports are a necessary component of financial stewardship.

With structured data available via the reporting form, we are also gaining the ability to better quantify research outcomes and ask new questions about our portfolio, our decision-making, and the effects of different approaches to supporting science.

  1. What should I put in my project report, and how much of each thing?

This is a really common question and a big part of the change from FastLane reporting to reporting. The old “upload a PDF” days imposed no limitation whatsoever on reporting and inconsistent requests for more or different information from POs in various programs encouraged a narrative-intensive “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to the report. This resulted in the expenditure of a lot of time and effort by PIs to compile and present all that information and by POs to wade through it to check if the critical pieces were all there.

Please take this to heart: The volume of report text is not an indicator of the quality of the work. A report is also not a journal article.

What we want is an efficient description of what happened/was accomplished during the reporting period. A lot of this comes down to discrete counts of the inputs, activities, and outputs of the project and providing enough detail about each that we could verify the count if needed. The template seeks to encourage this by providing clear fields to generate list-style report items with consistent detail requirements.

There are some places with paragraph-sized text boxes for narrative explanations. Some are optional and some are required. Responses to any of them are most helpful when clear and direct. imposes character-limits on text boxes where narratives are required/allowed by design.

  1. What are the most common problems that cause POs to return a report for revision?
  • Failure to list participants and collaborators who are mentioned/described in narrative sections of the report text (See Questions 4, 5, and 6).
  • Multiple typographical errors; apparent cut and paste errors (incomplete sentences or paragraphs).
  • Listing items that fall outside of the reporting period.
  1. Who should I list in the Participants section? The other collaborators section?

Between the three “Participants/Organizations” sections, please list everyone who has been engaged in the project within the previous 12 months. This includes students, volunteers and those paid through other sources. As long as their activities were related to the objectives (Intellectual or Broader Impact) of your award, they “count”. A rule of thumb in deciding which section to report under is that individual “participants” carried out the work of the objectives, “organizational partners” directly enabled the work done by the participants, and “other collaborators or contacts” would include indirect supporters or beneficiaries of the work (e.g., schools at which your student conducted a demonstration). Please note that “other collaborators and contacts” are entered into a plain narrative text-box; it doesn’t include any specific structure or data requirements.

If participants worked less than a total of ~100 hours (2.5 weeks), enter “0” under Nearest Person Month Worked. (Yes, zeros count, too.) If they worked far less than 100 hours trust your own judgment about whether to list them as participants– i.e., whether you think their participation was meaningful, or might be better listed as an “other collaborator or contact”.

  1. I have multiple sources of funding and people in my lab often work on overlapping projects. In the Participants section, what should I enter for Funding Support?

If a participant was paid from a funding source other than your current NSF award, please list that source of support. Do not enter anything if the participant was paid solely from your current NSF award or if they were a volunteer.

  1. I have an RCN or workshop award (or any other type award that may involve dozens of participants). Do you really want them all listed as Participants?

Yes. The list of participants provides an increasingly valuable database that NSF can use to quantify the impact of its investments. A common alternative to listing participants individually in the Participants section has been to upload a pdf document under “Supporting Files”. Please keep in mind that NSF cannot search the data provided in those documents, except by opening them one-by-one, and they will generally be ignored in official analyses and comparisons. Hence we always prefer that Participants be entered one-by-one in the Participant section.

  1. I have a collaborative award. How should my reports differ from those of my collaborators?

Obviously, you and your collaborators will have at least some shared objectives and impacts; some overlap in reports is expected. Your report should focus on the components of the project and the personnel unique to your institution.

  1. Are Annual Reports cumulative? Is the Final Report cumulative?

No and no. Current NSF Policy and the reporting system instruct PIs to report only on the previous year of work, including for the final report. Except for “Major Goals” and “Impacts”, there should be little or no overlap from one report to the next. The Final Report should be written as an Annual Report – there’s nothing special about it other than it being the last report on a given project.

You may have done it differently in the past or received outdated advice from a colleague because it was different in the past and old habits are tough to shake, but the rules were clarified and the system changed to enforce them when reporting was moved to

  1. What is the Project Outcomes Report?

The Project Outcomes Report is a third reporting requirement (in addition to annual and final reports) that is due at the same time as your final report. It is a counterpart to the “public abstract” of your award. The abstract was written at the start of the project and explained what you planned to do and why it was important. The Project Outcome Report summarizes the overall goal(s) and accomplishments of the project upon its completion. It is provided directly to the general public as a permanent record and justification for our investment of taxpayer dollars in your research. Please write it carefully, paying particular attention to the major accomplishments and general significance of your work; avoid jargon and grammatical errors. Do not cut-and-paste text from your Annual or Final Reports because you wrote them for a very different audience.

  1. What happens if I don’t submit my report?

You and any Co-PIs will not be allowed to receive any new funding (e.g., annual increments, supplements, or new grants) or process any other actions (e.g., no cost extensions, PI changes) until the report is submitted and approved. Your annual report is due starting 90 days before your award anniversary, your final report is due within 90 days after your award end date. After either of those 90 day windows, the report is considered “overdue” and the block is automatically put in place. Even if you aren’t overdue when you submit a report, waiting until late in the 90-day window risks delaying timely release of annual funds and possibly going overdue before we’ve had a chance to review, receive any needed corrections, and approve the report.

  1. I submitted my Annual Report, but there’s still a block in Fastlane preventing me from receiving new funds from NSF. Why?

It’s most likely that your report still needs to be approved by the managing Program Officer; new money cannot go out the door until reports have been submitted and approved. If your report has been languishing, it’s appropriate to ask the managing Program Officer to take a look at it. (Although we enjoy learning about your discoveries, annual reports can pile up when our priorities must be placed elsewhere.)

  1. Can I submit a proposal if I have an overdue report?

Yes. Be aware, however, that every time we attempt to access any of your proposals (submitted or already awarded), we’ll be redirected to a warning message on a separate screen that tells us we cannot approve any money for the proposal because of a missing or overdue report(s). We’re required to acknowledge this by clicking a “Continue” button before we’re allowed to see any of the proposal contents. The effect of those irksome messages on Program Officers is worth keeping in mind.

  1. If one of my collaborators has an overdue report on an award that I’m not associated with, what are the consequences for me?

If that collaborator is a PI/co-PI (i.e., listed on the cover page) of a proposal or award on which you are a PI/co-PI, you will be blocked from receiving any new funds from NSF or processing any other actions in relation to that shared proposal/award. Any proposal that shares a person on the cover page with the cover page of a proposal that has a missing or overdue report is subject to the block.

  1. Why am I being asked to submit my report in June or July when it’s not overdue until August or September (or later)?

Because we don’t want you to miss your annual funding increment. If you have received an award in the last quarter of our fiscal year (the fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, so July, August, or September) and are scheduled to receive that grant in annual increments then you have likely encountered this situation: a program officer calls you up and says “hey, can you get your report in this week” but when you look at it says it won’t be past due for a month (or two or three).

All annual reports are due 90 days before the anniversary of the award: this provides the time to review and process everything in order to get your annual increment released to you by the actual anniversary. Frequently, reports are submitted much closer to the anniversary or even late. This pushes the start of the approval process later and often pushes the release of money to after the anniversary. But, if that anniversary date is late in the fiscal year, any sort of delay — even within the allowed “reporting window” — can push back the processing time over the year-end deadline, at which point the money is no longer available to be released. That’s not a happy state of affairs for you or for us! So if your award was made and started on September 1, the report “due date” would be June 1 of the next year and your PO would probably be hounding you by July 1 to make sure you don’t lose your funding.

This is a little bit annoying, but generally makes sense when the project begins immediately upon receipt of the award. However, some awardees request a later “start date” for the project that is well after the actual award is made (someone receiving money in September might schedule a start date for December or January). At this point things get complicated. Following the September 1 award/January 1 start example: we need an approved report in order to release funds for the second year by the September anniversary of the award being made, otherwise we run out of time within the fiscal year to actually distribute the money. But, the reporting system is, for whatever reason, blind to this and tells you to file a report based on the “start date” so the very beginning of the “due” period is in October and after the point at which our ability to send you the money due upon receipt of that report has been canceled.

So, two lessons here: 1) don’t ask for a start date way after your award is available, especially if doing so crosses the Sept./Oct. dividing line, and 2) if your PO calls and asks you to submit a report RIGHT NOW, please do it; we’re trying to give you the money we promised and not doing it can really muck things up.


Additional Reporting Resources

More detailed answers to many of these questions and accompanying screen shots from are available in a pdf guide available here (click to follow, but caveat emptor: there appear to have been some additional updates since the file was posted).

If you’re really into this, a long list of guides, tutorials, templates, and demonstrations related to Project Reports is available here .

FYI: AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

For several years DEB has hosted AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows. We have reaped the benefits of this excellent Fellowship program, and think talking about it here will be of interest to some of the faculty, students or post-docs in the DEB community.

Are you looking for a sabbatical or to explore new ways to utilize your scientific training?

Want to learn about federal policy from an inside perspective?

Perhaps you are considering opportunities for non-academic science careers.

Then you may wish to consider applying for a Science & Technology Policy Fellowship with AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science). AAAS Fellows are doctoral-level trained individuals who gain insight into the US federal enterprise during a one to two year post-graduate experience. Fellows can be from a wide array of disciplines, and from any career stage. The distribution of AAAS Fellows’ ages have spanned over 5 decades and ranged from late 20s to early 70s! AAAS S&T Fellows contribute to their offices in myriad ways, but their specific roles are often dependent on the mission of the agency and the needs of the office. In DEB, AAAS S&T Fellows have a unique opportunity to engage in international science policy, offering Division and programmatic level strategic planning, as well as gaining insight into the merit review process.

AAAS S&T Fellows not only make valuable contributions to their offices, but throughout the entire experience the Fellows are engaged in professional development trainings. These trainings range from ‘the essentials of science communication’ to ‘developing a negotiation toolkit’ to technical workshops on ‘text mining big data using R code’.

Furthermore, one of the greatest benefits of the AAAS S&T Fellows program is being inducted into a highly connected network of science professionals. Many AAAS alumnae continue working in government after their fellowship, but others have gone on to influential positions throughout academia, industry, and non-profit sectors. The breadth of the Fellows’ network is truly impressive.


What are people saying about the AAAS S&T Policy Fellows?

In a 2014 PNAS article on graduate education and postdoctoral training, authors Bruce Alberts et al, gave the AAAS S&T Policy Fellows program a ringing endorsement by saying:

“…. the AAAS Science and Technology Fellowships for 40 y has allowed carefully selected scientists and engineers with advanced degrees to work in the US government in Washington, DC. Historically, approximately half of these Fellows have remained in policy positions, occupying critical positions that greatly benefit the nation….”

(full disclosure, of course: Bruce Alberts has previously served as editor-in-chief of AAAS’s main publication Science)

However, the National Science Board, the policy making body for NSF, also recognized the AAAS S&T Fellowship program in their hallmark Public Service Award in 2014. #nobigdeal #kindofabigdeal


Not convinced yet that this is a unique and special program? Check out some of these notable alums:

Honorable Rush D. Holt: AAAS CEO, former U.S. House of Representatives Congressman

Frances A. Colón: Acting Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State

Rosina Bierbaum: Professor and former Dean, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment

Steven Buchsbaum: Deputy Director, Discovery at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


The AAAS S&T Fellowship offers placement in seven different program areas. Check to see if you are eligible to apply and read testimonials from former Fellows.

Applications for the 2016-2017 Fellowship cycle are open from now until November.

DEB Summer 2015: Where to find us at Professional Meetings

We’ve got a busy summer meeting schedule and are offering numerous opportunities to hear the latest NSF updates, meet your Program Officers, and learn about funding opportunities in-person. Since it is so close this year, there will be a fairly large contingent of us heading up to Baltimore for the ESA meeting. But, we’re not forgetting the other side of the house; we’ll have representatives at both of the big, international evolution conferences. We’ll also be at the IALE Congress and the joint Botany meeting, and we were already at ASM earlier this season.

And remember, if you can’t make it to our lunchtime brown-bag sessions to hear the latest from DEB, you can always email one of the attending Program Officers to set up another meeting time, catch us in the poster hall, or drop by our information tables (where available).


26 – 30 June, 2015: Guarujá, Brazil. Evolution 2015

Featuring: Simon Malcomber, David Mindell, Sam Scheiner, Kelly Zamudio

Presentation Followed by Q & A (NSF Update)
Sunday 28 June, 12:00 – 13:30 (during lunch break), Meeting Room Diamantina


6 – 9 July, 2015: Portland, OR. 9th International Assoc for Landscape Ecology World Congress

Featuring: George Malanson

Panel Discussion: Funding Opportunities for Landscape Ecology at the US National Science Foundation
Monday 6 July, 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM, See Final Schedule for Location

Additional Notes: Tuesday eve poster session is a good time to meet up with George.


25 – 29 July, Edmonton, Alberta. Botany 2015

Featuring: Joe Miller

With Special Appearances: Roland Roberts, Judy Skog

NSF Information Booth (Exhibitor #114)
All Days, Staffed during poster sessions, by appointment and whenever we can be there, Hall D.

NSF Outreach Presentation and Discussion
Wednesday 29 July, noon, location TBA (check final program).


9 – 14 August, 2015: Baltimore, MD. Ecological Society of America 2015

Featuring: Henry Gholz, Doug Levey, Sam Scheiner, Alan Tessier, Alan Wilson, George Malanson, Diane Pataki, John Adamec, Shannon Jewell

With Special Appearances by: Matt Kane (TBD), Betsy Von Holle (W, Th, F), Emily Leichtman (Su, M)

NSF Information Booth (Exhibitor #438)
Monday 10 – Thursday 14 August, All-day, Baltimore Convention Center Poster/Exhibit Hall.

Special Session (SS 2): Ecology on the Runway: An Eco-Fashion Show and Other Non-Traditional Public Engagement Approaches
Monday 10 August, 11:30 AM-1:15 PM, Baltimore Convention Center 310.

Special Session (SS 10): New Frontiers: Bridging the Gaps Between Continental and Global-Scale Research Networks, A Special AGU-ESA Event and Evening Social
Monday 10 August, 8:00 PM-10:00 PM, Baltimore Convention Center 309.

Workshop (WK 53): Federal Agency Networking Session (Come and meet your Program Officers from NSF and beyond!)
Thursday 13 August, 11:30 AM-1:15 PM, Baltimore Convention Center 316.


9 – 15 August, 2015: Lausanne, Switzerland. European Society for Evolutionary Biology

Featuring: George Gilchrist and Leslie Rissler

Presentation followed by Q & A (NSF Update)
Thursday 13 August, noon, location TBA.

Additional Notes: This will be the same program as presented at Evolution 2015 (if you’re like us and had to choose one or the other, we’ve got you covered!)

Draft of revisions to NSF-wide grant and proposal policies up for public comment

Each year or so, NSF releases an updated version of its agency-wide guidance for proposals and grants, called the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG). This big document consists of two parts: instructions for proposers (the GPG, or Grant Proposal Guide) and instructions for awardees (the AAG, or Award Administration Guide).

The PAPPG sets the ground-rules for NSF programs. Solicitations, like the DEB Core Programs solicitation, exist to enumerate specific variances from the basic rules, for example the format and contents of a preliminary proposal. Solicitations, however, also refer back to the PAPPG and follow the ground-rules for everything except those specific variances. A good example of this is that the requirements for proposal font size are detailed in the PAPPG and we have no reason to repeat or modify that in the DEB Core Programs solicitation but they apply to both preliminary and full proposals.

Changes to the PAPPG trigger new proposal preparation requirements for all NSF programs and may require you to do something differently in your next submission to the DEB Core Programs (or anywhere else), but changes to the PAPPG do not override anything explicitly described in our solicitation.


Right now, a draft version of the changes has been made available to the public for comment through 20 July, 2015. The wording of this public version indicates that these revised rules are expected to come into force in January 2016; this is right around our next preliminary proposal deadline. Based on the experience of prior years, the final version will probably be published at some point in October so that you have fair warning of the rule changes and will be expected to follow them beginning on the TBD January date. Between July and October there is a period to review the comments and prepare the final revised version for public posting.

We’re mentioning this here because there are proposed revisions that are likely relevant to you and we want you to be aware of them as early in the process as possible.

The official notice of the request for comments is available in the Federal Register:

This includes an explanation of the request, how to submit comments, and the comment deadline.

The actual draft is hosted on the website here:


There are numerous small and several more substantial changes noted in the draft. The online document is conveniently marked up with comments and highlights for new/edited text and comments to note where material was removed.

Here are a few revisions that we noted that might be of particular interest to our readers:

On page 20 (of the PDF), it notes that your research office/organizational representative needs to complete organizational sign off before a proposal can be submitted (even for preliminary proposals); this might require modifications to your preparation timeline. (Organizational sign-off is mentioned/added in many other spots throughout the document too.)

On page 25, there’s a re-emphasized note about an issue we’ve mentioned here before: You should have only 1 FastLane ID per individual.

On page 30, the GPG is (finally!) addressing the issue of your collaborator (aka conflict) lists being too long for the 2-page Biosketch by moving them into a separate Single Copy Document.

On page 33, and in a few other places, there are new requirements for reporting via your proposal Cover Page “dual use research of concern” (e.g., work with certain pathogens and toxins).

Pages 34 – 37 include several changes/clarifications relevant to the written components of your proposals: stronger requirement to enter a Project Summary in the FastLane forms (instead of uploading a PDF), a prohibition against hyperlinks in your Project Description, a template for Letters of Collaboration (if you’ve submitted to the DEB core programs recently, you’ve already been doing this), the revised Biosketch format (sans collaborators and other affiliations), and a requirement that each Biosketch be uploaded as a separate file (no more bundling as a single file).

There are a couple of changes with respect to budget preparation, the most notable (at least to us) being a requirement that sub-awards include overhead at the sub-awardee’s federally negotiated rate (or a de minimis rate of 10%).

On page 44, the instructions for current and pending (C&P) support also are changed to require a separate document (no bundling as a single file) for each of the senior personnel on the proposal and the definition of C&P is expanded to include “internal institutional support”.


The important outcome here is to make yourself aware of the proposed changes and change timeline and to make sure that your research administration officials are also aware of them so that this fall you will be able to follow the correct version of the GPG for our preliminary proposal deadline.