As we began writing this post, proposals were moving through the various stages of review and approval that ultimately result in the awarding of 2014 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (DDIGs) from the NSF Division of Environmental Biology[i]. This is the culmination of a process that started for many applicants last summer or early fall and for us is the continuation of a commitment that DEB has made to supporting student researchers for over 40 years. You can check out the most recent DDIG recipients through the public NSF Award Search. The list only includes the awards that have been finalized from this year, and it will grow over the coming weeks as the last of the DDIG awards are added to the public database.
The Beginner’s Guide to DDIGs:
Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants are a particular type of award designed to fund enhancements to dissertation projects. That is, DDIGs are appropriate for graduate students who would have a complete dissertation without this funding, but the grant enables a specific improvement.
DDIGs are only available in some disciplines, currently: Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, and all four clusters in DEB, and Behavioral Systems within BIO/IOS. They don’t exist at all across most of the Foundation.
DDIGs are not like Graduate Research Fellowship awards (GRFs), the other marquee program at NSF for supporting individuals’ graduate education.
DDIGs are awarded to an institution, like a typical NSF grant, to support the project described in the proposal. GRFs, on the other hand, are made directly to an individual student and thus are portable to whatever institution that student attends.
DDIGs require the student to have advanced to candidacy for a Ph.D. prior to the submission deadline. GRFs are applied for and awarded before completing 12 months of graduate study.
DDIGs, as the name implies, support improvements to a dissertation that could already stand on its own. GRFs are meant to fund a graduate student’s education and research from the beginning.
For DDIGs, the student usually writes the proposal, but the dissertation advisor serves as the submitting PI on behalf of the student, who is typically the Co-PI. Students apply directly to the GRF program.
Separate DDIG program solicitations are housed in the discipline-specific research directorates (BIO and SBE). There is a single GRF program solicitation in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
NSF classifies DDIGs differently than your typical grants. They are considered to be non-research support like various education and training grants or travel and workshop support made to institutions. Though DDIGs clearly contribute to the accomplishment of a student’s research goals, the non-research label kind of makes sense because the PI (the graduate advisor) isn’t funded to do research.
A BIO DDIG proposal is shorter than a full research proposal (just 8 pages), smaller than a typical research grant ($13K max for direct costs), and provides funding for no more than 2 years. These differences stem from the purpose of a DDIG: to improve and extend an existing project, not to fund the full dissertation.
DDIGs in DEB undergo panel review. The review process adheres to the same principles of merit review as any other proposal and addresses both of the two standard NSF merit review criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts. Both criteria need to be successfully addressed in the proposal. In addition, BIO DDIGs are evaluated with respect to a third review criterion: the context for improvement. The context for improvement is a one page supplement to the proposal in which the student states how this proposal is independent of their advisor’s funded research and how the requested funds would enable an enhancement to their dissertation research.
DDIGs are something we are particularly proud of in DEB. Over the next few weeks, we will bring you two additional pieces looking at this unique program.
[i] At this point, all DEB DDIG applicants should have heard from the reviewing programs whether their proposals have been recommended for funding.