Announcing the Switch to No-Deadline


As per the newly issued Dear Colleague Letter, the core programs in the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) are discontinuing the use of the preliminary proposal mechanism.  We are enacting a “no-deadline”, full proposal mechanism for proposals submitted to the core programs, including the DEB LTREB program. There will be no call for preliminary proposals in January 2018. Instead, new solicitations describing funding opportunities will be released in 2018, for awards starting in fiscal year 2019.

Why did DEB make the decision to switch to a “no-deadline” model and what does that mean for submitting proposals?

After a three year pilot of the preliminary proposal system, DEB contracted an outside agency, Abt, to conduct an evaluation of the pilot program. You can read about the results of that report, and get a link to the full report on a previous blog post here.  In sum, the assessment found the switch to preliminary proposals produced mixed results.

With respect to the scientific community, the preliminary proposal system achieved our objective of reducing demands on the reviewers, PIs, and institutions. Yet, the system also produced a frustrated PI community who found the “one date deadline” model too restrictive.

DEB staff largely viewed the preliminary proposal system positively, yet noted significant drawbacks. On the positive side, the system was efficient at filtering out proposals at the preliminary proposal stage, thus improving the quality of full proposals. It also simplified program budget management as all of the full proposals were funded at the same time of year.  However, it exacerbated workload in the winter and spring, making those very stressful times of the year. Concerns were also expressed about the fact that preliminary proposals were not subject to (ad hoc) review, and further, that interdisciplinary preliminary proposals could not be co-reviewed across programs. This latter issue was a decisive factor for BIO senior managers. They felt that the preliminary proposal system worked against efforts to encourage more integrative and interdisciplinary research; i.e., proposals that crossed BIO divisions and spanned levels of biological organization.

DEB will release new solicitations, in spring/summer 2018, with guidelines for submitting full proposals at any time of the year, to any of the DEB core programs. The first awards from those proposals would be made in FY 2019 (FY19 begins on October 1, 2018). These upcoming solicitations will also announce and provide guidelines for writing proposals related to the BIO initiative: Understanding the Rules of Life with the goal of promoting research that crosses BIO divisional, disciplinary boundaries (i.e. DBI, EF, IOS, and MCB).

What are the additional benefits of the no-deadline model to the investigator?

If you’ve been hindered in the past by ill-timed teaching loads, health or personal issues, field work, or other career commitments, consider the burden lifted. You now have the power to determine when and how your project ideas are written and submitted. Investigators can write and submit proposals during times of the year best suited to their schedules. By removing the annual deadline, you and your collaborators have more time and flexibility to coordinate on proposals. The no-deadline model also makes space for planning your submission around major life events.

What’s next?

For the next 6 months, we will be completing review of the full proposals already received in response to the CAREER and August 2nd core program submission deadlines, and making award recommendations.  We then anticipate finalizing our new solicitations and planning for how to handle a review process designed around no-deadline submissions.  We hope investigators will take the extra time to carefully craft proposals and submit them only when they are ready. From our side, we anticipate creating more integrative and dynamic panels that better accommodate the interdisciplinary science we see bubbling up in all of our core programs. But truly, there’s a great deal we can’t predict; we’re taking a risk in moving back to full proposals. Managing funding programs when you don’t know how many or when proposals will be submitted, is a bit scary. We are willing to take this risk in the hopes that this new model will result in better proposals and more integrative science while at the same time providing greater flexibility to the community.

We encourage you to check out the FAQ sheet around the new announcement, subscribe to the blog, sign up for email alerts at nsf.gov, and stay tuned for more details to follow.