National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The NIH is the nation’s medical research agency, and it is made up of 27 different components called Institutes and Centers. Each has its own specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems. They issue a weekly table of contents that provides a listing of all notices and funding opportunities published that week.
Each NIH funding opportunity is classified under an activity code that determines the type of project and associated standard due dates, which typically are three cycles per year. The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) is the portal for NIH grant applications and their review for initial scientific merit. CSR organizes the peer reviews that evaluate the majority of the research grant applications sent to NIH. The first level of review is carried out by a Scientific Review Group (SRG) composed primarily of non-federal scientists who have expertise in relevant scientific disciplines and current research areas. The second level of review is performed by Institute and Center (IC) National Advisory Councils or Boards composed of both scientific and public representatives. Only applications that are recommended for approval by both the SRG and the Advisory Council may be recommended for funding. Final funding decisions are made by the IC Directors. Extensive information about applying for funding is available on the About Grants section of the NIH website, including application process guides and sample applications.
National Science Foundation (NSF)
The NSF funds approximately one quarter of all basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities, and is the primary source of federal funding for basic science research in many fields such as mathematics, computer science, and the social sciences. NSF research areas are divided into the following seven directorates, each of which is further subdivided into divisions: Biological Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Engineering, Geosciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, and Education and Human Resources.
General Grant Process
Most NSF funding opportunities are solicited through focused research topic area programs within each research division that have 1-2 submission deadlines per year. In addition to single PI awards, several unique grant types such as Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID), EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER), and Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) are available within each program. It is important to consult with the Program Director before submitting a proposal to ensure your proposed research topic and grant type is appropriate for that program. A complete overview of the NSF Proposal and Award Process, including information about proposal merit review, is published on the NSF website.
- NSF Strategic Plan
- NSF Ideas for Future Investment
- NSF’s 10 Big Ideas
- Strategic Framework for Investments in Graduate Education
- INCLUDES Program to diversify STEM talent
- NSF Reviewer Orientation Video: The Art and Science of Reviewing Proposals
- 2016 Grants Conference webcasts. Topics include: Types of NSF Funding Opportunities, Proposal Preparation, Award Management, the Merit Review Process, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, and more.
Department of Defense (DoD)
DoD’s research and engineering interests are focused on contributions that are critical to the nation’s defense with respect to novel or extended capabilities of military systems, rapid technology innovation, and healthcare of warfighters and veterans. To various degrees, the agencies fund basic research, applied research, and advanced technology development. The Basic Research Directorate has identified six current Emerging Scientific Research Areas: Synthetic Biology, Quantum Information Science, Cognitive Neuroscience, Understanding Human and Social Behavior, Novel Engineered Materials, and Nanoscience. An ecosystem of technical groups known as Communities of Interest cover 17 technical areas that integrate efforts throughout the DoD science and technology enterprise. The primary offices/programs that fund university research are listed below.
- Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)
AFOSR invests in basic research efforts organized into four scientific divisions, each with 6-10 sub-divisions: Engineering and Complex Systems; Information and Networks; Physical Sciences; and Chemistry and Biological Sciences. Funding opportunities, strategic plans, and presentations from past meetings and reviews can be accessed here.
- Army Research Office (ARO)
The ARO extramural basic research program is focused on steering and oversight of systematic studies to increase fundamental knowledge and understanding in the Physical Sciences, Information Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering Sciences. The ARO research program consists principally of extramural academic research efforts consisting of single investigator efforts, university-affiliated research centers, and specially tailored outreach programs. Programs are formulated in consultation with the other Army Research Laboratory Directorates.
- Basic Research Office (BRO)
The Basic Research Office (BRO) is the Department-wide strategic thread in ensuring future capability, and makes investments in areas where the Services may not be able to. BRO works with academia, industry, and government partners to foster collaborations, shape priorities, and forge pathways in scientific investment areas that aim to establish new and strengthened alliances with international allies, insertion of new innovations into programs of record, and long-term scientific and technological superiority.
- Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP)
The CDMRP funds novel approaches to biomedical research in response to the expressed needs of the American public, the military, and Congress. The funds and topics are authorized yearly so program areas of interest may change more rapidly than those within other agencies. The Army Medical Research and Materiel Command manages the CDMRP.
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
DARPA seeks multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies through applied research. DARPA is divided into six technical offices that each release an annual BAA, fund “seedling” efforts for novel ideas, and solicit proposals focused on a particular topic. The agency often hosts Proposer’s Day workshops/webinars to provide information and guidance to potential applicants. The workshop presentation slides, FAQs, and other relevant information are posted on their opportunities webpage.
- Office of Naval Research (ONR)
The ONR Office of Research portfolio makes broad investments in basic and applied research that will increase fundamental knowledge, seeking a balance between risk, opportunity, and potential naval impact. Key research initiatives include: Basic Research Challenge, University Research Initiative, and Young Investigator Program. ONR hosts a biennial Science and Technology Expo for attendees to interact with senior leadership and program managers.
Funding opportunities are most commonly solicited through a broad area announcement (BAA) from each agency, which list topic areas of interest for their programs and the names of program officers who manage the research funding under each topic. BAA proposals are accepted at any time, but it is best to contact selected program officer(s) and submit a white paper to gauge interest in your proposed research before submitting a full proposal. Proposals are also routinely solicited for particular focused research topics or for larger multi-disciplinary opportunities. Unlike NIH and NSF, the peer review process varies widely between agencies so it is advantageous to build relationships with program officers or initiate collaborations with researchers at agency laboratories.
Department of Energy (DoE)
The majority of basic science funded by the DoE is through the Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and the steward of 10 of the 17 DoE laboratories. The office manages a research portfolio through six core programs: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics. In addition, they manage and support the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists program, the DoE Small Business programs, and the Office of Project Assessment.
Funding opportunities are listed on grants.gov and the Office of Science website. The proposal merit review process is managed by the Program Manager who selects peer reviewers to evaluate the proposals according to the following criteria (which are listed in descending order of importance): (1) Scientific and/or technical merit or the educational benefits of the project; (2) Appropriateness of the proposed method or approach; (3) Competency of applicant’s personnel and adequacy of proposed resources; (4) Reasonableness and appropriateness of the proposed budget; and (5) Other appropriate factors established in a specific solicitation. The Office of Science makes extensive use of peer review and federal advisory committees to develop general directions for research investments, to identify priorities, and to determine the best scientific proposals to support.
Department of Education (DoEd)
While DoEd is not primarily a research agency, their budget provides discretionary funding for research to improve education methods and outcomes at all levels. The Office of Postsecondary Education within DoEd is charged with defining higher education policy and administering grant programs intended for institutes of higher education. These include grants for institutions, special programs, groups, and individual PI research.
Funding opportunities are solicited by announcements published in the Federal Register. Each application is reviewed and scored by three peer reviewers, which are typically averaged to determine the summary score. Opportunities to earn additional points for other considerations, such as absolute or competitive priorities, are sometimes available and are not part of the standard evaluation criteria. The applications are then ranked and analyzed by program staff to determine which applicants will be funded.
Federal Humanities Funding
The federal agencies that provide humanities and arts funding are listed below. In addition, the Important Links section provides information about not-for-profits that work to support policy and promote the importance of maintaining federal funding for humanities and arts. These resources also provide potential funding sources from local government and private foundations.
- Institute of Museum & Library Services
- National Endowment for the Arts
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- National Historical Publications & Records Commission
Funding opportunities are listed on grants.gov and the agency websites. Each agency provides a summary of their proposal review process on their website. The typical process is that proposals are evaluated by a panel of knowledgeable persons outside the agency, followed by review of the evaluations by the governing Council, and final funding decisions determined by the executive Chair of the agency.