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How Does NSF Support Interdisciplinary Research?

Outreach participants learn about sediment-coring while on a field trip.

This K-12 outreach program learns about sediment-coring in the Canadian Arctic.

Credit: Doug Levere, SUNY

NSF supports interdisciplinary research through a number of solicited and unsolicited mechanisms (see also the Grant Proposal Guide, Categories of Funding Opportunities, http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf11001/gpg_1.jsp#IC):

  • Solicited Interdisciplinary Programs. Numerous NSF programs are designed explicitly to be interdisciplinary, often involving several NSF directorates. Program Solicitations are developed for these programs and posted on the NSF website. Recent examples include: Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation; Water Sustainability and Climate; Collaboration in Mathematical Geosciences; Dynamics of Coupled Natural Human Systems; Macrosystems Biology; Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation 2010; and Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction using Earth System Models.

  • Areas of National Importance. NSF develops activity portfolios focusing on areas of national interest, often in collaboration with other federal agencies. Because the challenges that we face as a society are often complex and require an integrative, collaborative approach, these areas are often interdisciplinary. Examples include Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability; Networking and Information Technology Research and Development; and the National Nanotechnology Initiative. 

  • Center Competitions. Many of the Centers funded by NSF bring together interdisciplinary research teams. Some examples include Materials Research and Engineering; Science of Learning Centers; and Science and Technology Centers.

  • Unsolicited Interdisciplinary Proposals. NSF also invites interdisciplinary proposals that are not targeted by a Program Solicitation. Such a proposal may be suitable for submission to and review by a single unsolicited core program, may be more appropriate for co-review by more than one program, or may extend beyond the scope of any current program (in which case it must be appropriate for NSF support; see the Grant Proposal Guide, NSF Programs and Funding Opportunities, http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf11001/gpg_1.jsp#IB). Core programs, even if managed within a single NSF division and with scope within a discipline, often handle interdisciplinary proposals by co-reviewing, and possibly co-funding, with other appropriate programs. Thus, an interdisciplinary idea could be appropriate for submission to a core program, whether implicitly or explicitly stated in the corresponding Program Description. Because we recognize that there might not be an obvious natural “home” for every interdisciplinary proposal, a primary purpose of this site is to assist investigators in submitting an interdisciplinary proposal when there is not an appropriate existing NSF program.

  • Education and Training. NSF promotes interdisciplinary research through programs that support development of the next generation of researchers. The support from these programs is in addition to the support for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers to conduct research on NSF-funded grants. Examples of these programs include: Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program; Research Experiences for Undergraduates; and Interdisciplinary Training for Undergraduates in Biological and Mathematical Sciences.

  • Workshops, Conferences, and Symposiums. NSF sponsors numerous workshops and other forums that are designed to promote interdisciplinary perspectives and research.
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