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SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants

Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

Shobhana Chelliah, Program Director
Joan Maling, Program Director
Anna Kerttula, Program Director
Tatiana (Tanya) Korelsky, Program Director

DEL Dissertation Deadline Date: September 15

Indirect Costs Notice: Please note an important change to the treatment of indirect costs that was incorporated into the SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants (SBE DDRIG) program solicitation (NSF 11-547). NSF's long-standing policy regarding the reimbursement of administrative costs is full reimbursement of indirect costs, based on the awardee's current Federally negotiated indirect cost rate agreement. To ensure consistency with Foundation and Federal-wide policies, proposals submitted in response to this program solicitation are subject to the awardee's current Federally negotiated indirect cost rate.


Proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants submitted to the Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program must comply with or include information about the following bulleted items:

  • The deadline date is September 15.  We anticipate that the panel will meet in late November or early December of each year, and PIs/ Co-PIs will be notified within a few months thereafter.
  • Project Duration: In general, grants are awarded for up to 24 months.
  • Project Budget: Maximum $12,000 in direct costs (plus added indirect costs). (See budget guidelines)
  • Select the SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants (SBE DDRIG) solicitation under "Program Announcement/Solicitation Number Selection" on the Cover Page.
  • Proposal Title should begin with "Doctoral Dissertation Research:”
  • Project Description must not exceed 10 pages (not 15 as specified in the GPG).
  • While some programs require a statement of the student's current academic status and degree progress, currently the Documenting Endangered Languages program does not.
  • The “Results from Prior NSF Support” section is NOT required.
  • The Principal Investigator should be the student's dissertation advisor, and the student should be listed as the Co-Principal Investigator.
  • All proposals must be submitted electronically via Fastlane or Grants.gov. Since font size may change when printed out, applicants are strongly advised to print out their proposal before formally submitting it through FastLane to verify fonts and margins.

* Note: Students doing international research, having a formal affiliation with a foreign research institution, may be eligible for additional funding. Please contact the appropriate program in NSF's Office of International Science & Engineering.

If you have additional questions, then please contact one of the Program Directors listed above.

Dissertation Proposal Advice to Students

An outstanding dissertation proposal will clearly specify the leading research questions and hypotheses, the data relevant to answering those research questions, the theoretical framework being used and the methods of analysis. It will provide a brief literature review and a clear work plan. It will also address the NSF review criterion of broader impacts.

Follow the proposal preparation guidelines in the SBE DDRIG solicitation. Please note that the DEL Program allows up to 10 pages for the project description, single-spaced, otherwise follow the GPG for other general proposal preparation guidelines. As with any proposal, the summary must address in separate paragraphs the "intellectual merit" and the "broader impacts," as per the GPG. The project title should begin with the words: "Doctoral Dissertation Research:”. Proposals that violate these regulations may be returned without review.

Biographical Sketches should be submitted for both the student and the dissertation advisor and should conform to the GPG specifications. Do not submit transcripts or letters of reference.

Do not attach any appendices unless you have received permission from the NSF program director. Proposals without explicit permission for appendices may be returned without review. Remember that reviewers are not obligated to read appendices, so critically important information should be in the body of the proposal. Letters testifying to local institutional sponsorship need not be appended but definitely should be cited in the proposal.

General Advice & Guidelines:

All researchers should take care to explain very clearly why the research is needed; what it will contribute to the scientific understanding of human society, language and/or culture; and how it will lead to the development of theory extending beyond the particular case(s) to be investigated. They should be clear about the question(s) that the research is addressing; how the research design will address those questions; what information or data will be collected, how, and why; and how the information or data will be analyzed to address the research questions. Finally, researchers should also explain why they are able to conduct the research successfully. A good research proposal is interesting, clear, explicit, tightly integrated, and confidence inspiring.

On the most general level, projects that advance our theoretical understanding are more scientifically meritorious than descriptive projects which add a case study of some situation. Outstanding proposals specify how the knowledge to be created advances our theoretical understanding of the study situation, so that people interested in similar situations in different contexts will learn from the project's outcome. The key is to be explicit in showing how the general theory explains the local situation, and in showing how the new knowledge from the local situation will advance the theory.

Use a clear and concise writing style. Reviewers will include scientists from a variety of specialty areas in linguistics, anthropology, computer science, cognitive sciences, and related fields. It is possible that no specialist from your particular area of research will be on the panel. Defining key terms and keeping your proposal free of jargon will ensure that all reviewers will be able to understand your proposal and evaluate it fairly.

One of the areas in which the proposal will be evaluated is "Research Competence of the Student." You can provide information to reviewers in the body of the proposal as well as in your biographical sketch. Be sure to include relevant language skills and proficiency, training or experience with the data collection or analysis techniques proposed, and any other information which can help reviewers evaluate how well prepared you are to conduct the research.

At the end of the proposal, include only references cited (in alphabetical order by author’s last name) rather than a complete or general bibliography for your problem area.

The following are suggested page limits for the Project Description. These are not specific rules, but are offered as more of a general framework to help students as they begin to structure their proposal:

  • Statement of the research problem, specific aims, expectations, propositions or hypotheses 1 p
  • Review of the literature and significance 2 p
  • Preliminary studies by the student, if any 1 p
  • Research Plan, 5 p, Including:
    • Research Design
    • Research Site or source of data (References and citations are as important in your methods as in your theory section)
    • Data analysis plans
  • Research Schedule 1 page


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