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SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants

Division of Social and Economic Sciences

Pat White
, Program Director
Saylor Breckenridge, Program Director

Sociology Dissertation Due Dates: February 15th and October 15th

Change in Fall 2013 Target Date: The Fall 2013 target date for submission to the Sociology Program's Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant competition has been extended to November 12, 2013. Additional information can be found on the Resumption of Operations at the National Science Foundation web site.

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 Sociology Program must comply with and have the following information:

  • Due Dates - February 15 and October 15: Projects should be received in the Sociology Program by these dates. Requested start date for projects recommended for support may begin July 1 (for February 15 submissions) and on March 1 (for October 15 submissions).
  • Project Duration: 12 months
  • Project Budget: Dissertation grants are for $12,000 or less (including indirect costs). Funds are for expenses associated with conducting the dissertation research (e.g., data collection, field work, payment to subjects, survey expenses, software, microfilm, data transcription, file creation and data merging, courses on specialized skills such as those offered at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), travel, and expenses incurred at sites away from the student’s home institution). The grant does not support stipend, salary and tuition reimbursement.
  • Proposal Title should begin with, "Doctoral Dissertation Research:...”
  • P.I.: The dissertation advisor should be listed as the Principal Investigator. The dissertation student is being listed as the Co-Principal Investigator.
  • Project Summary: Students must clearly address, in separate, labeled, sections within the one-page limitation, both of the NSF merit review criteria in the Project Summary. The intellectual merit portion should include, minimally, background information on the research (theory, prior research), research hypotheses and/or questions, and a description of methods and expected findings. The broader impacts portion might address such questions as: How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training or learning? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society? (see the Grant Proposal Guide for more detail).
  • Project Description must not exceed 10 single pages. Do not send transcripts and letters of recommendation but include any questionnaire or survey guide for original data collection, up to five pages. Include after the 10 page project description.
  • Font and Spacing: Proposals must have 2.5 cm margins at the top, bottom and on each side. The type size must be clear and readily legible, and conform to the following three requirements: 1) the height of the letters must not be smaller than 10 point; 2) type density must be no more than 15 characters per 2.5 cm; (for proportional spacing, the average for any representative section of text must not exceed 15 characters per 2.5 cm); and, 3) no more than 6 lines must be within a vertical space of 2.5 cm. The type size used throughout the proposal must conform to all three requirements. While line spacing (single-spaced, double-spaced, etc.) is at the discretion of the student, established page limits must be followed. The guidelines specified above establish the minimum type size requirements, PIs, however, are advised that readability is of paramount importance and should take precedence in selection of an appropriate font for use in the proposal.
  • IRB: For proposals involving human subjects, please be sure to include the Human Subjects Certification form from the submitting institution. If the certification is pending, please include information to that effect on the cover sheet. The institutional form certifying that the project has been approved should be scanned and incorporated in a file in the supplementary documents section of the proposal. PLEASE DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED OF FUNDING TO START THE APPROVAL PROCESS.
  • Proposals that violate these regulations in an attempt to squeeze in more information antagonize reviewers and may be returned without consideration.
  • All proposals must be submitted electronically via Fastlane or Grants.gov.
  • Co-Review: The Sociology Program does not co-review dissertation proposals with other programs. Also, only one dissertation proposal may be under consideration at NSF at any given time.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact the Program Directors.

Dissertation Advice to Students

The Sociology Program dissertation improvement grants are awarded to support high quality doctoral dissertation research in sociology. The suitability of a research idea is based on the extent to which the research contributes to sociological theory and knowledge, not on specific topics. Grants are for direct research costs associated with either original data collection or the analysis of existing datasets. Direct research costs may include such things as dataset acquisition, additional statistical or methodological training through ICPSR (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research) meeting with scholars associated with the original data set, and fieldwork away from the student's home campus. More information about the nature of dissertation grants, applicant eligibility, and proposal and grant processing is given in the solicitation, SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants.

As a general rule, proposals that review well are those that clearly state a central research question, make an argument that engages and/or debates relevant literatures, specifies the data the student will gather and the analytic procedures the student will apply to those data. Additionally, strong proposals state what the researcher expects to find or show through the research. Projects designed primarily to "expand," "explore," or "develop" our understanding of a phenomenon tend to be too preliminary for NSF support. Likewise, the Sociology Program does not fund evaluation projects or those with a primarily applied focus. NSF-funded sociology proposals tend to be theoretically framed and make clear contributions to sociological theory, and the strongest proposals have a research design that permits falsifiability so that the PI can be wrong as well as right.

When preparing the proposal, write clearly and concisely. Reviewers will include sociologists from a variety of specialty areas. 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.

The proposal should not include any appendix unless the student PI has received permission from the NSF program director. Students are, however, allowed to include copies of their survey instruments and interview guides if they are completing original data collection. Please limit these materials to five pages and insert at the end of the project description. Proposals without explicit permission for appendices may be held up or 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.

Students should use their judgment to determine how much space to allot to various portions of the discussion of the research. For example, students analyzing existing datasets will probably need to devote more space to the theoretical discussion and engagement with extant literature. In contrast, those designing their own study, whether quantitative or qualitative, will need to apportion more of their space to explication of the measurement instrument, fieldwork, or data-gathering efforts. Likewise, different analytic techniques require more or less discussion. Regardless of how much space the student devotes to discussion of theory and method, it is crucial that these be tightly connected.

Descriptions of data, regardless of type, should address how the specific data are appropriate to the theoretically motivated question(s) asked. Issues such as sampling, generalizability, reliability and validity are crucial components of this discussion regardless of data type (quantitative or qualitative). Thus, proposals should specify how the student will use the data to generalize to a relevant population or theory. In addition to consideration of the quality, type and appropriateness of data, students should be similarly informative about their plan for data analysis.

Reviewers recognize that plans change in the process of research; nonetheless, they will look for a clear description of how the student will use the data to answer the research questions and test the hypotheses. Listing software programs or methods (participant observation) does not provide sufficient information to reviewers nor demonstrate that the student has seriously considered all phases of the research process in designing the proposal. Reviewers should be able to look back to the specific research aims and understand the purpose of the data collection and analytic strategy.

In sum, there are no pre-determined page lengths for sections of the project description; what is important is that reviewers know what the student PI intends to do, why she or he is doing it, exactly how the student will conduct the research and analyze the data regardless of its form.

Finally, remember that reviewers understand that there are no perfect strategies for conducting research. Thus, they look for evidence that the student is knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of the approach selected. In a competitive review process where NSF can only fund a subset of excellent proposals, students should include a discussion of how the new knowledge their particular study produces will yield generalizations that advance sociological knowledge.

As a proposal preparation tool, consider the following checklist:

  1. What is the research question?
  2. Have you entered into a dialogue with the literature?
  3. What is the project’s theoretical contribution?
  4. What do you expect to find?
  5. How will you know if you are wrong? (falsifiablity).
  6. What, where and when will you conduct your research?
  7. What kinds of evidence (data) will you gather?
  8. How will you analyze the data?
  9. Has your proposal been read (multiple times) by others before submitting to NSF?
  10. Have you included the required sections of the project:
    Scientific merit?
    Broader impacts?
  11. Have you applied for or obtained human subjects (IRB) approval?

* 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 and Engineering OISE.


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