Frequently Asked Questions
There is a large body of scholarly literature about what constitutes a "discipline" and the meaning of interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research. For the purposes of this site, we are using the National Academies' definition:
Interdisciplinary research is a mode of research by teams or individuals that integrates information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines or bodies of specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice.*
No. The extent to which a proposed activity explores potentially transformative concepts is just one of the considerations included in the Intellectual Merit Review criterion (see the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide; https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf09_1/gpg_3.jsp#IOIA).
If the proposal is reviewed through an existing NSF program, this depends on the criteria of that program. Some programs are specifically restricted to interdisciplinary research topics; in those programs, a great deal of weight is given to "interdisciplinary" aspects. Some other NSF programs, while not so restricted, explicitly encourage interdisciplinary research and consider it as a positive factor. In programs that do not distinguish interdisciplinary research as a priority, positive review of the proposal will be based on the combined assessment of the project according to the NSF merit review criteria as per the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG), and any other special criteria that may be part of the specific Program Solicitation or Program Description. In such programs, interdisciplinary proposals that advance the program goals are encouraged and funded, and any ‘weight' is based on the anticipated potential of the project, not whether it is interdisciplinary or single-disciplinary in nature. If the proposal is not reviewed through an existing program, it will be reviewed using only the two NSF Merit Review Criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts (that is, there are no additional program-specific criteria to apply).
Collaborations of interdisciplinary teams are encouraged throughout many NSF solicitations. For example, facility and center programs may call for interdisciplinary efforts. In programs which do not have an explicit call for interdisciplinary research, funds are not set aside for these proposals. However, a Division, Office or Directorate may elect to designate funds to help support projects that have particularly noteworthy characteristics or potential, which possibly could result from an interdisciplinary approach.
Contact any Program Officer who might have expertise in or near the area of the proposed research. If the first contact is not the most appropriate, they should be able to direct you to a more relevant person. A Program Officer can also decide to discuss the proposed research with other Program Directors. You can contact one of the Points of Contact identified on this site, or you can make initial contact with NSF through this site (email: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: (703) 292-4840). See "Whom Does One Contact" for more information.
Program Officers play a critical role in providing guidance to the community on the various funding opportunities at the Foundation. The PI always retains the option to submit a proposal, which would then be subject to merit review (https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf09_1/nsf091.pdf). You can contact one of the Points of Contact identified on this site, or you can make initial contact with NSF through this site (email: email@example.com, telephone: (703) 292-4840). These individuals have the responsibility to assure that a mechanism is found for appropriate review of the proposal. This assumes that the proposal idea is appropriate for consideration by NSF; you may have been discouraged to submit because it is outside the scope of NSF Programs and Funding Opportunities as described in the Grant Proposal Guide (https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf10_1/gpg_1.jsp#IB).
No. Promoting and funding interdisciplinary research is a high priority for the Foundation, and in turn Program Officers are expected to seek appropriate panelists and ad hoc reviewers to ensure that the full range of interdisciplinary research is covered by the proper selection of reviewers. NSF Program Officers have the responsibility and authority to recommend awards for proposals that were not among the most highly ranked by the review panels to meet the NSF strategy to develop and maintain a balanced portfolio of investments.
No. However, it is important to remember that being interdisciplinary does not automatically make a proposal more worthy. Unfortunately, NSF must decline a high percentage of meritorious proposals for a variety of reasons.
As with any prior NSF award, reviewers are asked to comment on the quality of the prior work. Note that the proposal may contain up to five pages to describe those results.
No. As indicated in the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf09_1/nsf091.pdf), proposers are required to select the applicable program announcement, solicitation or program description. In some instances, investigators can also select more than one of NSF's programs (or Organization Units) that they feel are appropriate to co-review their interdisciplinary research project. Even if submitted to one program, upon receipt, NSF Program Officers may elect to have the proposal reviewed by more than one program.
Preliminary analyses of success rates for proposals that have been assessed by more than one panel indicate that proposals that are co-reviewed by two or more programs actually have, in most cases, a slightly higher chance of being recommended for funding than do proposals reviewed in a single program.
No. The proposal must conform to the Grant Proposal Guide, or to the limitations specified in the Program Solicitation.
This may lengthen the process somewhat, if one program's submission cycle differs substantially from another's. The Points of Contact identified on this site will be responsible to assure that an appropriate review is carried out, and that consideration for support is based on the review. Within practical programmatic bounds, Program Officers will work together to conduct the review as expeditiously as possible.
*Committee on Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (2004). Facilitating interdisciplinary research. National Academies. Washington: National Academy Press, p.2.