I am considering applying for a research prize that is apparently given out as one award per year, up to a certain amount of money. Applications are accepted all-year-round (there is no deadline).

I don't really understand this model of research funding: if a funding body gives one such award per year, then surely it would want all candidate applications to be submitted by a certain day of the year (each year), so that they all be compared and the award given to the best one that was submitted within the chosen time frame (in that year).

If they receive an application in January, say, and decide to give it the award, then what do do they do if an even better application is submitted in June of the same year? They can't fund it even assuming their maximum amount wasn't all used up by the earlier application, because they claim to only give one award per year. And they can't reject it on grounds that they already funded a project that year, since there is no deadline that the authors of the second application exceeded.

Unfortunately in this case I am not able to enquire to the funding body itself. Also, my question is more general as it also concerns other research awards that use the same call/application model.

  • 1
    1) It is probably impossible to really have a 'better' application once you are in the realm of fundable applications for an award going to a single target. Just a collection of applications that are good enough to be funded, and a roughly arbitrary judgment call to pick one. 2) Will the answer affect whether or not you apply?
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 13, 2019 at 17:49
  • Following @BryanKrause: of course, if you don't apply, you won't get it.
    – Buffy
    Feb 13, 2019 at 18:07
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    If the agency won't tell you then certainly no one here can offer much insight. They have the money, so they make the rules.
    – Buffy
    Feb 13, 2019 at 18:09
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    Perhaps they have the flexibility, but not the obligation, to make more than one award a year. Or, if they meet in January, the review the previous year's applications, with anything submitted after that considered the next January.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 13, 2019 at 18:23
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    @z8081 maybe you could ask them the question indirectly: how long does it usually take to get an answer? Is there a specific time in the year where the committee meet, and if yes until when can you apply to have your application considered? These are legitimate questions for a potential applicant, and they would probably help you understand their process.
    – Erwan
    Feb 14, 2019 at 13:16

2 Answers 2


Very often foundations and private organizations have rules that are difficult to understand. You should always go to them with your questions. They will not be offended or tie the question to your application. You are likely not the only one with these questions. Application guides, FAQs, and even webinars are very common for foundations and should always be sought out before contacting a sponsor.

Even federal programs have rolling deadlines. Typically this is tied to how their budgets function. If they receive an incredible proposal, they want to fund it as early as possible into their budget period in order to make sure they expend the funds. If they wait too long into their budget year and no proposal feels worth funding, they may not be able to use the money. If the foundation receives this budget from another entity, they may have to send the money back to the main institution--it doesn't roll over to the next budget period.

You can ask them general questions, such as how many proposals they typically receive in a calendar year and if they convene review panels on a regular basis or as needed. My hunch is that they are prioritizing funding any proposal that scores high enough, not necessarily the best project within a given year (perhaps you should ask if "year" = calendar year or if they have a different fiscal year). In the event that they get multiple entries though, they would surely fund the best project. Focus your questions such that you can learn about the intent of the program. Rather than asking bluntly "why are you doing it this way", the questions should focus on how the competition for this award is framed, because that is what you are trying to consider--what your competition looks like and who the reviewers are.

Depending on the foundation, scientists may not even be the primary reviewers of the work--board members may make the first call based on what they are interested in. Some foundations do not restrict topics, and so a proposal on robotics may be up against a proposal on climate change. If the board is more interested in climate change, they may opt for this proposal and ask for a scientific review to ensure the project is sound. These types of structures are more common when the proposal/research summary is very short (1-2 pages). Some faculty refer to them as "beauty prizes" because the academic rigor is not as intense, and sometimes the goal of the program is just to give money to science and attach the foundation to prominent scientists.


This is a yearly award. I would guess that they keep all the stronger applications (even the ones they decided not to fund) for several years and reconsider them each year.

They are thus using the philosophy (quoting from Piet Hein)

You'll always be late for the previous train, and always in time for the next.

If you want to apply in time for the next award, you will have to somehow figure out when the cut-off is; the best way (possibly the only way) to do this is to have a friend on the committee deciding the awards.

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