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Sometimes here on Academia I read messages referring to American National Science Foundation (NSF), "the USA agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering" (page on Wikipedia).

In this question and this question we discussed about NSF postdoctoral funding possibilities. Since I am in the European Union, I don't know very much about NSF.

  • How does NSF funding system work?
  • How does NSF postdoctoral funding program work? Does it fund only American citizens or anyone that wants to work as a researcher in the US?

Many thanks!

  • 1
    Could you be more specific about what you mean by "work"? Are you asking about the mechanics of submitting a proposal, how proposals are selected for funding, how the agency itself is funded, or something else? (Or all of the above?) – JeffE Jun 14 '12 at 10:50
  • @JeffE All the system procedure for somebody that wants to get funded, for example for a PostDoctoral fellowship (or for other kind of programs). Which are all the steps from zero to having a NSF fellowship. – DavideChicco.it Jun 14 '12 at 12:30
  • I think your first bulleted question is subsumed by the second one, unless you actually want to know about research grant funding for PIs. – Suresh Jun 14 '12 at 18:23
  • @Suresh Actually the bullets were not inserted by me... ;-) – DavideChicco.it Jun 15 '12 at 8:56
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I'm most familiar with the NSF mathematical sciences research postdoctoral fellowship, which I was lucky enough to get 15 years ago. The application process is described in detail in NSF's formal solicitation, but here's an executive summary:

  • Unlike most other NSF funding, this program is limited to US citizens and permanent residents. (NSF's regular research grants formally fund the institution, not the PI, so non-American PIs can win grants; on the other hand, NSF's graduate research fellowship has a similar citizenship requirement.) There was a parallel program for international postdocs for several years, but it seems to have been retired.

  • Applicants must be within two years of their PhD and must have no previous US federal grant funding. In practice, this means each applicant can apply at most three times: once just before graduating and twice after. Applicants do not need an academic affiliation when they apply. (Again, the fellowship funds the applicant, not the institution.)

  • The application itself requires a bunch of NSF boilerplate, but the main content is an abbreviated (3-5 page) research proposal, a one-page project summary, and four recommendation letters (submitted separately by their authors). As usual for NSF, the proposal absolutely must contain a paragraph explicitly labeled Intellectual Merit and another paragraph explicitly labeled Broader Impact.

  • Applicants also need an agreement from a sponsoring scientist/mentor/advisor. The sponsor separately submits a statement describing their proposed mentorship role, research opportunities available in the hosting department, and promised infrastructure (office, computer support, libraries, specialized equipment, etc.). The sponsor cannot also write a recommendation letter.

  • All applications are submitted electronically through NSF's FastLane web site. Considering how much FastLane has to handle (basically everything NSF does), it works amazingly well.

  • The applications are reviewed by a panel of mathematical scientists (or more likely by multiple panels, given the number of applications). Panelists are invited by the program director, but in my experience, NSF program directors are happy to hear from volunteers!

  • Each panel recommends and ranks a subset of the applications they review. Standard NSF practice is to fund all applications strongly recommended by the panel, and some applications with weaker recommendations, depending on available funds and other criteria. (NSF is deliberately vague about these other criteria, but gender, ethnic, and geographic diversity are likely guesses.)

  • Applications for fellowships to begin in Fall 2013 are due October 19, 2012. Yes, this is really early. Winners are usually notified in February and announced on the NSF web site soon thereafter. All applicants receive a summary of their panel reviews.

  • The total award amount is $150,000, distributed over a two-year period. Most of that is salary, but about $30,000 is set aside for stuff like equipment, travel, and benefits from the host institution. Frustratingly, fellows are neither employees of the hosting institution, employees of NSF, nor formally self-employed; the US Treasury Department simply injects $5000 into your bank account every month. So good luck with taxes!

  • Fellows need to submit progress reports once per year and a final report when the fellowship ends.

  • 3
    One thing that does not appear to apply for this Fellowship, but applies for many I've seen: The applicant needs to not be in a field that has heavy coverage by NIH grants - so no PhD/MD types at Medical Schools, or those of us in Schools of Public Health. – Fomite Jun 14 '12 at 21:33
  • @EpiGrad Yup, I read it on the Wikipedia page: "[...] in all the non-medical fields [...]" – DavideChicco.it Jun 15 '12 at 8:57
  • @JeffE Many thanks for your answer, very clear. I've visited again the website and read it very carefully: it seems to me that no NSF funding opportunity is available for non Usa citizens. D'you confirm? – DavideChicco.it Jun 18 '12 at 8:46
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    @DavideChicco.it As far as I know, all NSF postdoc fellowships are limited to US citizens and permanent residents. But regular NSF grants don't have that limitation — PIs can have any citizenship as long as they work for a US institution. – JeffE Jun 18 '12 at 11:53
  • Does the Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral NSF fellowship require any reference letters? It seems it doesn't, and just needs an agreement from a sponsoring scientist at an institution. Is this right? – user4437416 Oct 13 '18 at 1:09

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