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I submitted an NSF research grant proposal (Mathematics) last year. The status for my proposal shows "pending" on the website.

I was talking to a professor recently, who told me that she was expecting to see my proposal, but didn't see it at all. She said that all the people who were being considered had their names up on the screen, and my name was not there.

How could this be possible? Is there a preliminary "weeding out" process, where my proposal could have been chucked even without being considered?

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    I would say that the professor you have talked to violated NSF confidentiality rules by discussing this matter with you. Apr 8 at 18:53
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    It is possible that your proposal was eliminated by a decision by an NSF program director, or that it was routed to a different program (with some research areas it is a real issue, just think about Topological Data Analysis). Apr 8 at 19:37
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    Someone who was conflicted would have been asked to leave the room before your proposal was discussed. In some cases proposals will be dropped from consideration as non competitive before the panel starts its discussion. As a panelist I’ve been asked to vote to approve those decisions to drop from consideration before we began discussing other proposals. Apr 8 at 20:23
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    In the question you write: "She said that all the people who were being considered had their names up on the screen, and my name was not there." In the comments you write: "she didn't say anything directly. She merely said "why did you not apply?" These cannot both be true. Please clarify. Apr 9 at 16:51
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    Even if you apply in the same division at NSF, there are multiple subpanels in each division to handle different proposals. It could be that she simply was in a panel that did not have your grant allocated to it, despite being in the same division.
    – T K
    Apr 9 at 17:11

5 Answers 5

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You really can't know, and it's a waste of your mental energy to wonder too much about it.

Most programs run multiple panels if there are too many proposals. Some proposals fit poorly into the program they were submitted to and are routed to other programs. Some proposals are so obviously not fundable that the program managers after review decide that they do not need to be discussed by the panel. There are a million other possibilities.

Since you can not possibly know or find out what the situation is until you get the proposal back from NSF with a decision, it is not worth worrying about. Spend your time being productive on other stuff!

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  • I disagree! If you're planning to resubmit this--or submit anything else--you should really figure out if something about your proposal caused it to be administratively withdrawn (missing paperwork? broke one of the rules?) or routed somewhere unexpected.
    – Matt
    Apr 10 at 19:45
  • @Matt Of course. But you will find out eventually when the proposal comes back from the funding agency with reviews (or without). At that point you can also inquire for more information, but at this point (where all you have is hearsay) there is nothing to find out. Apr 11 at 0:41
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You don't say what kind of grant. If it's a GRFP, there are hundreds of reviewers, and the odds of any given reviewer seeing any given grant are long. Further, if your prof is from your school, she would never see it due to conflict.

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  • It was a research grant proposal (I have edited the question to reflect this). The impression I got was that the whole committee would at least see the names of the applicants, even if she wasn't given my grant to review. Is this not accurate? Apr 8 at 18:49
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    I haven't done non-GRFP reviews for NSF, so I don't know. I do know NIH tries to triage about 50% of grants before discussion, but study section participants are given an opportunity to "rescue" triage grants. Apr 8 at 19:01
  • @RyanHendricks, I am not a PI so have no perspective on the review side. However, as an administrator, I can tell you in terms of conflict of interest, the entire point of the COA document is to prevent the situation you are in. If you or your PI disclosed incorrectly about a relationship, that is something they would take seriously. Please check your COA file to make sure you did that correctly. Apr 11 at 4:32
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Some grants go for mail-in reviews before the panel. A poor mail-in review likely means that the proposal doesn't make it to the panel. I don't know which grant you applied for and I'm in DoE grant world not NSF so take this with a grain of salt.

Depending on your position, you should try to meet your program manager to (a) get to know them and (b) learn how the process works. Also talk to anyone in research administration at your institution.

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For most NSF programs, especially recurring annual programs, there are usually

  1. Way too many submissions for everyone's names to fit on a single screen, and
  2. Many panels with grouped expertise

Most likely whoever you talked to saw a list of all proposals for whatever panel they were on (typically around 10 proposals per panel), and your proposal was simply in another panel, which is not something to stress over. Even if they were shown a list of all applicants to the program (which is highly unlikely because that would at least brush against conflict of interest issues, so I doubt an NSF program manager would do that) the whole list wouldn't fit legibly on one screen (even for smaller programs).

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Research administrator here, so my perspective is from the university and not from a researcher. There is a way to check the status by whoever is PI or Co-PI. If you are Senior Personnel, but not a Co-PI, then it will not show up in research.gov for you at all. It's as though it's not your proposal.

As you can see in the screenshot of research.gov below, it takes a lot of time for them to review most standard proposals. I would never assume an award will happen within six months unless it's specifically an expedited call that is focused on short turn-around, which they normally say in the call. I actually assume either a year for larger centers like MRSEC, AI Institutes, Expeditions, etc. or for general calls, 6 months is the minimum, with NSF most likely to dump their budget in the summer before the end of the FY. In the screenshot below, there is a pending proposal since December. I am not going to ask the PI the status of the proposal until October. I should specifically note that proposals 1 and 3 are to the exact same solicitation, and yet have different status dates.

If your proposal was RWR (Returned Without Review), in my experience, NSF notifies you of that. This was much more common with FastLane and is less likely with Research.gov which has automated checks for many things. You should check your solicitation for RWR criteria. E.g., if you were required to include an evaluation plan, and didn't, they are allowed to RWR. This type of checking prior to submission is the job of your sponsored programs/research administration team. Technically, NSF reserves the right to RWR anything in the checklist in the PAPPG, but that doesn't mean they do it. My institution is an R1 school that has been called out for having et al in the references as a reason for return without review. I used to work at a smaller university, and had never heard of such a thing. But if you check the PAPPG, it is in fact a requirement to list full author names, and they do say anything in the checklist that is not fulfilled is subject to RWR.

Research.gov screenshot

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