Tuesday, June 23, 2015


I am writing my NSF CAREER proposal and hope to submit in this cycle. This is my first attempt at CAREER so I am new at few things.

One of the things that I have been thinking is how much budget I should request. The latest solicitation says: "Many programs and Directorates prefer to make more awards by funding CAREER proposals closer to the minimum award size"

This got me thinking if this is true in general or if this is true just for proposals that are on the edge for funding. A quick graph from the nsf webpage for the current active CAREER grants is shown below.

The first level is between 400k to 450k and so on. From what I can see it seems that some directorates do not care what you are requesting (such as IIS and ACI) and others (like CCF) really care about the amount being asked. The smaller the amount the better for these programs.

Large and smaller budgets have the following arguments for and against them.

1) If you request a larger budget and they like your proposal (but do not  have money) they will ask you to cut down your numbers and then give you the grant. This arguments clearly represents requesting larger budgets

2) If you request a budget that is close to minimum there is greater chance of getting funded that you will get into the PO graces if you are on the edge (and the PO likes your proposal). However, in this case you cannot increase the dollar amount that you can request.

I am torn between my desire to get the CAREER grant (and minimize the dollar amount) and my desire to get more monies for my lab.

Which strategy has worked for you?


  1. Contact the program manager for the area where you are planning to submit and they will tell you how much to ask for. Each program is different. The engineering directorate CAREER proposals all need to be very close to $500k now, like +/- $30k. They all used to be at $400k until last year when they increased the amount you could request. In BIO and Physical Sciences, the amounts are closer to $1million. If you are looking at award amounts on the NSF website for funded grants, the numbers are sometimes misleading because they list the amount of funds given to date, not the total grant amount. So occasionally you will see a CAREER grant for $200k, but that means that they only provided funds for year 1 or 2 to the institution, but have not yet released say years 3 through 5.

    1. The minimum is 400k except for Bio directorate. My understanding is that the amount listed on NSF webpages are for the total amount of award and does not necessarily mean how many money have been given. For example I recently got a 3 year grant from NSF and although they have transferred ( or allotted whatever the technical term is) only the amount for the 1st year; the NSF webpage lists the total amount for 3 years

  2. You can look up recent awards by your division and among them the focus specifically on the CAREER grants, see how much they have been recently. Also, as EngProf says, ask your program officer.

    In my experience (I got my CAREER way back when, in 2006, in the ENG directorate) I asked for what I needed, which was probably around $500k (I forget now). Around Christmas 2005, the program manager called me on the phone to cut it to $400k; this is after I was recommended for funding.

    You should budget for what you need but without going outrageously high. As long as your budget is not unreasonable, it will not matter at all for the review. You should most definitely not ask for the bare minimum if you need $50k or $100k more; if you are too modest for the scope, some reviewers will comment on it. So be reasonable but not artificially thrifty.

    However, depending on your division, the fact that you have a recently awarded 3-year grant might make you lower priority for CAREER this year. Just sayin'.

    1. Really ?? I though having a grant was a positive thing for me. As they say more money begets more grants.

    2. I definitely got that advice as a junior faculty, and I know a few others in my college who did -- if you have a brand new NSF grant, apparently you should wait a little before going for CAREER from the same division.

      Definitely ask around your department and colleagues outside who are in your field. These things depend on the culture of the field.

      Good luck!