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Writing a Successful ATE Proposal. Linnea Fletcher Ph.D. Co-PI Bio-Link. Directions for Participation. This is an interactive webinar and we want feedback and questions during the presentation

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writing a successful ate proposal

Writing a Successful ATE Proposal

Linnea Fletcher Ph.D.

Co-PI Bio-Link

directions for participation
Directions for Participation

This is an interactive webinar and we want feedback and questions during the presentation

However, to ensure that we successfully navigate through the whole presentation in a timely manner, we will answer questions at Q&A breaks

how to ask questions
How To Ask Questions
  • You can ask for clarification or ask a question by typing in the chat box and I will answer it during the Q and A
  • Or you can raise your hand during the Q and A period, and I will allow you to talk as indicated by a microphone by your name
  • Any questions or clarifications before we start?
webinar outline
Webinar Outline
  • What you need to do before you even start writing
    • Q & A Break
  • Writing the proposal
    • Q & A Break
  • And if you do not get funded, what should you do?
    • Q & A Break
  • Top ten tips for getting the award
    • Q & A Break
  • Top ten ways to not get funding
    • Q & A Finale
  • Contact Information
lets review before writing the proposal
Lets Review: Before Writing the Proposal…..
  • First you need a realistic, worthwhile, and innovative idea or a solution to a problem that you need to fix
  • Read the ATE solicitation to see if it can be funded through that program
  • You need to find out if anyone else has had the same idea
  • Contact successful ATE grant recipients in your area of expertise about your idea
  • Learn about the NSF review process and if possible, volunteer to review
definition of a good idea
Definition of a Good Idea

Applicable to the Solicitation

Make Sure the Idea or Solution Solves an Authentic “Need”

Can the Idea or Solution be Used by Others

The Idea or Solution is Built on What Others Have Done

Check Out What Has Already Been Funded

Check in with Your Peers

Takes It to a New Level

example of a good idea
Example of a Good Idea
  • Starting a Biotechnology Program
  • You Need Equipment, Curriculum etc. BUT
    • Is this Innovative?
    • Worthwhile?
    • Reproducible?
    • Of course, it is not innovative in that many programs already exist.
    • However how you propose to apply new approaches to an old idea is innovative ( based on the needs of industry in your area)
    • Also, you need to think how these new approaches can be disseminated or serve as a model, that is innovative!
how will you know when a new solicitation comes out
How Will You Know When a New Solicitation Comes Out?
  • Sign Up for NSF Alerts (www.nsf.gov)
read the solicitation very carefully
Read the Solicitation Very Carefully
  • NSF Officers carefully write the solicitation and it is reviewed at several levels
  • Check the solicitation every year, changes in it reflect changes in the needs of the ATE community; NSF and/or governmental philosophical changes; changes in funding trends.
  • Thoroughly Investigate the Solicitation!
Contact Successful ATE Grant RecipientsTwo Resources for Contacts are ATE Centers and the NSF ATE award site

Google “ATE Centers” or look-up awards under the program

understand the nsf review process http www nsf gov bfa dias policy meritreview
Understand the NSF Review Process (http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/meritreview/)

The Best Choice for Learning About the Process?:

Volunteer to review!

Call an ATE Program Officer

focusing on the review process
Focusing on the Review Process
  • Reviewers are expected to read ahead of the panel meeting, and enter their reviews on FastLane before the panel meets. There are usually 10 to 13 proposals per panel. They specifically look at the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts of the proposal. Reviewers also consider if funded, will it be transformative!
phase ii the panel review 2 days

Phase II: The Panel Review (2 days)

They also rate the proposal (E, V, G, F, P)

Panel meets and discusses the proposals; reviewers can change their ratings. Panels meet for 1 and ½ days (SHORT TIME FRAME)

Reviewers are expected to write complete sentences or at least complete thoughts and use proper grammar. The best reviews specifically list the strengths and weaknesses of a proposal and do not provide general statements (e.g. this is a good proposal).

Proposals that end up getting funded usually have E’s and V’s, proposals with average less than 3.5 are usually considered non-competitive.

E = 5, V = 4, G = 3, F = 2, P = 1

Program officers (also known as PDs) meet to decide on which proposals are recommended or declined

phase i write the proposal
Phase I: Write the Proposal
  • Cover Sheet
  • Data Sheet: Project codes
  • Project Summary: Description, Intellectual Merit, Broader Impacts (can be returned without review if not included)
  • Table of Contents
  • The Project Description: Pay attention to the number of pages and make sure to refer to supplemental documentation in the description
  • References
  • Biographical Sketches
  • Budget
  • Current and Pending Support
  • Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources
  • Special Information/Supplementary Documentation
what is intellectual merit

What is Intellectual Merit?

Addresses a major challenge

Supported by capable faculty and others

Improved student learning

Rationale and vision clearly articulated

Informed by other projects

Effective evaluation and dissemination

Adequate facilities, resources, and commitment

Institutional and departmental commitment

what are broader impacts

What are Broader Impacts?

Can be integrated into the institution’s academic programs

Contributes to knowledge base and useful to other institutions

Widely used products which can be disseminated through commercial and other channels

Improved content and pedagogy for faculty and/or teachers

Increased participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities

Ensures high quality STEM education

See NSF website for additional thoughts.

phase iii


After panel review and program officer recommendation, the proposal package is reviewed by another program officer and the head of the division.

Then the proposal package goes to the business office for budget review.

The final review is conducted by an officer in the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA).

Only an officer in DGA can make the award.

Bottom line: Proposals need to follow guidelines established by the Division, the Business Office and DGA.

good practices for writing a successful proposal
Good Practices for Writing a Successful Proposal
  • Start Early

Let me say again, START EARLY!!! One year or more before you have to turn it in, is NOT too early to start.

Know your strengths and weaknesses of your writing team and assign activities accordingly.

  • Have someone familiar with NSF, BUT not with your project, read your proposal. Make sure you GIVE them time to carefully read it and provide feedback (NOT the week before it is DUE!).
  • Be Willing to Revise, Revise, and Revise –perfection is not a bad goal to strive for in an NSF grant.
understand the nsf review process http www nsf gov bfa dias policy meritreview1
Understand the NSF Review Process (http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/meritreview/)
and if you do not get funded what should you do
And if you do not get funded, what should you do?
  • Review for the ATE program


  • Resubmit the proposal based on reviewer and program officer feedback.

✔It is common for successful principal investigators to resubmit one or two times before getting an award.

helpful hint number 1 read the program announcement
Helpful Hint Number 1: Read the Program Announcement
  • NSF has no hidden agendas. It’s all there in the program announcement.
  • Talk with a program officer to make sure that your ideas fit in the program. If the program officer tells you that your ideas are too narrow or don’t fit a program, look for other sources.
  • Make sure that your project is worthwhile, realistic, well-planned, and innovative.
helpful hint number 2 work on projects you care deeply about

Helpful Hint Number 2: Work on Projects You Care Deeply About

Let that commitment come through in the proposal.

Make sure reviewers can understand the importance of this work to your institution and to others.

Caveat: But don’t become such a one “song” person that you can’t listen to others.

helpful hint number 3 build on what others have done

Helpful Hint Number 3: Build on What Others Have Done

Like any research project, you must build on what others have done before you and then add to the base of knowledge. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Read the literature, go to workshops, talk with others.

Be current.

Discuss the value added of your project. What are you adding to the knowledge base?

helpful hint number 4 think global act local and global

Helpful Hint Number 4: Think Global, Act Local and Global

Your project must have more than just a local impact. It must impact more than just your students and your institution. How can others use and build on your work?

But, we really do want you to be a “prophet in your own land”. If the project is not good enough for you and your institution to use, why should others?

helpful hint number 5 have measurable goals and objectives

Helpful Hint Number 5: Have Measurable Goals and Objectives

Enhancing student learning, improving undergraduate education, and other similar things are lofty, but not measurable. Make sure that you have measurable goals and objectives. What will be delivered? What is needed to convince others that this works and is worth supporting or emulating?

Tie your goals and objectives to your activities to your evaluation.

helpful hint number 6 think teamwork
Helpful Hint Number 6: Think Teamwork
  • Successful projects are team efforts, although individuals matter too. Your project team should be greater than the sum of the parts.
  • You work in a department. Department efforts are more likely to be successful than 1 person efforts.
  • You must have support of administrators. Keep them involved, make them look good, give them credit, find out what they need to support you.
  • Get a good group of internal and external advisors and an outside evaluator (or evaluation team).
helpful hint number 7 build in good management
Helpful Hint Number 7: Build in Good Management
  • Have a realistic time line and implementation schedule.
  • Have milestones and specific deliverables (with dates)
  • Use carrots when you can (but be prepared to use the baton when you must). Don’t reward until people deliver.
  • Assign responsibilities, but also give folks needed authority to do them, and then hold them accountable .
helpful hint number 8 evaluation is impact and effectiveness

Helpful Hint Number 8: Evaluation is Impact and Effectiveness

You do need numbers. How many students are impacted? How many faculty? How many students succeed in the next course?

But that is not enough. You need evidence that your project is having an impact and that it is effective. How do you know the project is working and that it is worthwhile?

Ask who needs to be convinced and what evidence will they accept.

You cannot evaluate yourself. You have to have outside validation.

Build in evaluation from the beginning.

helpful hint number 9 spread the word
Helpful Hint Number 9: Spread the Word
  • Work with other faculty and support them as they try to implement your materials. Doing new things is not easy.
  • Try to get a team of folks who have used your materials to help spread the word.
  • Work with not only with your discipline, but reach out to other disciplines.
  • Have a proactive dissemination plan. A website is necessary, but not sufficient.
helpful hint number 10 pay back time

Helpful Hint Number 10: Pay Back Time

Keep NSF or your funder informed. They have to report too. It’s all a cycle.

Send in reports on time. Use the required format.

Send in “nuggets”, information about awards, student impact, pictures, etc.

Give credit to NSF or other funders, your administrators, your team members, your department, etc. Giving credit to others makes you look better and get you better support later.

Offer to be a reviewer and to help others.

flaw 10
Flaw #10

Inflate the budget to allow for negotiations.


  • Make the budget reflect the work plan directly.
  • Provide a budget explanation that ties your budget request to project personnel and activities.
  • Make it clear who is responsible for what.
  • Provide biographical sketches for all key personnel.
flaw 9
Flaw #9

Provide a template letter of commitment for your (genuine) supporters to use. (They will!)


  • Ask for original letters of support that detail what your collaborators will do and why involvement in your project will help them.
  • Letters from administrators are stronger if they demonstrate real commitment, e.g. release time, faculty development funds, new course approvals, etc.

Flaw #8

Assume your past accomplishments are well known.


  • Provide results from prior funding – this includes quantitative data and information on impact.
  • Describe how new efforts build on this previous work, and how it has contributed to the broader knowledge base about educational improvement.
  • Recognize that the review panelists are diverse and not all familiar with your institutional context.

Flaw #7

Assume a project website is sufficient for dissemination.


  • A website may be necessary, but who will maintain it and how in the long run?
  • Engage beta test sites. “Early adopters” can serve as natural dissemination channels.
  • Plan workshops and mini-courses; identify similar projects and propose sessions at regional and national meetings.
  • Learn about and use NSDL and ATE Clearinghouses (e.g., MERC, ATE Central, MATECWorks).

Flaw #6

Assert: “Evaluation will be ongoing and consist of a variety of methods.”


  • Plan for formative and summative evaluation.
  • Include an evaluation plan with specific timelines and projected benchmarks.
  • Engage an objective evaluator.

Flaw #5

Assume the program guidelines have not changed; or better yet, ignore them!


  • Read the solicitation completely and carefully.
  • Address each area outlined in the solicitation that is relevant to your project.
  • Check the program solicitation carefully for any additional criteria, e.g. the Integration of Research and Education, or integrating diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities

Flaw #4

Don’t check your speeling, nor you’re grammer.


  • Check and double check; first impressions are important to reviewers.
  • State your good ideas clearly. Ignore the bad ones.
  • Have a trusted colleague who is not involved in the project read your drafts and final proposal.

Note: Don’t use complimentary when you mean complementary or principle investigator when you mean principal investigator , etc.


Flaw #3

Substitute flowery rhetoric for good examples.


  • Minimize complaints about students, other departments, the administration, etc., and describe what you will do and why.
  • Ground your project in the context of related efforts.
  • Provide detailed examples of learning materials, if relevant.
  • Specify who you will work with and why.
  • State how you plan to assess progress and student learning.
  • Detail the tasks and timeline for completing activities.
  • Specifically address intellectual merit and broader impacts and use the phrases explicitly in the project summary.
fatal flaw 2
(Fatal) Flaw #2

Assume page limits and font size restrictions are not enforced.


  • Consult the program solicitation and the GPG (Grant Proposal Guide) carefully.
  • Proposals that exceed page and/or font size limits are returned without review.

(Fatal) Flaw #1

Assume the program guidelines have not changed; or better yet, ignore them!

  • Check the program solicitation carefully for any additional criteria, e.g. the Integration of Research and Education, or integrating diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities
  • No mentoring plan for postdocs; Do not specifically address Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts in Project Narrative; Do not have a Management Plan
last minute opportunity if you are interested in learning how to write a successful tues
Last Minute Opportunity….If you are Interested in Learning How to Write a Successful TUES
  • NSF-Sponsored TUES Workshop Being Held in July 19th to the 22nd in Reno, Nevada
  • Visit this website for more information:


for more information contact linnea fletcher linneaf@austincc edu
For more information contact:Linnea Fletcherlinneaf@austincc.edu