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Research Coordinator Corner

Preparing for the NSF CAREER: Tips and Resources from Your Research Coordinators

By Maggie Hutchins, College of Education, and Jessica Schneider, College of Liberal Arts


As you prepare—or begin to consider—a proposal to the NSF CAREER program, remember that the research-support team here at Texas State is invested in seeing you succeed. Our Strategic Plan for Research places particular emphasis on the NSF CAREER, as this prestigious award contributes to our goals for National Research University Fund status. As your research coordinators, we’re here to help you navigate proposal development and submission in collaboration with the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP). To get started, we’ve compiled a list of reminders and resources to help you think about the CAREER.

First, make sure you’re eligible. To apply for an NSF CAREER award, you must 1) hold a doctoral degree in an NSF–supported field, 2) conduct research in an NSF supported-area, and 3) hold a tenure-track appointment as an assistant professor. You must meet these criteria at the time of the deadline. To clarify, if you are due to receive tenure in the fall but meet these criteria during the summer CAREER deadline, you are eligible. 

Make sure you have an innovative, transformative idea that will advance your career as both researcher and educator. You want to align your research plan with an educational plan that involves students and advances the missions of your department. To ensure you’re ready to address the research and educational goals of the CAREER program, it’s important to discuss your plans with your chair, your mentors, and your program officer.  

As you prepare to discuss your plans, carefully review the NSF CAREER solicitation. Read it, mark it up, and read it again. Once you’re familiar with the solicitation, identify your NSF directorate. Consider the directorate your “home” at NSF, the unit that supports your area of research and that, ideally, will fund your project. After identifying a directorate, review the CAREER directorate contacts to identify your program officer—and prepare to email them.

When you email the program officer, share a one-page project summary that includes an overview of your project as well as its intellectual merit and broader impacts. This one pager will help the program officer determine whether your research is appropriate for that directorate. Do not skip this step! The program officer is your most valuable resource at NSF. Email them early in your planning process to ensure your proposal is being submitted to the directorate that is most likely to fund it.

While it is essential to read the solicitation carefully, you may also want to watch the NSF CAREER webinar from May 2021, which provides an overview of the CAREER program, its mission and goals, key solicitation requirements, and strategies for successful applicants. Also check out recent CAREER awards and browse the NSF CAREER FAQs, where you’ll find over five years of frequently asked questions and answers regarding eligibility, proposal preparation, budgeting, submission, and award administration. Finally, take some time to review the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). You’ll need to familiarize yourself with both the PAPPG and the CAREER solicitation to develop your proposal.

Take advantage of support here at Texas State as well. Because the CAREER is an institutional priority, Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) in ORSP offers one-on-one consulting opportunities for faculty who demonstrate a strong potential for success. These opportunities are competitive and involve financial investment from both your college and ORSP. SRI runs the competition through the online InfoReady Review portal, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for announcements in early February and check the portal often.

And last but not least, involve your research coordinators and ORSP pre-award coordinators early on so we can help you stay on track. The earlier you let us know about your CAREER plans, the more resources you’ll have available at both the college and university levels to help make your proposal as competitive as possible. Above all, remember that we’re all here—research coordinators, associate deans for research, ORSP—to help you navigate this process and do what we can to ensure your success.

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