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NSF Revises Proposal Policies

Agency requires mentoring activities in grant applications

by Rochelle Bohaty
December 1, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 48

Credit: Shutterstock
Next year, NSF proposals involving postdocs must include a mentoring section.
Credit: Shutterstock
Next year, NSF proposals involving postdocs must include a mentoring section.

A POSTDOCTORAL-MENTORING section will soon become mandatory for NSF proposals that include postdoctoral researchers. This change is one of several policy revisions described in NSF's 2009 Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide. Other revisions cover salary reimbursement and the use of identification numbers for tracking. The changes will affect proposals submitted on or after Jan. 5, 2009.

For chemists, the most significant impact of the revised policies is the incorporation of postdoctoral mentoring in project descriptions, says Katherine J. Covert, NSF's Division of Chemistry program manager. The guidance document specifies that proposals asking for support for postdoctoral researchers must include a separate section within the project description that details "the mentoring activities that will be provided for such individuals." Annual reports will also require the mentoring component, according to Covert.

The mentoring clause helps fulfill requirements of the America Competes Act, legislation aimed at keeping the U.S. competitive in the global marketplace (C&EN, Aug. 13, 2007, page 12). It "recognizes the critical role that mentoring plays in helping postdoctoral scholars make informed choices as they plan their careers," says Arthur B. Ellis, former director of NSF's Division of Chemistry and vice chancellor for research at the University of California, San Diego.

Under the imminent mandate, "it is the unsolicited proposals or the renewal proposals that come in July 2009 that I am most concerned about," Covert says. Proposal writers requesting salary support for postdoctoral researchers must include the section on postdoctoral mentoring and career development. If they don't, under the new NSF-wide policy, the proposal will be returned without review, she tells C&EN.

The revised guidance document also cuts "summer salaries" for senior personnel and replaces them with a two-month salary compensation that they can take anytime during the year. And it clarifies the definition of coprincipal investigator as someone with equal responsibility and recognition for proposals.

In addition, NSF will use NSF identification numbers, instead of Social Security numbers, for tracking. The policy changes can be found at



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