The National Science Foundation (NSF) is comprised of seven (7) directorates,
each of which covers a specific area of science:

NSF Organizational Chart

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  • Biological Sciences (BIO)
  • Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)
  • Engineering (ENG)
  • Geosciences (GEO)
  • Mathematics and Physical Sciences (MPS)
  • Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE)
  • Education and Human Resources (EHR)

Each NSF directorate is comprised of divisions, which are further subdivided into programs overseen by program directors. Program directors oversee the merit review process and recommend proposals for funding based on proposal rankings from panel review, consideration of budgetary restrictions, and research funded in previous cycles. Program directors are generally appointed for 2-year terms and are typically university professors with a track record of NSF funding and a history of research within the given program area. Visit the NSF’s website to learn more about the agency’s organizational structure and merit review process.

Types of Funding Opportunities

NSF utilizes a variety of mechanisms to generate proposals. The majority of proposals are investigator-initiated (i.e. unsolicited). It is wise to contact appropriate program directors to discuss a proposed research topic to determine the most appropriate mechanisms. Some programs may require a preliminary proposal before a complete proposal can be submitted. The NSF recognized four (4) categories of funding opportunities:

  • Program Descriptions – These broad, general descriptions of programs was typically the home for investigator-initiated (i.e. unsolicited) proposals
  • Program Announcements – Similar to Program Descriptions
  • Program Solicitations – Solicitations encourage submission of proposals in specific program areas of interest to the NSF. Solicitations are more focused and generally active for a limited time period.
  • Dear Colleague Letters – Dear Colleague Letters clarify or amend NSF policy, inform the community of upcoming opportunities, special competitions, or supplements to existing awards

Other Links:

Merit Review Process
NSF’s CAREER Award
Get Involved
Additional Resources