Since MCB switched from one fixed deadline per year to no deadlines for accepting proposals to core programs*, Program Directors have received many questions from the community, chief among them being “when should I submit my proposal?” Answers to the most common questions are provided below.
Q. When should I submit my proposal?
A. You should submit your proposal when you think it is ready. There really isn’t a best time of year to submit a proposal to MCB core programs.
Q. How do I know when my proposal is ready?
A. We recommend that you ask colleagues within and outside of your immediate research area to read the proposal and provide critical feedback. Do take their feedback seriously, because if they identify an issue, it is likely that reviewers will as well.
Q. Are the funding rates different throughout the year? Am I more likely to get funded if I submit early or later in the fiscal year?
A. The funding rates are the same throughout the year. Program Directors plan their budgets based on proposal submission data from prior years such that proposals in every panel have the same chance of being funded.
Q. When are panels held? I want to make sure my proposal gets reviewed promptly.
A. Panels are held throughout the year to ensure timely review no matter when a proposal is submitted. Program Directors schedule a panel as soon as enough proposals are available to review as a group. We also try to distribute the workload associated with panels on MCB staff and peer reviewers evenly through the year so that timing does not affect the quality of merit review.
Q. Does it take longer to get my reviews back now that MCB has switched to no-deadline?
A. Actually, MCB gets reviews back to PIs faster on average under no-deadline. Currently, the average time to decision is between 4.5 to 5 months.
Q. Is there a time of year when it takes longer to get my proposal reviewed?
A. Reviews take a bit longer when a proposal is submitted in early summer. NSF’s fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30. In order to expend all of the funds appropriated by Congress for a given fiscal year, Program Directors have to submit their award recommendations to the Division Director in time for the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) to finalize all awards by September 30. Therefore, during early summer Program Directors focus on finalizing award recommendations instead of setting up new panels. Some proposals submitted during this period might take one or two extra months to complete review.
Q. Is it true that there is a limit to the number of proposals that an investigator can submit in one year?
A. No. When BIO first switched to no deadline, there was a cap on proposal submission. However, that cap was lifted in 2018. Investigators may submit more than one proposal a year. But remember, a declined proposal can only be resubmitted after it has undergone substantial revision.
* Certain special programs of interest to the MCB community have deadlines, which are noted in the summary available through NSF’s Funding Search. Whether the program of interest to you has a deadline or not, be sure to read the solicitation carefully and reach out to a Program Director with any questions.