April 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 4

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Beyond the Regular and
Dissertation Competitions:
Funding Opportunities at NSF

When sociologists seek funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) they typically submit proposals to the Sociology Program. There are more options. In addition to the Sociology Program, sociological research is appropriate for consideration in all major foundation-wide funding competitions and is actively sought by interdisciplinary programs. In this article, the Sociology Program directors discuss the range of funding opportunities for sociological research and training at NSF. Sociologists directing two interdisciplinary programs in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences: Science, Technology, and Society (STS) and Methods, Measurement, and Statistics (MMS) discuss types of funding available through these programs. Additional information is available on the NSF website (www.nsf.gov).

Support for Sociological Research and Training

Program Directors: Jan E. Stets, University of California-Riverside, and Patricia White, National Science Foundation

The Sociology Program supports investigator-initiated basic research that is theoretically focused empirical work. The Program is open to research in the substantive areas represented in the American Sociological Association, with appropriateness of projects determined by the clarity of theoretical aims and potential contributions. NSF recognizes that research infrastructure and data resources are necessary for an ongoing basic social science enterprise, so the Program funds secondary analysis, but it also supports original data collection. It encourages the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

The majority of proposals the Program receives is in response to the regular proposal and doctoral dissertation competitions (see a future issue for a listing of funded proposals). However, there is an array of funding for sociologists beyond these, including two new mechanisms that became available in January 2009: the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) and Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER). RAPID supports studies that have severe urgency for the collection and analysis of data. It would include quick-response research on natural disasters and similar unanticipated events. EAGERs support work in its early stages on untested but potentially transformative ideas and approaches. The research may be considered "high risk-high payoff," perhaps involving radically different approaches, applying new expertise, or engaging in novel disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.

The NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences issued a Dear Colleague Letter in December 2008 that encourages the submission of research proposals in three areas: (1) infrastructure development including, but not limited to, machines, shared databases, repositories, consortia, etc., (2) large-scale interdisciplinary projects that advance our understanding of the dynamics of human action and development and organizational, cultural, and societal adaptation and change, and (3) complexity science including the dynamics of complex systems such as "tipping points" where many things change all at once and "emergent phenomena." A second Dear Colleague Letter was issued in January to announce funding for interdisciplinary work in Environment, Society, and the Economy (ESE). Topics of interest include decision-making strategies related to environmental changes and environmental change and its impact on the evolution of human behavior.

The Sociology Program continues to fund workshops on specific topics that hold the potential for opening up areas of new research. Past workshops have been highly successful and have directed scholars to neglected and/or emerging areas within the discipline including qualitative sociology, global climate change, and most recently, survey research in the Middle East. A forthcoming workshop is scheduled on the moral dimension of social life.

NSF considers graduate student training an important part of its mission, and it has two ongoing graduate traineeship programs: Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) and Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE). IGERT supports interdisciplinary graduate research training, while PIRE promotes international research collaborations to advance social scientific knowledge and discoveries. Sociologists are encouraged to develop sociologically based IGERTs and PIREs or integrate sociology as a component of interdisciplinary graduate training. Funding opportunities for sociologists are also available in the Polar Social Science Program that supports sociological research in polar regions, and the Science of Science Innovation Policy (SciSIP) Program. SciSIP supports research on the ways in which the contexts, structures, and processes of science are affected by policy decisions and the collection, analysis, and visualization of new data for the scientific enterprise.


"In addition to the Sociology Program,
sociological research is appropriate for
consideration in all major foundation-wide
funding competitions and is actively
sought by interdisciplinary programs."

Science, Technology and Society (STS) Program

Program Directors: Laurel Smith-Doerr, Boston University, and Stephen Zehr, University of Southern Indiana

Sociology is a key part of STS. The STS program funds research in four areas of social aspects of science, engineering, and technology: ethics and values, history and philosophy, social studies, and studies of policy. STS supports funding through standard awards, postdoctoral fellowships, doctoral dissertation grants, professional development fellowships, small grants for training and research, and workshop/conference grants. Because of the centrality of sociology in STS, the involvement of sociologists is incredibly important for future research directions in the program.

The following examples of recent STS awards to sociologists illustrate the program’s range.

Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics (MMS) Program

Program Director: R. Saylor Breckenridge, Wake Forest University

Sociology plays a central role as well in the Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics (MMS) Program, an interdisciplinary program. MMS funds research revolving around the development, application, and extension of formal models and methodology for social and behavioral research including data collection, organizational infrastructure, and educational efforts. The MMS program supports a variety of awards including regular research awards, doctoral dissertation grants, and mid-career research fellowships where, in part, investigators are expected to spend their fellowship period at a host location immersing themselves in an area of study outside their current areas of expertise. MMS also supports Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Supplements to enhance undergraduate education and training in the development of methods for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences and to broaden the participation of underrepresented students in high-quality research projects.

MMS supports a wide range of sociological research, often in conjunction with the Sociology Program through co-reviews. Recent examples of MMS funding to sociologists include:

Concluding Thoughts

All of us at the Foundation encourage sociologists to become involved in the activities of NSF. Serve as a reviewer. Once you have your PhD in hand, send your curriculum vita to relevant program directors and offer to review grant proposals in your specialty areas. Submit a proposal as a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on a disciplinary or interdisciplinary grant. Serve on an NSF review panel, if invited. Finally, think about applying for openings at the NSF as a program director, division director, or even assistant director to the directorate. The experience will enrich you. logo_small


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