You are not using a standards compliant browser. Because of this you may notice minor glitches in the rendering of this page. Please upgrade to a compliant browser for optimal viewing:
Internet Explorer 7
Safari (Mac and PC)
Post Archive
2020 (0)2011 (1)
January (1)

Et tu Odysseyus?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
2010 (37)
December (5)

First most influential paper
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Twelve (minus one) Months of pondering Blather
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'll save Tideliar the trouble
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thinking differently
Friday, December 3, 2010

Music Warz! - The Maccabees
Thursday, December 2, 2010
November (6)

Standing out in a crowd: An addendum
Monday, November 8, 2010

Standing out in a crowd
Friday, November 5, 2010

Ripping your arms off
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Tea Party explained
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Words of wisdom for prospective graduate students
Monday, November 1, 2010

Grant advice
Monday, November 1, 2010
October (10)

Planet of the Apes
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Too many postdocs?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oh! Rats! [UPDATED]
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rethinking Education
Monday, October 18, 2010

Elephant man, rabies and leprosy
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Over-priced mochas and syphilis
Sunday, October 10, 2010

DonorsChoose - give early and give often. [UPDATED]
Friday, October 8, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What I would be doing if I weren't doing science
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time spent reviewing
Monday, October 4, 2010
September (6)

Dear PI's who wrote the NSF proposals I am now reviewing...
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Funding Illusions
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FIve years ago today
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A (temporary) cure for vortices of suckitude
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things that make Odyssey grumpy
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I wish I knew before starting my faculty position
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
August (10)

Flying 101
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't panic!
Monday, August 23, 2010

One to Rule Them All
Friday, August 20, 2010

The NSF review panel process
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peer review, schmeer review
Friday, August 13, 2010

Hypotheses: The most disposable of lab supplies
Thursday, August 12, 2010

How much do you need to want it?
Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

REPOST: How Many Papers for Tenure?
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Checking it out
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Rate This Post
Total votes: 1
Blogger Profile


I'm a molecular biophysicist in a biochemistry department. In a college of medicine. And I'm funded by the NSF. Not too sure my dean likes that... I'm here to blather on about things that interest me and to raise the average age of the bloggers here by at least 1.2567 years. And I'm Australian.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

Blog RSS Feed
RSS Add to My Yahoo Add to Google
Recent Comments

Haha the comment above is funny! Research before hypothesis! . . .Read More
Aug 09, 2012, 1:48pm
Comment by Tim in Peer review, schmeer review

Good article! "Do proponents of this system have any idea just how hard it is to find reviewers under the current system?" I've just stumbled across this artcile, so my comments are. . .Read More
Oct 13, 2011, 5:20pm
Comment by Tideliar in Standing out in a crowd

Rules of the Internets, #3"Don't necro dead threads n00b"Corollary Rule 3.1"If the best you can add is content-lite, don't fucking necro dead threads n00b"Corollary Rul. . .Read More
Jul 06, 2011, 5:48pm

anyone interested in helping my kindergarteners? Check out http://www.donorschoos. . .Read More
Jan 25, 2011, 10:47am
Comment by Anonymous in Standing out in a crowd

Thanks for the post! Very helpful. - Reshmi . . .Read More
Jan 13, 2011, 12:44am
Awesome Stuff
Wikio RSS:


Site Meter

Locations of visitors to this page

Oct 15, 2014, 6:55am
Jan 26, 2014, 10:58am
Feb 29, 2012, 10:31am
Nov 19, 2011, 4:38pm
Feb 17, 2011, 9:40am
Feb 11, 2011, 8:27pm
Nov 07, 2010, 4:50pm
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Funding illusionsProf-like Substance has a really nice summary of the real costs involved in giving someone (e.g. a grad student) a raise. This is in response to a discussion over at DrugMonkey's. Go read both posts.

In his post PlS points readers at the NSF's funding info page - anyone even fantasizing about applying to the NSF should have a look there. In the comments section to PlS's post, lylebot pointed out:

The link to the NSF funding info page is interesting, but I’m not sure I understand where the numbers are coming from. It gives funding rates of 20-40% for programs that I know are much lower.

I added the emphasis.

That's a great point. I "know" from my experience on NSF review panels that the funding rate is much lower than 20%. And yet that's not what the "official" numbers are saying. Where does this discrepancy come from?*

Buggered if I know, but that won't stop me from speculating...

And this is speculation, so take it as such.


So in my particular area the funding rate that everyone "knows" would be much closer to 10-15% than the ~20-30% listed on the NSF's funding info page. That's the funding rate we have in mind when on a panel. It's the funding rate bandied about by reviewers and PO's alike.

One possible source for this discrepancy might be that the ~10-15% funding rate we "know" really just applies to new applications, and not renewals. The funding rate for renewals is certainly higher than that for new applications. I'm not so sure about this explanation though. One would think that the distinction between funding rates would be made clearer and that we'd be talking about two rates rather than one.

Perhaps the discrepancy comes about because the ~10-15% we "know" applies only to the proposals we're reviewing. The "unknown" 5-15% may well include proposals we don't review. Now I'm not suggesting here that the NSF has some secret stock of research proposals they have decided should receive funding without peer-review. There are however "proposals" that aren't peer-reviewed. Here I'm thinking about the various supplements available to NSF-funded investigators (e.g. REU and RET supplements). You do need to submit a "proposal" to get one of these, but it's not reviewed per se. Or rather, it's the PO that reviews it. And I suspect the success rate is very, very high for these.** Such supplements are submitted via FastLane, NSF's online proposal submission and review system. I believe all funding data is also handled through FastLane - certainly supplements I've received are listed on there. Is it possible the NSF's funding info page simply pulls that data automagically from FastLane? If so, up goes the funding rate. Indeed, if supplements are included in the count, my personal funding rate at the NSF is a whopping 82%!

And of course there are grants other than research grants given out by the NSF. Those in the US may well have noticed that some of the kid's programs on PBS are funded in part by the NSF (e.g. Fetch and Cyberchase). One wonders what NSF Directorates fund these "non-research" grants*** and what the funding rates are.

So what's the bottom line here? It's not clear what the research grant funding rate is. The sort of data supplied on the NSF's funding info page is confusing. Dear NSF, can we have it broken down into useful nuggets? Please?






*The NSF is not alone with these funding rate "discrepancies." We all "know" that NIH funding rates are in the toilet. Single digit numbers have been discussed at great length. Yet, at least at NIGMS, the official numbers appear much higher...

** I've always received the REU supplements I've applied for. In fact, I've never heard of someone having one turned down. Of course that's just my experience.

*** Before you're tempted to whine in the comments that NSF should only be funding science research, go read their strategic plan. It is mandated that they do far more than just fund research. If you have a problem with that, and I personally do not, go whine at your congresscitter.

This post has been viewed: 1399 time(s)

Blog Comments

Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Maybe the high funding rate means that 20-40% of proposals eventually get funded, not necessarily in a single cycle. One a PO from the NIH gave a talk here and said that over 50% of proposals eventually get funded, so their funding rate is 50%!

Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Could be, but I don't think so.

I see this has been tweeted as NSF says it funds 20-40%, "real" numbers are closer to 10-15%, why the discrepancy? That's not quite what I was trying to say. I don't know what the "real" numbers are. I suspect the NSF would argue their reported numbers are the real ones. They probably are. It's more a matter of what I and other perceive as the funding rate versus the NSF's reported numbers.

Guest Comment

In the NIH system there is a similar confusion, brought about by at least two factors. First, NIH publishes / brags on their Success Rate defined as

Success rates are defined as the percentage of reviewed grant applications that receivefunding. They are computed on a fiscal year basis and include applications that are peerreviewed and either scored or unscored by an Initial Review Group. Success rates aredetermined by dividing the number of competing applications funded by the sum of the totalnumber of competing applications reviewed and the number of funded carryovers1.Applications having one or more amendments in the same fiscal year are only counted once.

that nice little trick of counting revisions submitted in the same FY boosts the numbers but throws variability based on when exactly the revision was submitted, etc.


second, published or rumoured "paylines" are often thought to be synonymous with what we might think of as the funding rate but this is not so. the payline is inevitably conservative. it represents what they *know* they can fund based on their budget, and without considering the particulars of how expensive a given grant is (including variable indirect costs across Unis). Once those are set, they take a look at their remaining budget for that round (or the entire FY) and pay out a bunch more awards. So the apparent funding rate is always going to exceed whatever an Institute or Center of the NIH publishes in advance as their payline. *Furthermore* the payline is based on a percentile rank which is baselined against a rolling 3 cycles of review. So if the current round of apps perform really well or poorly against the prior two, again the percentile rank is not well-aligned with the chances of getting funded.

In short, it is the PI's poor understanding of the various numbers that is the problem with thinking "gee, why are NIH success rates so much higher than my subjective impression of funding rate?"

Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike


Agreed - I do think it's a matter of not understanding how the numbers come about. Unfortunately I can't find an analogous description to the one you posted for the NIH for the NSF.

Madhusudan Katti

Guest Comment

I found this post - which echoes my own thoughts - while looking for NSF's grant funding rate and getting confused by the info on their page precisely for the reasons you mention. So thank you.

What led me to seek out this information in the first place? A blog post I felt compelled to write tonight in response to a new initiative from the Republican congresscritters just gearing up to take back congress! Have you seen it? Care to share your thoughts as well?

Add Comment?
Comments are closed 2 weeks after initial post.