NSF Merit Review Process: FY 2013 Digest

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Publication date: 
24 October 2014

Earlier this month the National Science Foundation released a sixteen-page compilation of statistics about its merit review process that will be of great interest to researchers.

“The National Science Foundation’s Merit Review Process: Fiscal Year 2013 Digest” summarizes an 84-page report mandated by the National Science Board.  The digest consists of 32 charts and graphs; among those findings that are highlighted:

  • From FY 2001 to FY 2013, the number of proposals NSF received increased significantly.  The number of awards remained relatively constant.  The percentage of (all) awards funded in FY 2001 was 31%; in FY 2013 it declined to 22%.  The success rate for research proposals was 19.5% in FY 2013.
  • More than 80% of NSF awards went to academic institutions in FY 2013.
  • The percentage of award decisions made within six months in FY 2005 and FY 2013 is similar.
  • Proposals submitted by and awards made to women have increased since FY 2005, although both are less than 25% of the total.
  • Proposals submitted by and awards made to “under-represented racial and ethnic groups” have increased slightly, with both less than 7% of the total.
  • 36% of the proposals submitted in FY 2013 were from principal investigators who have not previously received an NSF grant.
  • The average grant size (in inflation-adjusted dollars) and award duration have been relatively constant.
  • The difference in success rates between early career principal investigators and later career principal investigators has declined.
  • Less than one in every 300 proposals is returned without review because it failed to meet the merit review criteria.
  • In FY 2013, the value of the proposals that received a rating of at least average that could not be funded was $1.84 billion.  (Note: the total FY 2013 NSF appropriation was $6,901.9 million.)

The full report provided much additional detail.  Of note:

  • The success rate for competitively reviewed proposals in FY 2013 ranged from a high of 26% in the Geosciences Directorate to a low of 18% in Education and Human Resources.  See Appendix 1 on pages 53-54 for all directorates. 
  • A map on page 33 displays “FY 2013 Research Grant Dollars per Capita.”
  • There is extensive discussion about the NSF merit review process starting on page 34; also see page 72.
  • A table on page 66 details the “number of people involved in NSF-funded activities” in FY 2013.  There were 44,0000 senior researchers; 14,000 other professionals; 6,000 post-doctoral associates; 42,000 graduate students; 29,000 undergraduate students; 40,000 K-12 teachers; and 124,000 K-12 students.


Earlier this year the NSF released a 6 minute video on its merit review process that is available here.


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