I’d Rather Eat Sand – NSF Proposals – Broader Impacts

by ScienceDocs NSF Proposal Expert Mr. Geoff


The Dilemma

Broader Impacts is the only heading required in NSF proposals. It is also the part that most investigators struggle to articulate, let alone make competitive. This struggle spawned countless written guides and workshops, culminating with the creation of NABI, the National Alliance of Broader Impacts. NABI then became Advancing Research Impact in Society or ARIS (https://researchinsociety.org/).

The Struggle

It begins with the expectation that investigators characterize their research projects in terms of societal impact, which forces them to leave the comparative comfort of hard data for the alien realm of “forecasting” the relevance of their work. This can be particularly challenging for those conducting basic research where there may be no direct connection to solving a societal problem.

The Rationale

The Broader Impacts priority is a lofty goal in NSF Proposals: finding and funding transformative research projects. It also wants researchers who can effectively communicate with diverse audiences, recognize the importance of contributing to the health of one’s field, and demonstrate the capacity to see the bigger picture as it relates to the tax-paying public and society at large.

Key Points

The term is plural. The amount of space that the BI section occupies must be commensurate with the importance the NSF places on it. BI sections in NSF Proposals should be at least a ½ page; 3-4 lines will never pass muster. A Broader Impact can be anything beyond an investigator’s personal or professional development; promotion or tenure do not qualify. So, what does?

  • Outreach, regardless of audience
  • Broadening Participation (inclusion of Underrepresented Groups or URGs)
  • Contributions to “the health of the field,” such as maintaining the STEM pipeline
  • Potential to advance the field in question, as well as others
  • Potential applications, regardless of distance to fruition
  • Science literacy and public awareness

Moving Forward

It’s not about accuracy per se. NSF Proposals’ Broader Impacts section is a space to acknowledge the distant or improbable as a measure of an investigator’s grasp of the scientific research ecosystem. Think big and be bold. ARIS offers a BI Toolkit, https://aris.marine.rutgers.edu/index.php, start there.


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NSF Career Grant Propsoal

Learn more about Geoff


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