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Proposal Development Unit

Office of Research, Innovation and Economic Development 

(Available for proposals ≥$1,000,000)
  • Consultation on proposal strategy
  • Project team meeting facilitation to clarify project goals, implementation plans, & budgets
  • Management of proposal schedule & communications
  • Identification of additional faculty expertise & resources
  • Planning & writing non-technical portions of the proposal
  • Institutional data acquisition
  • Proposal editing & formatting
  • Budget/justification preparation (including coordination of subcontract budgets) & submission for college research office approval
  • Advice on cost sharing agreements
  • Collection & formatting of CVs, current & pending support forms, & other information required from each participating researcher
  • Drafting of letters of support/commitment for NCSU & partner organization officials
  • Preparation of PINS,, NSF FastLane, etc.
  • Site visit preparation & proposal workshop logistics
Looking for PDU assistance on your next proposal? Fill out the Form at
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Building Effective Interdisciplinary Teams

By: Pradip Pramanik and Michelle Frick, Proposal Development Unit 

With proposals becoming more and more competitive, the demands put on a PI are now greater than they’ve ever been. Besides developing cutting-edge research, a successful PI has to be an effective writer and editor, understand the often complicated requirements of any number of state and federal funding agencies, and be adept at creating and managing a stellar team.
In 2012, Google launched Project Aristotle to discover what made the perfect team. Surprisingly, they found that team make up made no difference on a team’s success. Teams made up of all introverts did just as well as teams with a mix of introverts and extroverts, while teams whose members were all friends outside of work were as successful as teams made up of people who were virtually strangers otherwise, and on and on. The opposite was just as true – while one team made up of all introverts was successful, another team with similar members was not. Rather, it turns out that “group norms” are the most important influences on a team’s success. At the core of these group norms, Google researchers found that establishing “psychological safety” within a team is the most critical factor for its success. All team members must speak and contribute in their own way while also respecting other team members’ thoughts and contributions. A team with members who may not be as individually brilliant as the members of another team can be more successful and generate better ideas if the members feel confident that they will not be embarrassed or punished for contributing. One of the lessons learned by Project Aristotle researchers was that if someone on a team did not contribute, that person didn’t feel valued or psychologically safe in that team. With this insight from Project Aristotle in mind, team leaders may want to take stock of their teams from time to time and even periodically ask team members for feedback.   
One of the most important but difficult roles a PI has to play is team leader. Two practices commonly attributed to effective leaders are clear motivation and credibility. These qualities appear over and over on lists by Forbes and Small Business News Daily to the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. People obviously know their own motivations inside and out, but the people around them don’t know those motivations as intimately. Keeping that in mind when recruiting and working with a team can be helpful, especially when working as part of an interdisciplinary team with members who are not familiar with each other. The other quality, credibility, is built upon sound judgement, presence, integrity, competence and emotional intelligence. While all of these elements are equally important, emotional intelligence is the critical factor that sets people apart. According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, one of the coauthors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, emotional intelligence is comprised of personal competence and social competence. Personal competence is a person’s awareness of his or her own emotions and the ability to regulate them, while social competence is the ability to pick up on the emotions of other people and to then use that awareness to cheer up, calm down or reassure them accordingly. In his article Emotional Intelligence - EQ in Forbes magazine, Dr. Bradberry stresses that, “emotional intelligence is the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.” Emotional intelligence informs every interaction a person has in the course of a day, so it’s easy to see how it can contribute so much to the psychological safety and success of a team. 
There’s a fundamental change in approach to interdisciplinary proposals from proposals with a specific disciplinary focus. When creating an interdisciplinary team, it is likely that many members will be unacquainted, so creating psychological safety should be an early priority. In a group like this, a PI can take advantage of the relationships that are already established in the group and use them set a tone that can then ripple out to the members of the group who are not acquainted. Collaboration for the greater good gives team members a stake in the conceptualization and helps set the framework for that psychologically safe dynamic where everyone is encouraged to participate. Treating each member of the team as an expert has proven to be a successful practice when managing interdisciplinary teams. The expertise each member brings to the team is the reason he or she is there in the first place.
Other best practices include:
  • Focusing team communication and encouraging discussion.
  • Making tough decisions when they’re warranted – people will accept decisions when they are fair and balanced.
  • Not letting a collaborative environment stall progress – sometimes waiting for unanimity on every decision causes paralysis.
  • Developing alternatives for when things don’t go as planned – inevitably things will not work like clockwork.
Managing an interdisciplinary team is like a complex balancing act for a PI and the decisions that fall to the PI can be emotionally difficult. At the core of it all, effective interdisciplinary teams start with intentionality. When a PI sets out to build a team that’s governed by the group norms of successful teams and keeps at it throughout the proposal process (and over the life of the team), that team has the potential to be exceptionally successful.
To learn more about Google’s Project Aristotle, read “What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.”

DOD's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative

By: Reenah Schaffer, Proposal Development Unit 

The Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) is one of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) University Research Initiatives. A subprogram run by the Director of Basic Research in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering, it began in 1986. Currently, awards average $1.25 to 1.5 million per year for 5 years (3-year base period plus a 2-year option period) and are intended to support 4 to 6 faculty researchers.

As indicated by its title, MURI focuses on truly multidisciplinary basic research efforts at U.S. institutions of higher education. MURI allows the DoD to fund basic research, the “systematic study directed toward greater knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and of observable facts without specific applications toward processes or products in mind.”

The Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Basic Research Office sets overall priority areas, but the services - Army, Air Force, and Navy - define specific topics reflecting their needs and interests, with new topics released on an annual basis. Areas of research now run the gamut of scientific fields: from Biological Sciences, Neuroscience, and Environmental & Climate Sciences to Materials Science, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Electrical Engineering, from Computer Science, Data Science, Information Management & Simulation, and Cyberlearning to Sociology & Humanities. For past examples of topics and winning proposals, see the 2014 Institute for Defense Analyses on the impact and highlights from 25 years of the MURI program.

Topics are announced annually in Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) and Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA). OXRs (Offices of Air Force, Army, and Navy Research) submit topics to the OSD DOR, which coordinates the MURI program, but these topics originate from Program Managers. You can provide ideas for new MURI topics or even new programs – you may trigger interest in a new area.

Things to consider:

  • Build relationships with PMs in your topic areas of interest - they need to know they can trust and depend on you. Volunteer in your technical society, attend conferences, and review proposals.
  • Be responsive to your PM - if you’re asked for help, provide it ASAP. Show that you are reliable.
  • Talk to your PM - proposals written with input and feedback from a PM are more likely to reflect the PM’s needs and interests. A PM may suggest that you fit better in another program, which you'd rather learn before you've spent time submitting to the wrong program.
  • Propose a research project that intersects more than one traditional science and engineering discipline.
  • Pick the best team possible - generally a team should include 3 to 7 faculty researchers, making sure that it is truly multidisciplinary. The team should not all be from the same department, but can be from one university, if necessary.
    • U.S. institutions of higher education with degree-granting programs in science and/or engineering, including DOD universities, are eligible partners
    • Industry, DOD labs, and foreign universities cannot receive funding, but can 'partner' and collaborate with MURI teams
  • Read the BAA carefully - address every subject and topic mentioned
    • If you can or want to add more, do so - the BAA writers don’t think of everything they might want
  • Ask past or current MURI awardees for feedback - NCSU has several successful MURI researchers who are willing to assist – Drs. Michael Steer (ECE), Donald Brenner (MSE), and Jon-Paul Maria (MSE).
  • Ask for help with non-scientific sections of a MURI proposal - the budget alone can be extremely complex and burdensome. The PDU can assist with the administrative process.

To read more about MURI, read the current BAA, or learn about other opportunities, visit the MURI program page here

What You Should Know Before Engaging with DARPA

By: Derek Gatlin, Proposal Development Unit 

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) funds cutting-edge research on breakthrough technologies for national security. Founded after the Soviet Union shocked the U.S. government with the launch of Sputnik, DARPA’s goal was to establish the U.S. as the world leader in advanced problem solving. This focus on high risk, high reward research is still DARPA’s mission today. Initial internet technologies were funded by DARPA, as was the basis for many of the parts that make our phones “smart,” including the radio transmitter, touch screen, mini GPS components, accelerometer, and voice response technology. It may be worth your consideration to approach DARPA for funding, especially given the prospect of tightening budgets for other funding agencies. But, where should you start?
  1. Think about the commitment.
DARPA’s proposal process involves establishing a relationship with a Program Manager, completing an extensive proposal package that includes a detailed budget breakdown and timeline, and engaging in lengthy post-selection negotiations before an award is made official. Before engaging with DARPA, you have to decide whether or not you are ready for the commitment it takes to develop and maintain a successful relationship with this agency. On the one hand, the proposal process is extensive and can sometimes be confusing. On the other hand, working with DARPA may be the best way for you to produce the most remarkable, game-changing technologies.

DARPA also expects PIs to commit a significant amount of time to a proposal. Depending on your responsibilities, DARPA is likely to require you to commit four to six months per year to a project. The PI and other named researchers on a project need to plan on it being their primary responsibility, so other responsibilities may need to be offset. It helps that DARPA is serious about fully funding a Scope of Work (SOW) to ensure you can fulfill your objectives. It also helps that DARPA fully funds the FTE needed to complete a SOW, along with the F&A and they prohibit matching contributions. These mechanisms are in place to make it easier for you and your department to fully commit to the responsibilities that come with accepting DARPA funding.
  1. Understand the Program Manager’s mindset.
At DARPA, Program Managers are either faculty members or experienced industry representatives who take short term appointments with DARPA, ranging from two to four years. Unique from other sponsors, DARPA Program Managers are the leaders of developing funding priorities and solicitations. They are expected to achieve a 60% failure rate for funded projects. The reason for this expectation, which is in stark contrast with most other funding agencies, is that true innovations are risky and the absence of failure is an indicator of the absence of innovation.

DARPA calls this expectation “DARPA Hard.” By this, they mean that your proposal must be so challenging and complex that only DARPA would fund it. For an idea to be DARPA Hard, it has to be 1) innovative to the point that it involves a solution that will change the state of the art, 2) technically challenging to the point that it requires technology that has yet to be developed or that may be impossible to achieve, and 3) multi-disciplinary – successful DARPA proposals rarely include knowledge from one discipline. Program Managers want to fund PI’s, and subsequently research teams, that can see the path towards success despite the impossibility of an idea and the limitations of the state of the art.
  1. Develop a relationship with a Program Manager.
Go directly to the source when it comes to DARPA. A list of Program Managers, along with their interests and funded programs, is available on DARPA’s website. Once you have found a Program Manager whose interests seem most related to yours, contact him or her directly through the online form and ask if you can schedule a phone call to discuss your ideas. You do not have to fully form an idea before you initiate contact with the Program Manager. The Program Manager is going to co-develop the idea with you, so there is no need to figure everything out before starting a conversation. However, the best way to get prepared is by developing one sentence responses, without jargon, to the following questions:
  • What are you trying to do?
  • How does this get done today?
  • What is new about your approach?
  • If you succeed, what difference do you think it will make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How long do you think it will take?
  • What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?
  • How much will it cost? (This question can wait until after you further develop the concept with the Program Manager, and then even after you develop the SOW.)
These questions are known within DARPA as The Heilmeier Catechism. They’re how all Program Managers evaluate proposed research and gauge whether the risks of your research are worth taking.
  1. Do your homework for competitive advantage.
As you consider DARPA funding, spend time reading DOD science and technology strategic planning documents. Learn about available funding opportunities to familiarize yourself with DARPA's expectations and proposal process. To get a comprehensive idea of the current DARPA opportunities available, spend time exploring the Federal Business Opportunities website. On the Opportunities tab, you can expand the search option to “Search by Agency, Set-aside, State, and Type.” In the Agency box, type “Other Defense Agencies/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency” and run a search to list all special notices, Broad Agency Announcements (BAA), Award Notices, and Proposers Days. Take note of any notices of awards and special notices which may give more advanced warning of opportunities to come.

DARPA BAAs usually have short timelines from the date they are posted to when they are due, sometimes as short as one month. If you do not already have a relationship with a Program Manager, you are unlikely to be competitive when responding to a BAA – Program Managers create BAAs in response to conversation they have with prospective researchers. If you find a BAA that interests you, note the name of the Program Manager and reach out to him or her. Your conversation with the Program Manager may secure you an invitation to join an existing team, give you some indication that a BAA is being developed for your research area, or let you know that your ideas do not match a program’s current interests.
  1. Ask the PDU for help.
A member of the PDU will be glad to help you think through your approach to DARPA. Maybe you have the core of an idea or just a notion, but are wondering how to pitch it to the Program Manager. We can help you craft your angle. Maybe you have an idea that you think will work, but are not sure it is innovate enough. We can help you push it towards something that is DARPA Hard. Or maybe you have answers to the Heilmeier questions, but are struggling with condensing them into one sentence responses. We can help you condense them. We can also put you in contact with other faculty who have submitted successful proposals to DARPA so you can get a first-hand account of exactly what it takes to be successful with this agency. 

Where ever you are in your consideration of working with DARPA, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for support by emailing Pradip Pramanik at and Derek Gatlin at

Funding Opportunities of Interest 

Below is a list of interdisciplinary funding opportunities available through the National Science Foundation. Click on any title below to learn more about that opportunity. 

Discovery Research Programs
Algorithms in the Field (AitF)

Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS)

Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP)

Critical Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Foundations and Applications of Big Data Science & Engineering (BIGDATA)

Cultivating Cultures for Ethical STEM (CCE STEM)

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS)

Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (ERFI)

Energy-Efficient Computing: from Devices to Architectures (E2CDA)

Engineering Research Centers (ERCs)

Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum (EARS)

Expeditions in Computing

Exploiting Parallelism and Scalability (XPS)

Facilitating Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions

Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER)

Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI)

Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program (I/UCRC)

Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS)

Innovation Corps Teams Program (I-Corps)

Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems (NSF-NCS)

National Robotics Initiative (NRI)

Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE)

Science and Technology Centers: Integrative Partnerships

Science of Learning: Collaborative Networks (SL-CN)

Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC)

Smart and Connected Health (SCH)

United States-Israel Collaboration in Computer Science (USICCS)

Education and Workforce Development Programs
ADVANCE: Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers 

Advanced Technological Education (ATE)

CISE Research Initiation Initiative (CRII)

Computer Science for All (CS for All)

CyberCorps(R): Scholarship for Service (SFS)

Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies

Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) 

East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for US Graduate Students (EAPSI)

Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) 

Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE: EHR) 

Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) 

International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) 

NSF Research Traineeship Program 

NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) 

Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in Engineering and Computer Science

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

STEM + Computing Partnerships (STEM+C)

Research Infrastructure Programs
Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs (BD Hubs) 

Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs: Establishing Spokes to Advance Big Data Applications (BD Spokes)

Campus Cyberinfrastructure -- Data, Networking, and Innovation Program (CC*DNI)

Research Infrastructure (CRI)

Cybersecurity Innovation for Cyberinfrastructure (CICI)

Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs)

Major Research Instrumentation (MRI)

Petascale Computing Resource Allocations (PRAC)

Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation -- SSE & SSI (SI2 -- SSE & SSI)

Did You Know?

NSF Proposal & Award Policy Newsletter: The National Science Foundation recently announced the release of its new quarterly newsletter that will provide information about upcoming changes and information about policies and procedures to help you prepare and submit proposals and manage awards. The first two issues are available on the NSF Policy Office website and includes information and recent changes to the NSF PAPPG, upcoming outreach events, an explanation on participant support costs, and links to FAQs and other helpful information. 

Award for Excellence Nomination: The PDU's Matthew Hooker was nominated for the 2016 ORIED Award for Excellence for his outstanding service to the NC State research community. Matt was recognized for his exceptional performance in supporting faculty teams at the ORIED Awards for Excellence ceremony on April 13, 2016.
How to Become a Reviewer for NIH Proposals: If you are an emerging researcher with an active, independent program of research but you have never received a major grant, consider applying to the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program of NIH. This program may help jumpstart your career by giving you valuable experience participating in review meetings, working with distinguished scientists, and learning to become a reviewer. Visit NIH's ECR webpage to learn more about the benefits and requirements.

Over qualified to serve as an ECR, but interested in serving on a study section
? NIH looks for individuals who have substantial and independent research experience, have received major peer-reviewed grants (R01 or equivalent), and understand the importance of the review process. Send your CV to a Scientific Review Officer in your area of interest. You can find their contact information on the Meeting Rosters link for each study section at along with other reviewer resources. 
Grant Support Index for NIH: Next fiscal year, NIH will introduce a Grant Support Index (GSI). This initiative is based on an internal analysis that 10% of investigators receive 40% of NIH funds, as well as the diminishing returns on productivity from investigators with three or more R01 grants. This GSI would assign points to an investigator’s NIH-funded activities (e.g. serving as a principal investigator on an R01 grant) and apply a point threshold for each NIH-funded investigator. An existing investigator will not be de-funded if he or she meets or exceeds the GSI threshold; however, the investigator would be asked to balance his or her NIH-funded workload.

The proposed GSI would free up approximately $500 - $650 million (or 1,500 - 1,600 new awards) that can be redirected to other investigators. When a new grant application is submitted, the NIH​ eRA system may trigger an alert indicating the need to evaluate NIH-supported efforts for that specific investigator. 

NIH is still working on the point values for different activities and the GSI threshold.
NIH Peer Review Revealed: The Center for Scientific Review at NIH has produced a video of a mock study section meeting to provide an inside look at how NIH grant applications are reviewed for scientific and technical merit.
PDU Staff and Contact Information
Pradip Pramanik
Room 252
Matthew Hooker
Assistant Director
Room 218
Reenah Schaffer
Proposal Developer
Room 219
Derek Gatlin
Proposal Developer
Room 220

Patrick Crowley, Jr.
Res. Proposal Spec.
Room 221
Michelle Frick
Res. Proposal Spec.
Room 213C
Melanie Neff
Project Assistant
Room 213D

Poulton Innovation Center, 1021 Main Campus Drive Raleigh, NC 27606
Copyright © 2017 Proposal Development Unit, All rights reserved.

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