Building Campus Cyberinfrastructure Programs Through Funded Research Dustin Atkins, Clemson University

Our Agenda Today

  • Introduction to Grants and Proposals
  • Specific NSF Programs of Interest
  • Question & Answer
  • Interactive Mock Proposal Exercise


Name, School, Title

How familiar are you with sponsored research, grants, proposal writing, etc.?

National Science Foundation | Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science & Engineering (CIF21)

Citizens, scientists and educators alike now communicate by sharing data, not only raw data, but in the form of email, software, publications, reports, simulations and visualizations. Coupled with appropriate policy and infrastructure development, these kinds of networked activities can create new capabilities for collaborations at multiple scales, from individuals to communities, to address far more complex problems of science and society than previously possible. This revolution will transform research, practice, and education in science and engineering, as well as advance innovation in society.

This vision of the near future shows clearly the urgent need for a comprehensive, scalable, cyberinfrastructure that bridges diverse scientific communities and integrates high-performance computing, data, software, and facilities in a manner that brings theoretical, computational, experimental, and observational approaches together to advance the frontier. Seizing these opportunities and meeting these challenges is the fundamental purpose of NSF’s Cyberinfrastructure Framework for the 21st Century (CIF21).

National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI)

It is the policy of the United States to sustain and enhance its scientific, technological, and economic leadership position in HPC research, development, and deployment through a coordinated Federal strategy guided by four principles:

  1. The United States must deploy and apply new HPC technologies broadly for economic competitiveness and scientific discovery.
  2. The United States must foster public-private collaboration, relying on the respective strengths of government, industry, and academia to maximize the benefits of HPC.
  3. The United States must adopt a whole-of-government approach that draws upon the strengths of and seeks cooperation among all executive departments and agencies with significant expertise or equities in HPC while also collaborating with industry and academia.
  4. The United States must develop a comprehensive technical and scientific approach to transition HPC research on hardware, system software, development tools, and applications efficiently into development and, ultimately, operations.

Grantsmanship 101

A federal grant is an award of financial assistance from a federal agency to a recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law of the United States. Grants are federal assistance to individuals, benefits or entitlements.

A federal cooperative agreement is the correct legal instrument to use when the relationship between the Federal Government and a state government, local government, tribal government, nonprofit organization, or other recipient has as its principal purpose the transfer of funds, property, services, or anything of value to stimulate or support a public purpose authorized by law, and the Federal Government expects substantial involvement with the recipient when carrying out the activities contemplated in the agreement.

A federal contract is a legal instrument by which a non-Federal entity purchases property or services needed to carry out the project or program under a Federal award. The term as used in the OMB Uniform Grants Guidance does not include a legal instrument, even if the non-Federal entity considers it a contract, when the substance of the transaction meets the definition of a Federal award or subaward

Note: For purposes of the remainder of our talk, we will focus on the National Science Foundation, but other awarding agencies will follow different guidelines.

Identifying Funding Opportunities

You can search NSF’s website for upcoming proposal opportunities.

You can also browse through an A-Z listing of all proposal opportunities and their associated dates, and this is best used for planning purposes to read about programs.

On the program page, you will find the link to the program’s latest solicitation, or call for proposals.

The solicitation contains all of the program and agency-specific guidelines for proposing work to the Foundation, and will guide your proposal work to ensure your proposal is responsive to the call.

Read about what has been funded through the program to which you are applying via the Award Search function.

Crafting Your Proposal

Keys to Success
  • Begin at least 3 months in advance of the planned submission. This ensures that you put together the best possible proposal – after all, what good is all that work if the proposal is sloppily put together in the end?
  • For CI-focused proposals, focus on telling the story about why your campus needs the funding, and how it will make a difference.
  • Faculty impact stories are important in this regard – how will this new CI component accelerate or transform their research?
  • Build a team of IT professionals and faculty who can help achieve your vision - preferably include those who have had prior funding experience and highlight this in your proposal.
  • Designate someone to be in charge – this does not necessarily have to be the PI, but there needs to be someone shepherding the process.
  • Read the solicitation several times. Highlight questions and talk with your sponsored projects office if there is confusion. If you still have questions, contact the cognizant program officer (they will get back to you).
  • Tease out the main points of the program solicitation and allow this to serve as the basis for your proposal outline, to ensure you answer ALL of the questions/topics required.
  • Don't be afraid to contact the program officer listed on the solicitation - they are almost always very helpful and are there to help ensure you present the best possible application.
  • Be specific about how you will perform the work – describe your institution’s capacity, key personnel or capabilities that are available, etc.
  • If you don’t already have an NSF ID, contact your sponsored projects office.
  • Become familiar with NSF’s FastLane system. It is simple and direct, but does have its quirks.

NSF Proposal Building Blocks

Project Summary

The project summary is your 1-page maximum summary of the work you plan to do. The summary is one of the most important elements of the proposal package, as you want a potential reviewer to take away the essence of your project through reading this document (they may not read anything else).

The summary will also include required statements on Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work, both required by NSF.

Project Description

The project description is your full 15-page maximum narrative of the work you plan to do, highlighting your project against the requirements set out in the NSF solicitation. A best practice for developing this is to take the proposal solicitation from NSF and craft an outline, then fill in your specific responses to the required elements.

Intellectual Merit: This is a required statement found within your proposal, and addresses questions such as:

  1. How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
  2. How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of prior work.)
  3. To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  4. How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient access to resources?
This project transforms the way research is done. It will create a regional network of expertise distributed across multiple institutions in support of faculty-led research that benefits from advanced networking capabilities. Significantly, the project will facilitate the creation of distributed science communities and enable new collaborations across the region that can leverage advanced networking solutions to make new science discoveries. The project will focus on building and strengthening the relationship between campus IT organizations and researchers/educators to offer a series of workshops, site visits, and the development of best-practices documentation tailored for the southern region of the United States.

Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work: This is also a required statement found within your proposal, and addresses questions such as:

  1. How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning?
  2. How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)?
  3. To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships?
  4. Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding?
  5. What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?
The South has a significant number of small to medium size colleges and universities, many of them Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) or Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), that will be invited to participate in the proposed workshops. SoX provides network-based commodity services to universities and colleges in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee – three of which are EPSCoR jurisdictions. Outreach will be broad and diverse. The regional collaboration, workshops, and site visits described in this proposal will impact at least four major areas: science discovery, infrastructure, technology transfer, and workforce training at many institutions across the South.
Project Budget

This is what you are requesting from NSF to complete the work you proposed in the project description. Budget categories include (but are not limited to) personnel, equipment, participant support, and indirect costs. Keep in mind most institutions’ indirect costs are 50%+, so this has an impact on the amount you can request in direct budget funds.

Project Budget Justification

This is where you explain and defend your project budget. For what are you requesting the funds? What will the personnel listed in the budget perform for the project?


A biosketch is your NSF-formatted resume or CV, and must follow the exact format given by NSF.

Current & Pending Support

The current and pending support form is where you list your current and pending funding sources, even from internal projects. This is used by reviewers to assess whether or not you will be able to commit the time to ensure the proposal is successful through your role.

Collaborators & Other Affiliations

The collaborators and other affiliations form is where you must list your collaborators, co-authors, graduate advisors, etc. during the last 48 months. This is to ensure that no conflicts of interest arise during proposal review.

Data Management Plan

Data management plans are now a required component of all NSF submissions. A data management plan should describe your plans for data management and sharing of the products of research. Such plans may include:

  • the types of data, samples, physical collections, software, curriculum materials, and other materials to be produced in the course of the project;
  • the standards to be used for data and metadata format and content (where existing standards are absent or deemed inadequate, this should be documented along with any proposed solutions or remedies);
  • policies for access and sharing including provisions for appropriate protection of privacy, confidentiality, security, intellectual property, or other rights or requirements;
  • policies and provisions for re-use, re-distribution, and the production of derivatives; and plans for archiving data, samples, and other research products, and for preservation of access to them.

Tips for Data Management Plans

  • Start this at the same time you begin your proposal – don’t make it an afterthought (these do get read).
  • Create templates/boilerplates that can be used across your proposals, so that after the initial draft, you can make edits rather than writing a whole new document again.

Specific NSF Programs of Interest

NSF CC* (Campus Cyberinfrastructure) Program

The Campus Cyberinfrastructure (CC*) program invests in campus-level data and networking infrastructure and integration activities tied to achieving higher levels of performance, reliability and predictability for science applications and distributed research projects. Science-driven requirements are the primary motivation for any proposed activity.

This is the last (2016) Campus Cyberinfrastructure program through NSF's Advanced Cyberinfrastructure division - previous calls were CC*NIE (Network Infrastructure and Engineering) program in 2012/2013, CC*IIE (Infrastructure, Innovation, and Engineering) program in 2014, and CC*DNI (Data, Networking, and Innovation) in 2015.

Significant Areas/Programs within CC*
  1. Data Driven Multi-Campus/Multi-Institution Model Implementation awards will be supported at up to $3,000,000 total for up to 4 years.
  2. Cyber Team awards will be supported at up to $1,500,000 total for up to 3 years.
  3. Data Driven Networking Infrastructure for the Campus and Researcher awards will be supported at up to $500,000 total for up to 2 years.
  4. Network Design and Implementation for Small Institutions awards will be supported at up to $400,000 total for up to 2 years.
  5. Network Integration and Applied Innovation awards will be supported at up to $1,000,000 total for up to 2 years.
  6. Campus Computing awards will be supported at up to $500,000 for up to 3 years.
  7. Innovative Integrated Storage Resources awards will be supported at up to $200,000 for up to 2 years.

Key across-the-board component was the creation of a supplementary document to serve as the Campus Cyberinfrastructure Plan, which should document your campus' plans for the development, deployment, and/or implementation of advanced cyberinfrastructure components including networking, computing, storage, and other necessary components to support campus-based research.

NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program

The MRI program assists in the acquisition or development of major research instrumentation that is, in general, too costly or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs. An instrument acquired or developed with support from the MRI program is expected to be operational for regular research use by the end of the award period.

Significant Areas within MRI

There are two distinct tracks found within the MRI program:

  1. A Track 1 proposal should request support for the acquisition of a shared, major, state-of-the-art instrument, thereby improving access to, and increased use of, a modern research instrument by scientists, engineers, and students.
  2. A Track 2 proposal should request support for the development of the next generation of major instrumentation, resulting in a new type of instrument that is more widely used, and/or opens up new areas of research and research training.

Of particular note for the MRI program are specific requirements to the particular solicitation, including:

  • Cost-Sharing: PhD-granting institutions are required to cost-share 30% of the total project cost. This is not 30% of the NSF request, but 30% of the entire request to include the cost-sharing portion. Non-PhD granting institutions are exempt from this requirement and cannot provide cost-sharing. MRI proposals are required to include the NSF request and the cost-sharing proposed in tabular form, indicated in the template.
NSF Cost-Sharing Budget Template
  • Submission Limits: Only three proposals are allowed per institution, and at least one of the proposals must be for Track 2 (instrument development) and no more than two proposals can be for Track 1 (instrument acquisition). For most institutions, this means that an internal competition will take place well before the NSF deadline date to select those proposals from the institution that will be most competitive to NSF.
  • Budgetary Restrictions: For Track 1 (instrument acquisition) proposals, at least 70% of the total project cost (NSF Request + Cost-Sharing) must be in the equipment line on the NSF budget form. NSF notes that Historically, the fraction of the Total Project Cost for MRI acquisition proposals devoted to equipment has been much higher than 70%, on average, and institutions are encouraged to continue to use acquisition awards for equipment and for the maintenance required to keep that equipment operational.

Other Proposal Mechanisms

NSF EAGER (Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research)

The EAGER funding mechanism may be used to support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches. This work may be considered especially "high risk-high payoff" in the sense that it, for example, involves radically different approaches, applies new expertise, or engages novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives. These exploratory proposals may also be submitted directly to an NSF program, but the EAGER mechanism should not be used for projects that are appropriate for submission as “regular” (i.e., non-EAGER) NSF proposals. PI(s) must contact the NSF program officer(s) whose expertise is most germane to the proposal topic prior to submission of an EAGER proposal. This will aid in determining the appropriateness of the work for consideration under the EAGER mechanism; this suitability must be assessed early in the process.

  • Requests may be for up to $300K and of up to two years duration. The award size, however, will be consistent with the project scope and of a size comparable to grants in similar areas.
  • The Project Description is expected to be brief (five to eight pages) and include clear statements as to why this project is appropriate for EAGER funding, including why it does not “fit” into existing programs and why it is a “good fit” for EAGER. Note this proposal preparation instruction deviates from the standard proposal preparation instructions contained in this Guide; EAGER proposals must otherwise be compliant with the GPG.


Interactive Mock Proposal Exercise

Point your browser to the latest archived CC* Solicitation, found here:

For this solicitation, there were seven areas:

  • Data Driven Multi-Campus/Multi-Institution Model Implementation awards will be supported at up to $3,000,000 total for up to 4 years.
  • Cyber Team awards will be supported at up to $1,500,000 total for up to 3 years.
  • Data Driven Networking Infrastructure for the Campus and Researcher awards will be supported at up to $500,000 total for up to 2 years.
  • Network Design and Implementation for Small Institutions awards will be supported at up to $400,000 total for up to 2 years.
  • Network Integration and Applied Innovation awards will be supported at up to $1,000,000 total for up to 2 years.
  • Campus Computing awards will be supported at up to $500,000 for up to 3 years.
  • Innovative Integrated Storage Resources awards will be supported at up to $200,000 for up to 2 years.

Key areas that may be of interest to you:

  • Cyber Team (building team expertise in CI)
  • Network Design and Implementation for Small Institutions (networking for R&E on campus)
  • Campus Computing (advanced computing on campus)

Take 10-15 minutes to read through the solicitation, and think of an idea on your campus that could potentially be proposed to one of the seven programs listed above.


Proposal Outline

  1. Introduction to Idea/Topic
  2. Intellectual Merit
  3. Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work
  4. Impact on Your Campus
  5. Implementation Plan (How will you do it?)
  6. Management Plan (Who will do it?)


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