News You Can Use keeps researchers aware of the many resources available to them. This page also includes an archive of past issues of Access Granted, the OSPR newsletter.


Contingency Plan guidance

In this time of uncertainty and upheaval caused by the spread of COVID-19, federal agencies find themselves in the difficult position of justifying funding research grants while most universities’ remain closed or open with limited services. Moving forward, NSF and other federal agencies may begin to request contingency plans to address potential short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While research on COVID-19 is ongoing with new findings announced regularly, there is still much uncertainty and it is not unreasonable for funders to ask for plans related to how the ongoing pandemic may impact research and what steps will be taken to ensure that the research continues to move forward.

A contingency plan will regard ‘known unknowns,’ or the risks you are aware of, but for which you don’t have all the information. Exact details matter less than putting forward a well-considered plan that acknowledges uncertainty and risk potential and thus a need for monitoring the situation, being prepared, and being flexible. If requested, the plan will likely need to be up to one page describing plans for adjusting the project if needed, such as:

  • Modified start dates for data collection
  • Alternative data collection strategies
  • Alternative field sites
  • Alternative methods for recruitment and engagement of participants
  • Potential modifications to research and development activities
  • Where guidance and information will come from within the institution and how that will factor into action and adjusting activities as needed

Think of the grant contingency plan in the same way you would build a contingency plan with regards to the science of a research project. It is impossible to know exactly what the outcome will be once experiments begin, but it is possible to:

  • Plan for how problems with the planned research will be addressed if they arise
  • Plan for how alternative methodological approaches will be used instead
  • Be prepared to make abrupt corrections to aims/objectives
  • Be prepared to move in new directions if the findings of an experiment are different from the original hypothesis

The information on these pages, and the COVID-19 pages of other federal agencies, may provide further guidance on the types of questions to consider when preparing a contingency plan:

Please do not hesitate to contact the OSPR with specific questions/concerns. While we are not on campus, we’re still available during normal business hours by email, .

National Sceince Foundation PAPPG

The revised version of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) announced earlier this year will go into effect on June 1, 2020. The changes outlined in the PAPPG will apply to proposals submitted or due on or after that date; however, two of the more highly anticipated requirement changes will be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The requirement to use NSF-approved formats for the biographical sketch and current and pending support sections will not go into effect until October 1, 2020. All other changes to the PAPPG will go into effect beginning on June 1, 2020, including: 

  • New requirement for providing e-mail documentation of Program Officer approval for the submission of RAPID and EAGER proposals
  • Clarifications to current and pending support coverage as well as other changes throughout the document

Not required until October 1, 2020

Biographical Sketch/Current & Pending Support Requirements

NSF will require use of an NSF-approved format in submission of the biographical sketch and current and pending support documents. NSF is partnering with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use SciENcv: Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae as an NSF-approved format for preparation of both documents. To assist the community, NSF has developed websites with additional information for the preparation of the biographical sketch and current and pending support.

Webinars covering the use of NSF-approved formats and other significant changes to the PAPPG are available on the NSF Policy Outreach website. 

Peer review opportunities with the u.s. department of education

The U.S. Department of Education announced opportunities for individuals to participate in its peer review process by reviewing applications for competitive grant funding. Opportunities are available in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Office of Postsecondary Education, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Requests to serve as a peer reviewer will be accepted on an ongoing basis aligned with this year's grant competition schedule. More information on how to participate in the peer review process and how to apply for an OSPR stipend in exchange for your participation.



The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) made a substantial change to their Fellowship Guidelines this year that is important to keep in mind if you intend to apply. Beginning this year, applicants for NEH Fellowships (except those proposing editions, translations, and database projects) must include a writing sample in their application package. It serves to demonstrate the applicant’s ability to express ideas and make a clear project. The writing sample:

  1. Should be in the style of the proposed project. Evaluators will use the sample to assess the clarity of your writing as well as your knowledge of the subject area.
  2. Can be from the proposed project (preferred) or from a recent publication.
  3. Should not be more than five years old.
  4. Must be from a single piece of work and single-authored.
  5. For pre-tenure investigators, an excerpt from your dissertation is acceptable if you are applying for your first book project.
  6. May not be more than ten double-spaced pages in length, including any footnotes or endnotes.
  7. May not include a table of contents, an outline, or an abstract of the proposed work (information of this sort still belongs in the narrative).
  8. Should be formatted with one-inch margins.
  9. Should use a font no smaller than eleven point.
  10. Footnotes or endnotes may be single-spaced.
  11. If it is a PDF of a published work, its length may not exceed the equivalent of ten double-spaced pages in eleven-point typescript.
  12. If it has been published, you must indicate this and list the publication on your resume.

NEH will also be piloting a new system of peer-review for the Fellowship program. Applications will be reviewed by a three-person panel with a fairly specific scope (19th-century American history). If the application moves beyond that stage, they’ll be reviewed by the regular full peer review panel with a broader scope (e.g., American and British history). Therefore, proposals that do not make it out of the triage will receive three reviews, and those that make it to the second round will receive the usual five.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently updated eligibility criteria for Early Stage Investigators (ESI) seeking new funding opportunities within NIH.

The Next Generation Researchers Initiative addresses systemic barriers faced by researchers who seek long-term independent research careers, and extramural support, to build careers within the biomedical research workforce. According to NIH, there are cases when applicants may need to update and/or request an extension of their ESI status post application submission. To minimize the need for manual change requests after submission, the updated policy (NOT-OD-19-072) now allows NIH to automatically update the ESI status of an application within eRA Commons to reflect the following:

  1. Applications will be reviewed within the designation assigned at the time of submission when applicants update educational credentials, residency, etc. information after submission of an R01 or R01-equivalent application, or if an investigator requests and/or receives an extension of ESI status after submitting an R01 or R01-equivalent application; and
  2. If an ESI-eligible application is awarded, and has an R01 or R01-equivalent application pending review, the pending application will be reviewed as an ESI-eligible application.

NSF Broader Impacts Wizard

COSEE Networked Ocean World (COSEE NOW) created the BI Wizard to provide an interface that guides users through a series of well-defined steps necessary for the construction and implementation of a broader impact statement required in research proposals. The goal is to help researchers identify their target audience and plan appropriate BI activities, budget, objectives, and evaluation plan. This is a useful tool for PIs developing NSF proposals.

National Institutes of Health area update

The newly released Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) guide notice from NIH confirms the scope of award and eligibility changes applicable to future applicants beginning in January 2019.

The most obvious change is the elimination of the AREA Parent Announcement. It will be replaced with AREA for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions (R15 Clinical Trial Not Allowed) (PAR-18-714). As a predominately undergraduate institution that received support from NIH totaling less than $6 million per year in total costs in four of the last seven years, Towson University is eligible for these awards.

If you are considering applying to an AREA program, you are strongly encouraged to visit NIH’s R15 “cheat sheet.”

Study Abroad

Five times Ronn Pineo (History) and Colleen Ebacher (Foreign Languages), along with curriculum specialist John Shock from Baltimore City Public Schools, have designed, managed, and assessed short-term study abroad programs for K-12 teachers through the Fulbright-Hays Group Study Abroad program, three times in Mexico and twice in Perú. While Ebacher and Pineo note that the programs were richly rewarding, they admit that they made many mistakes along the way, always trying to learn from each. Given their experiences, they decided to offer some advice to those considering writing a grant proposal and running a study abroad program. Looking back, as Ebacher and Pineo explain, “we certainly would have liked to have received advice like this before we started out our first time.” MORE. 

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