Improvement: The “I” in the NSF DD(R)IG

NSF Doctoral Dissertation (Research) Improvement Grants- DD(R)IGs- are available in various fields of the sciences and social sciences to support dissertation research costs (see our most recent NSF post for fields and links to program pages). While the specific requirements and submission details vary somewhat from one field to another, these awards are all intended to support the improvement of an existing dissertation project and its ultimate scholarly contribution.

Some applicants find the context for improvement element of the application challenging, since NSF DD(R)IGs are often financially large enough to support much of the overall dissertation project. There are many ways to construe an initial project and its improvement, and these depend heavily upon your individual research and the conventions of your field. For example, some researchers describe their preliminary field work (supported by small grants or short-term fellowships) as a starting point, and build their case for improvement around the added value of a longer or second stay at the research site. Others discuss statistical analyses of existing data as the primary dissertation project, and request funds for an additional experiment to more fully answer the research question. These are only a few options, and we recommend you discuss the improvement element of your application with your faculty advisor and a GradFund Fellowship Advisor to identify the best argument for your application.

While some DD(R)IG applications request a separate “Context for Improvement” document, the entire research proposal should build the case for the ways in which additional NSF funds will improve the dissertation in a concrete way. For example, if you are requesting money for lab supplies, you will want to clearly illustrate the specific value of those supplies in the methodology/research plan section, as well as in your budget justification. Building from the state of the field described in the literature review, the introduction and significance sections of the proposal will need to make a direct claim to the ways in which your existing dissertation will contribute to the NSF program field and your discipline, and to the additional advancements of the improved dissertation.

Rutgers students can visit the GradFund Knowledgebase to read the NSF Funder Profile for more advice and information on crafting a DD(R)IG application, or to download the proprietary GradFund Proposal Writing Workbook to help you begin brainstorming and drafting your research proposal. As always, Rutgers doctoral students working on NSF DD(R)IG applications for spring deadlines are invited to schedule an application review appointment with a GradFund Fellowship Advisor for personalized feedback and review!

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