This Time They Really Mean It

The first time NSF ran its competition for science and technology centers, a fleet of Federal Express trucks pulled up to the agency’s loading dock on the Jan. 15, 1988, deadline and disgorged telephone-book-sized proposals. The length and complexity of many of the 323 proposals.threatened to oveiwhelm the agency’s merit review system. There’s got to be a better way, thought program director William Harris.

So this year, as part of its second round of proposals, NSF revised the submission requirements. Page limits were set for each section of the application, and no page was to exceed about 400 words. In bold type, NSF warned institutions that those who failed to comply would be disqualified. But old habits die hard. A few days after this year’s August 4 deadline, Harris did a spot check of about half the 147 proposals and found that most had...

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