Eligibility and Application Instructions

The Innovators Program strives to have a diverse representation of universities and encourages applications from early-career faculty who are members of a group that are historically under-represented in social sciences and STEM, including faculty who are Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic or Latino, female, and those with disabilities, Veterans and LGBTQA. NSF NCAR is committed to broadening participation in the geosciences and specifically invites scholars from Minority Serving Institutions and those from groups who traditionally have been underrepresented in the sciences to apply.


Who may submit applications to the Innovators Program

Early-career faculty at a U.S. university (includes universities in U.S. territories) who:

  • Hold a degree or have demonstrated research in the Social, Policy, or Behavioral Sciences;

  • Are employed full-time at a U.S. University in a tenure-track (or tenure-track-equivalent, see below) position at the time of the proposal submission;

  • Have NOT been previously funded by the Innovator Program as a faculty PI, including funding for pilot studies. Previous students of the Innovator Program, who are now faculty at a U.S. university, are eligible to apply if they meet the eligibility criteria.

  • Are “early-career” per the following definition: By the start of the award period (Sept. 2025), the applicant has completed no more than 1 year in a tenured faculty position (e.g., Associate Professor) at a U.S. university. Faculty are not eligible if they have achieved a tenured (or similar) position at a university outside the U.S. 

  • If the applicant is in a tenure-track equivalent position*, then they can have no more than 6 years in this position.

  • Are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or U.S. permanent resident by the time of application. If you are a visa holder, please contact us.

  • Can mentor a graduate student (M.S or Ph.D). One graduate student must be nominated to the Innovator Program before the start of the award (before Sept. 2023). The nominated graduate student must be fully funded (tuition, stipend, and benefits) for the duration of the fellowship period, they must be at the same university as the faculty, and the faculty must be their primary advisor. However, we acknowledge that individual circumstances may not make this possible, and we can accommodate unique situations with advanced notice. It is expected that the graduate student makes a significant contribution to the overall project and is involved in the reporting of results in peer-review literature.

  • Are able to visit NSF NCAR campuses, located in Boulder, Colorado, for one week each year during the summer, when the entire cohort will gather.

*Tenure-track equivalency - For a position to be considered a tenure-track-equivalent position, it must meet all of the following requirements: (1) the employee has a continuing appointment at a US university that is expected to last the two years of the Innovator Program appointment; (2) the faculty appointment has substantial research and educational responsibilities; (3) the employee is the primary faculty advisor for the graduate student they nominate (see above); and (4) the proposed project relates to the employee's career goals and job responsibilities as well as to the mission of the applicant’s department or university.

Not eligible

  • Faculty who hold Adjunct Faculty or equivalent appointments.
  • Faculty who have been tenured (e.g., Associate Professor) for more than 1 year
  • Faculty who achieved tenure (or similar) position at a university outside of the U.S.
  • Faculty who have been in a non-tenure-track (a.k.a equivalent) position for more than 6 years

Please See our FAQ page for more information.


Applications for the 2025-2027 Early Career Faculty Innovators program are now open. Letters of intent are due May 1st, 2024

For updates, join our email list.

Recommended steps when preparing an LOI

  1. Read the online materials we have made available including eligibility and application instructions, our FAQ page, and project profiles for Cohort 1, Cohort 2, and Cohort 3 awardees.
  2. Visit this NSF NCAR Collaborators document, which profiles NSF NCAR researchers who are interested in working with the Innovator Program.
  3. If you have additional questions please contact ecinnovators@ucar.edu

How to apply

Step 1: Fill out this google form

Step 2: Submit a Cover Sheet, an inclusion statement, a Letter of Intent (LOI) with references, Curriculum Vitae (CV), and any supplemental documents to ecinnovators@ucar.edu. These can be combined into a single PDF or sent separately (please use descriptive file names). Address your application package to the Program Coordinator, Alexandra Ramos Valle, with the subject line “2025 Innovators Program - [Last Name] Letter of Intent”


Letters of Intent are due to NSF NCAR on May 1, 2024. Please email ecinnovators@ucar.edu with your application package.

General Guidance

  • The proposed research needs to align with the 2020-2024 NCAR strategic plan (detailed in section 3) and the program theme of “convergent and actionable Earth system science”.
  • Your Inclusion statement will be evaluated and taken into consideration when determining who to invite to a full proposal and for final selection to the program.
  • A connection to NSF NCAR expertise, modeling products, data, or capabilities is necessary to be invited to a full proposal (see LOI review criteria below). If you are unsure how to connect your research to NSF NCAR, we strongly recommend reaching out to ecinnovators@ucar.edu so that we may leverage our resources to help identify relevant connections to NSF NCAR’s expertise. Please see “Connecting to NSF NCAR” below for more details.
  • You DO NOT need to identify specific NSF NCAR collaborators prior to submitting your Letter of Intent (LOI). The Innovator Program staff will endeavor to find potential collaborators for all LOIs submitted.
  • While there are resources available for NSF NCAR researchers to collaborate, development of new modeling products that will require long-term support by NSF NCAR is, in most cases, outside the scope of a two-year award.

Connecting to NSF NCAR

If you are unsure how to connect your research to NSF NCAR, first visit this document for NSF NCAR researchers who may have complementary expertise and who may be working on related projects. Then, please share with us a summary of your research interests and how a partnership with NSF NCAR might expand upon your current expertise. To help find alignment between your research goals and NSF NCAR expertise and capabilities, consider the following example questions that can help us guide you (NOTE: If your answer is “I don’t know”, we can try and help you figure this out before submitting the LOI so please reach out):

  1. What kind of research do you want to bring to NSF NCAR? Which NSF NCAR researchers may benefit by connecting their research to your research goals?
  2. Do you envision your collaboration with NSF NCAR to be more conceptual, visual, or data centric?
  3. If you feel that the collaboration with NSF NCAR may be more data centric in nature, what kind of data do you anticipate working with? What general spatial and temporal scales are relevant for your study? Where will the study take place? What time periods are you considering (historical, present and near future, and/or future time periods)?
    • If you would like to use weather, water, or climate data, what is your level of familiarity with these types of data?
    • If your project will require NSF NCAR data, model output, or high performance computing, what are the names of the NSF NCAR products you are most interested in using (if you know)?

Required Sections / Documents

  1. Cover Sheet
    • Project Title: Descriptive title of the proposed research
    • Principal Investigator’s Information
      • Full name, Job title, Academic Department and/or Program, University of employment, University address
    • Collaborators and their affiliations, if known (can be unknown at time of submission)
    • 200-300 word abstract
    • Up to 7 keywords
  2. Inclusion Statement (Personal And Diversity Statement)
    • Discuss why the Innovator Program appeals to you and how it can support your personal and professional growth. NSF NCAR embraces an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace. Please address how you will contribute to a diverse and inclusive cohort, including how your work will broaden participation in your field and the geosciences in general. (1 page)
  3. Letters of Intent
    • Format
      • No more than 3 pages
      • 1 inch margins, size 11 font, single spaced
    • Content
      • Project Title: Descriptive title of the proposed research
      • Research Proposal: Please briefly describe an interdisciplinary research plan showing clearly how it builds on the expertise of the applicant and leverages NSF NCAR science. If known, you may use the LOI to identify NSF NCAR programs and/or scientists with whom you would like to collaborate. The research plan needs to articulate how it relates to the research theme “Convergent and actionable Earth System Science” and NSF NCAR’s Strategic Goals.
      • Suggested reviewers for full proposal (if LOI is selected). Full proposals will be reviewed by at least three external (to NSF NCAR) reviewers.
  4. References (no page limit)
  5. Curriculum Vitae (C.V.)
  6. For Visa Holders
    • Before being invited to submit a full proposal, faculty with Visas will be required to submit a statement from their sponsoring Institution that the applicant can accept a $125K subaward per year and spend it on the required elements outlined on our main webpage (e.g. graduate student tuition, salary, and benefits; travel to and accommodation in Boulder; research costs; etc.). While faculty do not need to submit this documentation at the same time as the LOI, we recommend getting university approval before applying. A statement supporting the application of a Visa holder can be submitted at any time and up until decisions are made on invited proposals.
  7. For Non-Tenure Track Faculty
    • Please include a statement by the Departmental Chair that the applicant satisfies all the requirements of tenure-track equivalency as defined in the eligibility criteria above.

Evaluation Criteria 

General evaluation criteria (and weights) for the inclusion statement, letter of Intent (LOI), and faculty C.V.

A rubric will be used to evaluate the application package (inclusion statement, letter of intent and CV) to determine who will be invited to submit a full proposal. The application package will be scored across four categories with different weighting factors (below). The most important category is the potential for robust collaborations with NSF NCAR scientists and labs.

  1. Qualifications: PI is appropriately accomplished (papers, students, service, community engagement) [note this accounts for different experience levels] (15%)
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: Applicant brings a compelling diversity component to their collaboration, as evidenced by their inclusion statement, their project objectives, or both. (15%)
  3. Appropriateness of Topic: Proposed research will contribute novel social science methodologies, approaches, and theoretical frameworks to the project (20%)
  4. Connection to NCAR: Potential collaborations of PI with NCAR scientists and labs are evident, necessary for the project to succeed, and mutually beneficial. [one-way data provisioning, for example, is not compelling] (50%)

Please see our FAQ page for more information.