Innovator FAQs


1. Is there a specific number of years after a terminal degree that would exclude a prospective applicant

  • No, but non-tenure track equivalent applicants cannot have more than 6 years in that position.

2. Are applicants from Puerto Rico and Guam eligible?

  • Yes.

3. Are international faculty with visas eligible to apply?

  • It depends. Faculty must be based at a U.S. university and your university would make the final decision about whether you are able to accept funding through the subaward, at the amount we are offering.
  • Before an applicant is invited to write a full proposal, the prospective applicant’s sponsoring university must provide with a signed document saying the visa holder can accept funding through a subaward and is allowed to participate in the Innovators Program under the terms of their visa. Your sponsoring university would also need to state that they understand and approve of how the funding will be spent, based on a budget you prepare for the invited proposal. Please see the funding section on our main webpage for some guidelines on how the Innovator Program expects funds to be spent.

4. Are non-tenure track or research faculty eligible to apply?

  • It depends. Please see our eligibility criteria for tenure-track equivalency and contact us at with any remaining questions or concerns.
  • NOTE: Non-tenure-track faculty must submit a departmental letter that affirms that the investigator's appointment is at an early-career level equivalent, pursuant to the additional eligibility criteria. Further, for non-tenure-track faculty, the departmental letter must demonstrate how the faculty member satisfies all the requirements of tenure-track equivalency as defined in the eligibility criteria.

5. Are international graduate students on a Student Visa eligible to participate?

  • Yes.

6. Do graduate students have to be at the same university as the faculty applicant?

  • This is strongly preferred.

7. Do faculty have to be the primary advisor to the graduate student they nominate for the Innovators Program?

  • Yes. If you are a co-advisor to a graduate student, or an advisor of a graduate student at another institution, please email

8. I am a faculty at an institution that does not have graduate students. Can I still apply?

  • Faculty must find a graduate student at another institution that they can fund and co-advise. This can be a huge lift for faculty. This does not need to be in place by the time applicants submit their LOIs.


1. For the Letter of Intent, does the 3 page limit include a reference page?

  • No. However, a reference page is necessary if the faculty cite literature in their LOI. Reference sections do not have page limits. 

2. Can we include supplemental figures with the Letter of Intent?

  • Yes, you may add 1-2 figures in a supplemental page after the Reference Section (if you have one). The Supplemental Figure page does not count towards page limits.

3. How do I know if there's a lab or scientist at NSF NCAR who aligns with my interests and proposal?

  • Navigating NSF NCAR's websites can be complicated, but you can start here.
  • Email us! We are more than happy to suggest individuals or labs based on your interests. Please note this process can take some time, so it may be several business days to provide an informative response.
  • Here's an NSF NCAR Collaborators PDF document that can help you get a better idea of the work being done at NSF NCAR and the individuals who have worked with Innovators before, or who have expressed interest in collaborating with future cohorts.

4. Do I need to establish a connection with an NSF NCAR scientist or lab to write the Letter of Intent and apply?

  • No, it is not required to communicate with NSF NCAR scientists or develop a collaboration with NCAR at the application / Letter of Intent (LOI) stage.
  • Once we receive an LOI, if NSF NCAR collaborators are not identified, Innovator Program scientists will contact NSF NCAR labs and researchers that we feel have overlapping, complementary interests. The LOI should emphasize the applicant’s research interests, the social science methodologies the applicant uses in their research, and the direction they want to take their research as an early-career and interdisciplinary faculty. We will use the details in each LOI to find capabilities and expertise at NSF NCAR that complement the research interests and proposed methods/approaches.
  • Each LOI will undergo an internal review process to determine selection for a full proposal. During that review process, the Innovator Program will try to identify possible NSF NCAR collaborators if they are not already identified. If a connection is identified by Innovator Program staff, we will make the appropriate introductions between the applicant and potential NSF NCAR collaborators.

5. I've emailed the Innovator team but haven't heard back about potential collaborators. Should I still prepare an LOI?

  • You should absolutely prepare and submit an LOI, especially if the deadline is nearing. Matching your ideas to various groups at NSF NCAR takes time and a lot of coordination, and we are not always able to respond to these requests as quickly as we would like. We will continue working to find ways that your research intersects with NSF NCAR after LOIs are submitted.

6. Who will be reviewing my LOI?

7. What is the process for selection after submitting a full proposal?

  • An external review panel will evaluate full proposals. Three external reviewers will be assigned to each proposal. Final selection to the cohort will lean heavily on the recommendations of the external reviewers.

8. If my research interests are not very close to any areas of research conducted at NSF NCAR, do I have a lower chance of being selected to submit a full proposal?

  • If your research focus and expertise is not a good fit for what NSF NCAR is looking for in the next few years, you do have a lower chance of getting invited to a full proposal. However, it may not be easy to tell what planned projects are on the horizon at NSF NCAR, so please submit an LOI and Innovator Program scientists will find out if labs and/or personnel have complementary interests, ongoing projects, or a research area they want to pursue that aligns with your ideas and background.

9. Will there be opportunity for feedback and modifications if invited to submit a full proposal? What if NSF NCAR identifies a better fit for collaboration with the proposed project than I do?

  • Yes. Feedback and modifications should be expected, as well as input from NSF NCAR. After reviewing your LOI, it is possible that we will identify a different or additional collaborator. We will put you in contact with those researchers.

10. If our proposed topic for the LOI spans 2 of the areas of interest listed, is it allowed to propose engaging with multiple research areas? 

  • Yes. Please share your research ideas in the LOI even if they are across two seemingly different research areas.

11. Will the Innovator Program support a research project with its geographic focus outside the United States?

  • Yes, we are accepting applications/proposals with a geographical focus outside of the US as long as the methods, outcomes or lessons learned are transferable to US areas as well. Be sure to describe how they will transfer in your Project Description.
  • Projects that focus narrowly on a very specific location outside of the US (e.g. a city or local region) are unlikely to be competitive.

12. Why are you asking for LOIs so far in advance of the start of the award?

  • Subawards have taken longer than anticipated to be set up with some universities; additional time between selection and the start of the program will ensure that subawards are in place by Fall 2025.
  • The long lead time also gives faculty an opportunity to recruit graduate students for the Fall 2025 semester.

13. What are the requirements for the full proposal?

  • Faculty invited to a full proposal will receive detailed instructions.


1. I’m planning on changing universities partway through the award period. Can my award transfer to my new university?

  • Unfortunately awards are non-transferable between universities within the award period due to overhead costs and the administrative burden to support a transfer.

2. How is funding distributed to faculty?

  • Through a subaward to your university. NSF NCAR will provide each faculty member with $250k for two years, roughly split as $125k per year. However, it is acceptable to split the $250k funding unevenly between the two years (i.e., you may allocate $100k the first year and $150k the following year).

3. Do subawards include indirect costs/overhead?

  • University indirect costs/overhead will be taken out of the subaward. Thus, each year, faculty can expect to receive $125,000 minus their University’s cost for overhead/indirects.

4. Are there any restrictions on issuing subawards to other organizations or to paying community partners to collaborate within the project? What about if the organization is international?

  • We do have people who are paying other people as resources, whether through consulting, folks doing interviews. It’s your university who may ultimately say if you can use your funds in that way.
  • NSF rarely provides direct funding support to foreign organizations. NSF will consider proposals for cooperative projects involving U.S. and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the U.S. portion of the collaborative effort. In cases however, where the proposer considers the foreign organization or foreign individual’s involvement to be essential to the project and proposes to provide funding through the NSF budget (through a subaward or consultant arrangement), the proposer must explain why support from the foreign counterpart’s local sources is not feasible and why the foreign organization or foreign individual can carry out the activity more effectively than a U.S. organization or U.S. individual.

5. Are faculty and graduate students required to live in Boulder?

  • The Innovator Program requires faculty to spend one week in Boulder each summer to foster collaborations with NSF NCAR scientists and other cohort members.The exact time-frame for the first summer will be determined by January 2025, and in consultation with the selected faculty. The Innovator Program will host several activities (virtual or in person) during the summer months. Some of these events will require attendance by all cohort members. For example, attendance will be required at the PI workshop that occurs in Summer 2027 (date TBD). For extended stays, we welcome and encourage faculty and graduate students to bring their families to Boulder, if possible.
  • Prior commitments to summer conferences or summer field work will not exclude faculty from consideration.

6. What should I budget for my stay in Boulder?

  • $1,000-$2000 toward lodging per person for a week-long visit
  • Surrounding towns such as Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Gunbarrel and Superior are within 30 minutes and may be priced lower than Boulder itself.
  • We will likely arrange a room block at the Residence Inn for $160/night plus taxes
  • Boulder can be traveled via public transportation and UCAR's shuttle system, but a rental car may make sense for your team. The past cohort estimated this at approximately $300 for the week

Note: These are approximate budgetary guidelines and should not be considered strict limits. Individual circumstances as well as tourism and economic fluctuations in Boulder, CO will dictate the true expense of the visit. Faculty are encouraged to use their best judgement when determining their travel and accommodation costs and living expenses for the summer visits.

7. Do faculty need to use Innovator sub-award funds to cover student housing when visiting NSF NCAR?

  • It is expected that the faculty will provide funding to cover the cost of living for themselves and their students during visits to NSF NCAR. This funding can come from the subaward.
  • $2,500 / month should cover living and housing expenses in Boulder for most graduate students


1. What do you mean by “faculty awardees will connect with NSF NCAR researchers and co-develop interdisciplinary and actionable research projects"?

  • The expectation is that faculty awardees will find NSF NCAR collaborators for mutually beneficial projects that all parties are interested in pursuing. There will be time to get to know NSF NCAR and your potential collaborators, and there is flexibility in this grant for your research ideas to be modified from what is proposed in the LOI or the invited proposal stage.

2. How much time should I expect to commit to the program throughout each year?

  • Innovator Program projects are year-round and may require more time from faculty than other grants of comparable size. Because these collaborations with NSF NCAR colleagues cross disciplinary boundaries, the discussions that are needed to make meaningful connections often require additional time. Furthermore, there is the time commitment to visit NSF NCAR over the summer, as detailed in the Funding and NSF NCAR Visit Questions above.

3. What is the connection between NSF NCAR and UCAR?

  • UCAR manages the NSF National Center for Atmospheric Research (NSF NCAR), a Federally Funded R&D Center through the US National Science Foundation. While you will work with NCAR scientists and staff, your subaward will be through UCAR.