NSF 101: Funding opportunities for early career researchers  

Congratulations! After years of work, you’ve earned that coveted professorship and finally settled into your new lab. Now you might be looking to secure funding for your new research idea or take on a graduate student to jumpstart your research productivity and build your tenure portfolio.  

NSF provides funding opportunities in a wide range of research areas for scientists of all career stages. In general, an early career researcher is defined as someone at the rank of assistant professor or equivalent. Early career researchers are eligible (and encouraged!) to compete for NSF core grants and special initiatives as well as many other funding mechanisms, which can be explored on NSF's funding page.  

Below are five NSF funding opportunities available for early career researchers that you may not have heard about before. 

By Vincent Tedjasaputra, PhD

Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) 

One of the most well-known and competitive awards comes through the CAREER program, which funds proposals from assistant professors (or equivalent ranks) whose proposals successfully integrate teaching and research.  

Interested in applying for a CAREER award? Read these tips on how to apply 

More Information on the CAREER program 

Research focus: All fields 

Award Amount: $500k over 5 Years 


EArly-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) 

The EAGER funding mechanism supports exploratory work in early stages on untested but potentially transformative research ideas or approaches that are considered “high risk/high reward.” Note that EAGER proposals are reviewed internally, which allows for shorter time between proposal submission and available funding.  

More Information on EAGER funding 

Research focus: All fields 

Award Amount: Up to $300k, up to 2 Years 


Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) 

The RAPID funding mechanism is for research that involves urgent data collection, such as for quick-response research to natural disasters. Note that RAPID proposals are reviewed internally, which allows for shorter time between proposal submission and available funding.  

Recent NSF-funded RAPID grants have been responding to COVID-19. Read about examples here 

More Information on RAPID funding 

Research focus: All fields 

Award Amount: $200k, 1 year 


Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) 

CRII awards provide essential resources to help early career researchers in computer and information sciences launch their research careers, including 48 months of graduate student support.  

More Information on CRII 

Research focus: Computer and information sciences and engineering  

Award Amount: Up to $175k, up to 2 years 


Education and Human Resources Core Research: Building Capacity in STEM Education (ECR: BCSER) 

ECR:BCSER supports activities that enable early- and mid-career researchers to acquire the requisite expertise and skills to conduct rigorous fundamental research in STEM education. This opportunity is open specifically through the Education and Human Resources directorate. 

More Information on ECR:BCSER 

Research focus: Education and human resources  

Award Amount: Up to $375k, 2 years 


Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research: Research Infrastructure Improvement  (EPSCoR-RII) Track-4

EPSCoR-RII Track-4 awards build research capacity in EPSCoR eligible institutions and transform the career trajectories of early career investigators by supporting collaborative visits to the nation's premier private, governmental, or academic research centers.  

More information on EPSCoR-RII Track-4

Research Focus: All fields

Award amount: Up to $300k, 2 years


If you’re not sure where to start, go to the NSF funding page to find a program officer in your specific research area, who can give you more information and let you know which awards you are eligible to apply for. Good luck! 

About the Author

A man in a suit and tie and glasses is smiling
Vincent Tedjasaputra, PhD
AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow

Vincent Tedjasaputra, PhD is an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at NSF in the Office of the Director, Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. He is a science communicator and public speaking coach. Prior to coming to NSF, Dr. Tedjasaputra studied healthy aging of the lung in his Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. He is a former collegiate track athlete-turned exercise physiologist, earning his Ph.D. in Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada, where he studied the pulmonary vascular response to exercise in health and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Outside of science, Vince is a professional vocalist, having sung the Canadian national anthem for collegiate and professional sporting events and performs classically as a lyrical baritone internationally.