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Frequently Asked Questions on the Graduate Research Fellowship Program


The following questions and answers should help you prepare your GRF application:

Before Applying - Graduate Research Fellowship

Outside of the open solicitation period, email program questions to [email protected]. During the open solicitation period, please contact the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) Response Center: toll-free at 1-800-851-3420; via TTY at 301-240-6310 (hearing impaired only); email [email protected]; fax to 301-240-5830; or web chat at https://webcontact.ncjrs.gov/ncjchat/chat.jsp.

For technical assistance with submitting an application, call the Grants.gov Customer Support Hot Line at 800-518-4726.

The GRF program supports the development of young scientists engaged in research relevant to NIJ's criminal justice mission. The intent is to give these students the financial support to allow them to devote their full attention to completion of their dissertation research. GRF fellowships include: a student fellow salary; an allowance for tuition, fees, and administrative costs; and an allowance for research expenses. Up to three years of support may be requested.

A GRF solicitation for 2020 has not yet posted, but it is anticipated soon. In past years, the funding opportunity has typically posted in January and been open for at least 90 days. Potential applicants can register for updates at https://nij.ojp.gov/subscribe to be notified when the solicitation is released.

Students enrolled full-time in a PhD program in a science or engineering field and who propose a dissertation topic relevant to criminal justice are eligible. The applicant academic institution must be fully accredited by one of the regional institutional accreditation commissions recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Failure to provide verification of current enrollment at the time of application will disqualify an applicant.

A student can apply for and be awarded a fellowship at any stage in their graduate program, if they are currently enrolled, but they will not begin to receive fellowship funding until:

  • A dissertation committee has been formed, and
  • The dissertation topic has been approved by the committee and is substantively similar to what was originally proposed in the fellowship application.

If the doctoral student has already passed these milestones at the time of application, then the dissertation committee chair should indicate this in the letter of support included with the application.

If the doctoral student has NOT accomplished these milestones at the time of application, then the student’s project timeline should indicate the dates by which these milestones are expected to be met. The letter of support from the student’s faculty advisor, department chair, departmental director of graduate studies or individual with similar responsibilities should also refer to the dates by which these requirements are expected to be met. Although an award may be made in such cases, access to award funds will be withheld until NIJ receives documentation that the student has met both milestones.

The earliest possible date that funds could become available is January 1 of the year following submission of an application. This is the official “start date” of the fellowship grant. But the practical availability of funds can in some cases be delayed until certain grant requirements are satisfied (e.g., human subjects approval from an Institutional Review Board; environmental protection checklist; dissertation topic approval). It is important that you work with your university Office of Sponsored Programs, or equivalent, to make sure all of these conditions are satisfied.

Successful institutional applicants must agree to comply with additional requirements prior to receiving grant funding. Learn more about these requirements (pdf, 23 pages).

No. The official applicant is the academic institution, not the student. Therefore, the student's citizenship does not affect eligibility. GRF awards are made only to degree-granting academic institutions in the U.S. and its territories. The sponsoring academic institution must be fully accredited by one of the regional institutional accreditation commissions recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The GRF program funds dissertation research across a wide range of topics with relevance to criminal justice, including the forensic sciences. To apply, students must be enrolled in a doctoral program in the sciences or engineering. Successful applicants must demonstrate the relevance of their dissertation research to advancing criminal justice knowledge, practice or policy in the United States.

The GRF program has now integrated two previously separate solicitations: the Graduate Research Fellowship in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (GRF-SBS), and the Graduate Research Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (GRF-STEM). Starting in 2020, all applicants are invited to apply to the same, single solicitation, regardless of their degree program.

Application Submission - Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The official applicant is the sponsoring academic institution. Students must contact and seek the assistance of the university’s Office of Sponsored Programs, or equivalent office. Working with the student and his or her dissertation committee chair (or intended dissertation committee chair), a representative from the university OSP must complete and submit the full application package online at Grants.gov by the deadline date. Refer to the solicitation for a full list of required documents.

Because coordination with their university OSP is necessary, students are encouraged to make contact EARLY to express their intent to submit an application.

Yes, but a separate application must be submitted for each student.

A university official (but NOT the sponsored student) should be listed as the grant Point of Contact (POC). The POC must be able to authoritatively respond to correspondence from OJP/NIJ and will be required to take the OJP OCFO financial management training before grant funds can become available. Typically, the grant POC is a staff member from the university grants administration office or a university faculty member. An official with signing authority for the sponsoring academic institution should be listed as the Authorized Representative.

If allowed by university policy, the doctoral student should be the project’s Principal Investigator (PI). If this is not permitted, the student's dissertation committee chair or faculty advisor should be listed as PI, with the student listed as co-Principal Investigator (co-PI), “Graduate Research Fellow,” or similar.

No, there is no relationship between these roles. These roles are typically filled by different people.

The committee chair (or faculty advisor, department chair, departmental director of graduate studies, or individual with similar responsibilities, as applicable) is expected to write a statement of support to be included with the application package. 

This statement may NOT be submitted independently by the committee chair, but must be included with the entire application package submitted by the university OSP administrator. Failure to include the statement of support at the time of application will disqualify an applicant.

The student must work with a representative from the university’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP), or equivalent office, to assemble an application package.

The student is expected to author the program narrative and personal statement, as well as other necessary appendices, as specified in the solicitation. These documents should be provided to the OSP administrator early enough to ensure that the application can be submitted before the deadline.

The university must provide verification of current full-time enrollment in a qualifying doctoral program. As the official applicant, the university must upload all required documents and submit the application package in Grants.gov. See the current solicitation for the list of required documents. Each file should be descriptively named according to what it contains (e.g., program narrative, appendices, budget).

The proposed start date should be the estimated date on which the student could reasonably begin work on the dissertation research project, pending demonstration to NIJ of the formation of a dissertation committee and acceptance of the proposed dissertation topic. The proposed fellowship start date should be no earlier than January 1 of the year following application submission.

The practical availability of funds may be delayed pending the fulfillment of administrative award conditions. NIJ cautions the doctoral student and academic institution not to depend on any GRF funds until these requirements have been met.

Yes. Under such circumstances, in addition to all other requirements, the institution must submit an official letter stating that it expects that the student will be enrolled full-time in the doctoral degree program beginning the academic term in which fellowship activity is proposed to begin. Be aware that under these circumstances, if an award is made, NIJ will place a condition on the award withholding funds until full-time enrollment is demonstrated for the academic term in which fellowship activity is proposed to begin.

The program narrative appendices should include:

  • Bibliography/references.
  • Any tools/instruments, questionnaires, tables/charts/graphs, or maps pertaining to the proposed project that are supplemental to, but not essential to, a basic understanding of the main body of the narrative.
  • Personal statement from the doctoral student discussing his or her academic background, research experience, career goals and the anticipated role of the fellowship in his or her professional trajectory.
  • Proposed project timeline and expected milestones.
  • List of all people who will be involved with the project.
  • Human Subjects Protection paperwork (documentation and forms related to Institutional Review Board (IRB) review, if applicable). Note: Final IRB approval is not required at the time an application is submitted. Read about NIJ’s human subjects protections requirements.
  • Privacy Certificate. Read NIJ’s privacy certificate guidance.
  • A list of any previous and current NIJ awards to applicant organization and investigator(s).
  • List of other agencies, organizations or funding sources to which this proposal has been submitted or other fellowships/scholarships to which the doctoral student has applied or from whom the doctoral student expects to receive support during the proposed fellowship tenure (if applicable).
  • Applicants proposing to use incentives or stipends payments as part of their research project design, must submit an incentive or stipend approval request, as a separate document. Read NIJ’s research subjects incentives policy.
  • Letters of cooperation/support or administrative agreements from organizations collaborating in the project, such as law enforcement and correctional agencies (if applicable).

About the Program Narrative - Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The program narrative is a research proposal that should include a title page, resubmit response (if applicable), a table of contents, the main proposal body, and any necessary appendices.

The main body of the program narrative is the heart of the research proposal. It should address:

  • Statement of the problem and research questions.
  • Project design and implementation.
  • Capabilities and competencies of the student, advisor, and academic institution.

The program narrative is expected to be the intellectual product of the student. While the involvement of graduate advisors and others is encouraged in the development of research ideas and in the revision of manuscripts, the student should be the primary author of the research proposal.

If an applicant is resubmitting a proposal previously presented to NIJ but not funded, the program narrative should contain a resubmit response of no more than two pages, addressing: (1) the title, submission date, and NIJ-assigned application number of the previous application, and (2) a brief summary of revisions to the application, including responses to previous feedback received from NIJ.

Please review the format guidelines specified in the solicitation. The program narrative section should not exceed the specified page limit guidelines as stated in the solicitation.

About the Budget - Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Each successful applicant (i.e., the host academic institution) may request up to $50,000 per year for up to three years of support (for a maximum total of $150,000).

Each year of support includes:

  • $35,000 for the fellow’s Salary and Fringe
  • up to $12,000 for Cost of Education Allowance
  • up to $3,000 for Research Expenses

Students should work with their university Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) representative to complete the Budget Detail Worksheet. Applicants are encouraged to consult the Budget Preparation and Submission Information section of the Grant Application Resource Guide for guidance.

The Budget Detail Worksheet must be submitted with the application and must clearly show a breakdown of all costs associated with every allowable budget category. All proposed expenses must comply with the DOJ Financial Guide and be justified and explained in the Budget Detail Worksheet.

Each year of support includes $35,000 for the fellow’s salary and fringe or health insurance. Where possible in accordance with institutional policy, the university should account for the full $35,000 when requesting the personnel expenses of the doctoral student. Salary, fringe benefits, and health insurance costs are allowable under the Salary and Fringe programmatic budget category.

Up to $12,000 annually may be requested as a Cost of Education Allowance. This may include tuition, fees, and university administrative or indirect costs. If the university elects not to use the entire $12,000 Cost of Education Allowance for tuition, fees, or administrative or indirect costs, the remaining portion may be used to supplement allowable expenses under the Research Expenses category.

In addition, up to $3,000 annually may be requested under the Research Expenses allowance.  This can include research supplies, instrumental user facility time, compensation for human subjects, data collection site travel, conference travel, or professional society membership fees, among other allowable expenses.

For more information on allowable expenses, see the DOJ Financial Guide.

The end date of the project should be a reasonable estimate for the date of acceptance of the student's successfully defended dissertation. The end date may assume a total period of up to five years, but only three full years of fellowship funding will be possible during that period.

Yes, indirect costs are allowed under the GRF program.

Required Documents - Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Yes. The applicant institution must submit a copy of the student’s graduate academic transcript, which should document current progress toward the doctoral degree. Complete undergraduate transcripts must also be submitted. Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.

The statement of support should be written and signed by the doctoral student's dissertation committee chair. If the student doesn’t yet have a committee, a faculty advisor, department chair, departmental director of graduate studies or individual with similar responsibilities may write the letter.

The letter should:

  • Evaluate the doctoral student’s proposed project.
  • Describe the current status of the proposed work.
  • Outline any pending work, academic or otherwise, toward completion of the degree.
  • Comment on the student’s potential to complete the dissertation.
  • Describe the committee chair’s role in monitoring the project and verify that the committee chair will review and approve all progress reports prior to submission to NIJ.

Review and Awarding - Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The number of GRF awards will depend on the availability of funds and quality of applications. For 2020, NIJ anticipates that up to $3,000,000 will be available annually for approximately 20 new fellows. See a list of past GRF awards.

Independent external peer review panels evaluate all responsive GRF proposals. Reviewers from across the social, physical, and life sciences and engineering fields are chosen for their scientific expertise and experience in advising graduate students. These external reviewers assess the merits of each application against the specific criteria outlined in the solicitation.

Peer review results are presented to the NIJ Director, who has the final authority to make awards. NIJ strives to fund as many quality fellowship applications as possible, given available funding.

The application review process, including peer review, decision-making and other considerations, may take up to six months. All notices of award are made no later than September 30. Notices of award and non-award are sent by email to the university Authorized Representative and Point of Contact (POC) identified on the application. The POC is typically an Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) administrator, so students are encouraged to maintain communication with their OSP.

GRF grants require:

  • Quarterly financial reports from the university.
  • Annual progress reports. See the NIJ guidance for following the RPPR format. Typically, the student drafts the report, the committee chair reviews, and the grant POC (often a university Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) official) submits.
  • An official signed copy of the defended dissertation. 

NIJ recognizes that it is not uncommon for universities to allow, or even require, enrollment in a reduced credit load in the advanced stages of a degree program. To accommodate this practice, NIJ GRF does not require full-time enrollment during the fellowship term. But please note that the fellowship may only draw funds while the student is actively enrolled in the degree program and carrying out the dissertation research proposed in their fellowship application. Should certain unforeseen and/or temporary circumstances arise that preclude the fellow from actively pursuing the dissertation research, the fellow is expected to notify NIJ via his/her academic institution representative. The fellow’s award funding may be temporarily suspended at the discretion of NIJ.

NIJ doesn’t prohibit fellows from obtaining additional employment. Nevertheless, the intent of the program is that fellowship support should allow the student to devote primary effort to the dissertation research. Students should check whether their universities have policies limiting outside employment while receiving fellowship funds.

Yes, a student can receive other awards or stipends. However, any other funding or support must be disclosed (e.g., research or teaching assistantships, positions held under an advisor's grant, other private or government fellowships, grants, stipends). NIJ may seek to avoid duplicative funding, if appropriate.

No. Fellowship funds may be used to support only the originally reviewed and awarded GRF fellow, and are not transferable to any other student.

Doctoral students who have already started their dissertation research are encouraged to apply. Any student enrolled full-time in a qualifying Ph.D. program and proposing a dissertation topic with relevance to criminal justice may apply at any stage in their graduate career.

If a student’s dissertation committee has already accepted the dissertation topic proposed in the GRF application, the student would be eligible for release of fellowship funds as soon as all other administrative requirements are met. Commencing research before submitting an application or while the application is under review does not necessarily impact the likelihood of receiving an award.

Yes. In this case, a “resubmit response” statement should be included with the program narrative. This statement should include the title and submission date of the earlier application, and describe any changes made to the proposal in response to prior peer review comments.

Date Created: December 20, 2019