While POs use a similar approach to working with potential PIs, each has their own way of working. Thus, it is important to develop a working relationship with the PO to learn the specific requirements for idea paragraphs, white papers, and proposals.
Research Grants - Idea Paragraphs
In order to get the funding opportunity conversation started, some POs like to begin with idea paragraphs. Depending on the number of focus research areas the investigator is thinking about, submit one or more idea paragraphs. These should not be long, only 4-5 sentences. This will provide the PO with a glimpse of the span of ideas without the investigator spending too much time in document preparation. A reaction scheme, figure, graph, or table may be included if it will help communicate the point. If there is something that might be considered as a possible project, then the PO may encourage a white paper, which will be due in a set number of weeks so it will be considered for funding either in the present or next funding cycle. From there, the PO might invite a full proposal. Technical merit and scientific impact are primary drivers to be considered. While application areas are important, the fundamental science behind the idea is key.
At times, interesting ideas do not fit well with the overall goals of a particular program. Consult with the PO to determine if another idea or line of research would be a better fit with their program. Most POs are well-connected in the community and may be able to point the investigator in a direction to seek other funding sources.
Research Grants - White PapersThe white paper is generally the vehicle to get the AOARD PO interested in the research idea. At some point in the process, the PO will encourage the investigator to submit a short preliminary white paper that describes the research plan to be done in this project. This is a competitive process as multiple white papers are received; after down-selection, topics are chosen and investigators encouraged to submit a full proposal. The investigator should discuss the white paper and its format/timing requirements with the PO before submitting the white paper. If a compelling white paper is well-received, the PO may encourage submission of a full proposal on a specific topic to be considered for funding by the US Air Force. The white paper will be critically evaluated by the AOARD PO and may be circulated within AFOSR, AFRL, or to other US government scientists for technical merit, Air Force relevance, and potential collaboration purposes. There is usually a submission request date associated with the white paper. Each PO has specific requirements for the white paper.
For example, in the AOARD Materials/Chemistry program, the white paper should be no more than two pages in length including any figures or schemes (12 font) - a third page can have a couple of key references and a one sentence budget statement. The white paper should describe the fundamental science behind the ideas (be specific) and in what application areas (in the broadest sense) this work will be relevant. Think broadly on how the science you propose might impact technologies that are likely useful for the future Air Force (can be 20-30 years out). AOARD and AFOSR POs are interested in novel and innovative high risk, high impact fundamental research - not incremental, extensional, continuation, or me-too kinds of work. Generally there is little interest in receiving idea paragraphs, white papers, or proposals that describe an application and how this research will solve a problem in that area. The focus should be on the basic science and how will it impact a field of research. For the Materials/Chemistry program PO to consider research that is extensional to current work, it will need significant justification as to why it is critical that it be extended. The white paper needs to be convincing that the proposed research is novel and oriented towards the POs program goals (and not only applications). It also needs to make it clear how the idea is significantly different from research findings already reported in the literature, or if not, why it is critical that the work be considered for continuation.
If the PI is not encouraged to submit a full proposal based on a submitted white paper, it is likely that the idea is interesting but may not fit within a budget-constrained, focused program. This does not imply that future ideas will not be considered. The investigator should work with the PO to submit other idea paragraphs and white papers that involve research more closely focused on AOARD program interests.
**For more information about the Research Grant Proposal process, please consult with your PO.