How is my research relevant to society?

An artistic photo of a lightbulb in front of a group of people meeting at at conference table

How can you convert the scientific questions you propose into messages relevant to your audience (beyond your peers)? It is important to remember that conversations with your audience are a two way street. You are not just bestowing knowledge in your BI activities, it is a process of learning what is important to your audience and finding common ground to share how your research is relevant and perhaps provide solutions to questions your audience may have about the science. The goal is to understand which aspects of your research are most relevant to them, and what you should prioritize as you share your research beyond your peers.


NSF Examples of BI Priorities

Below are a number of examples of BI projects reflective of the NSF BI priorities as adapted from NSF's Perspectives on Broader Impacts.

You can use a variety of approaches to incorporate broader impacts in your research. You can focus on education or outreach or your goal can be to integrate educational or outreach efforts with your research.

The following examples, drawn from past NSF awards in compliance with the PAPPG illustrate the variety of approaches that PIs use to ensure the scientific and societal relevance of their research. These are examples and should not be copied for use in a proposal.

Image credits

A person wearing Google Glass

Full participation of women, persons with disabilities and underrepresented minorities in STEM

Young visitors at the Science Museum of Minnesota use a paint set of acids and bases to learn about pH while creating artistic compositions

Improved STEM education and educator development at any level

Volunteers with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST)

Increased public STEM literacy and public engagement with STEM

The WIFIRE initiative, led jointly by the University of California, San Diego and the University of Maryland works to better predict and mitigate future wildfires

Improved well-being of individuals in society

Students in front of the ATLAS instrument

Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce

Antennas of the Atacama Large Milimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) scrutinize our universe

Increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others

Participants in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Ebola training course for healthcare workers

Improved national security

A student at the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center

Increased economic competitiveness of the United States

Drexel University biologist Katy Gonder collects chimpanzee fecal samples in Lobeke National Park in Cameroon for genetic analysis

Enhanced infrastructure for research and education including facilities, instrumentation, networks and partnerships

In Your Proposal

When constructing and reviewing your BI statement, it is important to consider the following questions:

  1. Does your BI statement address a demonstrated need?
  2. Are the needs of those participating in your project described?
  3. Are the benefits to participation described?
  4. Is the length of the engagement with the participants described and adequate?
  5. Is there a mechanism described for reaching them?

Reviewers of your proposal will be asking:


The following worksheet can help you think about ways to share your science in order to identify the most relevant elements for a particular audience.

A 3D model of a protein

Example: Can we use trflp profiling of high molecular weight ribosomes to determine if the percentage of active bacteria and specific individual bacterial species change in parallel to a strong environmental gradient?

Sharing your science:

Example: We can use molecular techniques to learn about what functions bacteria perform in the environment. We can learn about how bacteria can survive and grow in different places and how scientists can use molecular techniques to learn about them.

Example: Bacteria perform a key role in carbon cycling in aquatic systems. Carbon cycling is necessary for life as it allows for carbon to move from different reservoirs, including biosphere and all of its organisms. Through a deeper understanding of the carbon cycle and the role that microorganisms play, the audience can gain a greater comprehension of the science of climate change.

Example: Through a deeper understanding of the carbon cycle and the role that microorganisms play, the audience can gain a greater comprehension of the science of climate change.


Building a Track Record for Positive Impact on Society: Building a BI Identity

A middle school student hi-fives a college student while doing a science activity

Think of the Broader Impacts projects you develop as more than just a "one off", something needed to check a box to satisfy NSF. Although the budget for your BI efforts may not end up being large, the long term impact of your efforts to benefit society can really add up! As you write proposals over your career, you will add to your Prior Support section -- assisting reviewers in assessing the quality of your prior work conducted with prior or current NSF funding.

Just as you have probably thought about your research goals you hope to achieve over your career — your "research identity" — think about the long-term impact you could make through your BI efforts over your career — your "BI identity".

Food for Thought: As you craft you BI identity over your career, think about these elements:

Adapted from: Julie Risien, Martin Storksdieck, Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society, Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 58, Issue 1, July 2018, Pages 58-66,

For more examples of successful scientists who have constructed BI Identities, check out these case studies.

  How much will this cost? How will I know if my BI project is successful?