Funding Opportunities

 Mallory Hall 116 E
(973) 655-3037
(973) 655-6810 (fax)


The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies (PSEG-ISS) will award two separate grants of $60,000 each in 2012 to address issues related to the global sustainability transition.  These one-year awards will focus on applications of Sustainability Science1 that integrate the biophysical and social sciences in “use inspired transdisciplinary research” meeting the need for human livelihoods while protecting ecosystems and environmental integrity (Stokes 1997; Clark and Dickson 2003; Turner et al. 2003). Research teams must be lead by a Principal Investigator drawn from a relevant department within any MSU College or School.  While the PI must be from MSU, there are no other exclusions for external partnerships including Co-PIs from other academic institutions.


As the world changes, decision makers and the scientific community increasingly recognize that we are not only failing to resolve the persistent sustainability problems we face, but are in fact causing them.  They are the result of systems that we have created and the unanticipated side-effects of our own actions, side effects created by our inability to understand and act in consonance with our long-term goals and aspirations (Sterman 2002).

While sustainability scientists tend to focus on macroscopic features of Coupled Human-Environment Systems (CHES), they recognize that controls rest at lower levels of organization and that there are often “disconnects” between lower level processes and  unintended, system-level patterns and feedbacks.  A systems approach to addressing these issues is increasingly called for:

  • Systems tools that address spatial and temporal heterogeneity, non-equilibrium properties and scale dependence, and that couple pattern and process (Levin and Clark 2011).
  • Research that includes the decision-making process itself …  behaviors and institutions that underlie decision processes, and the mechanisms by which knowledge and know-how are harnessed to assist in decision-making (Carpenter et al. 2011)

 As Sterman (2002) notes:

system dynamics tools will help us expand the boundaries of our mental models… helps people see themselves as part of a larger system,  so that they become aware of and take responsibility for the feedbacks created by their decisions … that shape the world in ways large and small, desired and undesired

Sterman 2002

Unfortunately, our current “mental models” are characterized by short time horizons, narrow boundaries, poor understanding of risks, feedbacks and time delays, unscientific reasoning and poor learning skills...

Sterman 2011

At the core of resolving competing interests and the tradeoffs, compromises and sacrifices that will attend the sustainability transition is the concept of social learning:

The slow, interactive accumulation of scientific knowledge, technical capacity, management institutions, and public concern over extended periods (generations) … societies must understand the long-term, large-scale trends and transitions that have shaped past and present interactions of environment and development

NRC 2002

Priority Research Areas

Proposals are sought that address a component(s) of the following sustainability related questions (the list is intended to be illustrative, not inclusive):

  • How can the dynamic interactions between nature and society be better incorporated in emerging models and conceptualizations that integrate the earth system, human development, and sustainability?
  • How are long-term trends in environment and development, including consumption and population, reshaping nature-society interactions in ways relevant to sustainability?
  • What determines the vulnerability or resilience of the nature-society system in particular kinds of places and for particular types of ecosystems and human livelihoods?
  • Can scientifically meaningful "limits" or "boundaries" be defined that would provide effective warning of conditions beyond which the nature-society systems incur a significantly increased risk of serious degradation?
  • What systems of incentive structures – including markets, rules, norms and scientific information – can most effectively improve social capacity to guide interactions between nature and society toward more sustainable trajectories?
  • How can today's operational systems for monitoring and reporting on environmental and social conditions be integrated or extended to provide more useful guidance for efforts to navigate a transition toward sustainability?
  • How can today's relatively independent activities of research planning, observation, assessment, and decision support be better integrated into systems for adaptive management and societal (social) learning?

Applicants are also encouraged to review the recently published report available on the PSEG ISS website:  “Toward a Science of Sustainability (Levin and Clark 2010).  The report summarizes the state of the science and each chapter lists a series of pressing research questions. Of interest to the PSEG-ISS is research that integrates field work, theory, statistical and mathematical modeling and/or GIS-Remote Sensing to organism, population or community level processes at broad spatial scales.  Research focused on urban landscapes is of high priority.

 Details of the rfp:

  • Principal Investigator must be a member of the MSU full-time faculty
  • Budget: fringe is allowed, but not indirect costs;
  • Faculty must follow the requisite rules of the University in compensation for grant personnel;
  • Research must be significantly completed within a one-year time frame, and PIs must be prepared to present their research at a  Spring 2013 seminar on campus; and
  • All publications resulting from this grant award must carry a PSEG ISS publication series number and acknowledge the source of the award


 (Please transmit your pre-proposal as a single pdf document in the section order described below; #11 font, Times New Roman, 1” page margins. Failure to comply with these guidelines may result in rejection of your pre-proposal):

  • Pre-Proposal Cover Page (Attached)
  • Budget Page (Attached)
  • Budget Justification page
  • CVs for Principal and Co-PI Investigators should not to exceed two pages each
  • Project Narrative (not to exceed two pages) including:

Statement of Problem
Project Goals and Objectives
Research Plan
Summary of the Relevance of the Project to the global sustainability transition

Pre-Proposal Evaluation and Notification

Pre-Proposals will be subjected to external peer review by individuals outside of New Jersey.  Pre-Proposal Ranking Criteria include:

  • Scientific Merit (40 points)
  • Transdisciplinary makeup of Principal Investigator Team and their Professional Qualifications (35 points)
  • Expected Benefits of the project (20 points)
  • Budget (5 points) 

The PSEG-ISS strives to fund the best science that is relevant to the region’s sustainability transition.  Proposals must be transdisciplinary in nature, and the Principal Investigator team should be comprised of individuals investigators from both the biophysical and social sciences.  Successful applicants will be notified by late April to submit a full proposal.  Based on panel evaluations, principal investigators may be asked to modify objectives, work plans and/or budgets for their full proposals.  Full proposals must be submitted electronically to the Director, PSEG-ISS.

1 an emerging field of [transdisciplinary] research dealing with the interactions between natural and social systems… how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability: meeting the needs of present and future generations while substantially reducing povertyand conserving the planet’s life support systems

PNAS 2008