NSF Funding Opportunity: Research in the Formation of Engineers (RFE)

The NSF Engineering (ENG) Directorate (PD19-1340) has launched a multi-year initiative, the Professional Formation of Engineers, to create and support an innovative and inclusive engineering profession for the 21st century. Professional Formation of Engineers (PFE) refers to the formal and informal processes and value systems by which people become engineers. It also includes the ethical responsibility of practicing engineers to sustain and grow the profession in order to improve quality of life for all peoples. The engineering profession must be responsive to national priorities, grand challenges, and dynamic workforce needs; it must be equally open and accessible to all.

Note: Principal Investigators (PIs) without engineering education research or other social science research experience should consider applying to the Research Initiation in Engineering Formation solicitation (NSF 17-514), rather than Research in the Formation of Engineers. PIs can contact a cognizant program officer to discuss which program is more appropriate.

Average award size for RFE is $350,000 for 36 months. PIs who wish to submit a proposal with a budget greater than $350,000 must contact a cognizant program officer prior to submission.

PIs are advised to review the Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development at for a description of the various types of education research, their purposes, justifications, and types of evidence produced.

Professional Formation of Engineers includes, but is not limited, to:

  • Introductions to the profession at any age;
  • Development of deep technical and professional skills, knowledge, and abilities in both formal and informal settings/domains;
  • Development of outlooks, perspectives, ways of thinking, knowing, and doing;
  • Development of identity as an engineer and its intersection with other identities; and
  • Acculturation to the profession, its standards, and norms.

The goal of the Research in the Formation of Engineers (RFE) program is to advance our understanding of professional formation. It seeks both to deepen our fundamental understanding of the underlying processes and mechanisms that support professional formation and to demonstrate how professional formation is or can be accomplished. Ultimately RFE aims to transform the engineer-formation system, and thus the impact of proposed projects on this system must be described. Principal Investigators (PIs) should provide a roadmap detailing how they envision the proposed research will eventually broadly impact practice within the engineer-formation system, even if these activities are not within the scope of the submitted proposal.