Tips for Using FastLane at Colby College

Faculty at Colby College frequently submit proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF). To do so, they must participate in Colby¹s Grants Administration Process, which is detailed at the Web site of the Corporate and Foundation Relations Office.  NSF now requires that almost all submissions are completed electronically through their electronic grant administration system, FastLane. Faculty are encouraged to prepare their budgets as soon as possible as they write their grant proposals. Scott Smith of the Business Office reviews all budgets before proposals go out and can answer budgetary questions (ext. 4123; sdsmith@colby.edu).

The FastLane URL is https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/. This site is secure; more information about the level of security is available on the FastLane site.

"SRO" ("Sponsored Research Officer") is the FastLane term for the institution's point of contact. At Colby, Marci Bernard (ext. 4342; mbernard@colby.edu) and Seven Grenier (ext. 4341; sgrenier@colby.edu) are the SROs with FastLane authority.

PI/CO-PI FUNCTIONS
All PI (Principal Investigator) functions are located on the left-hand side of the FastLane home page -- scroll down.

  • Proposal Preparation -- all stages of proposal development
  • Edit PI Info -- to change any of the information associated with your name (which FastLane automatically prints on forms).
  • Proposal Status--to check the status of a submitted proposal.
  • Supplemental Funding Request -- to request additional funding for an ongoing grant
  • Project Reports System--to submit annual, incremental, or final reports.
  • Notifications and Request--to request no-cost extensions or other administrative changes.
  • Continuation Funding Status--to check on the status of continuation funding.
  • Electronically Signed Cover Sheets -- a new program being tested for electronic signature submissions
  • Viewing and Printing Award Letters -- electronic notice of awards
  • Revise Submitted Proposal -- to revise a budget per request of NSF program officer

You must be registered as a PI on the NSF database and must have a password to use FastLane. If you have submitted an NSF proposal at some other institution in the past, you are probably on the NSF database. Even so, you will need to change your address (and other information) to Colby College (using "Edit PI Info").

If you plan to use FastLane, contact the SRO. She can add you to the NSF database and assign your first password. Passwords are to contain at least six and no more than 20 characters, which include at least one alphabetic character and at least one numeric character. After the SRO assigns you a password on her computer, you can log onto your computer using that password. You will immediately be asked by FastLane to change your password. This step offers you privacy as the SRO will not know this password unless you choose to share it. FastLane will ask you to change the password once a year.

PROPOSAL PREPARATION Read the documentation (at the bottom of the first screen after you have logged on as a PI). The documentation is updated frequently, so skim through it even if you read it the last time you did a proposal. NOTE: FastLane operates a Help Desk at NSF if you have any problems or questions. Often Colby¹s SRO or your colleagues who have used FastLane (see page 4) can answer your questions. FastLane changes periodically -- one challenge with using it is to keep up with its evolution. Some of the available documentation on the FastLane Web site includes:

  • 10 Steps to Prepare Proposals
  • FastLane Demonstration
  • FastLane Advisories

PI Information. Verify PI information and make necessary changes. PI information is used to create your proposal¹s cover page. With the "new" version, there is an Edit PI option on the first screen, but you can also do it from the page showing the information (scroll down to a button at the bottom).

Moving Around. In both versions, there are navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen - you often have to scroll down to see them. In the "new" version, shortcut buttons are also found on the right that will take you directly to the forms and modules (in the old version you have to return to the "Forms Selector" screen each time you want to change). Use the "GO BACK" or "CANCEL" options to back up. Do not use the back-up feature of your browser unless absolutely necessary. Remember to click the "SAVE" or "OK" buttons whenever you have entered or updated information on a page.

Work with or try FastLane well in advance of submitting a proposal. Understand how the forms work. Make sure they print out properly from your computer. Decide which ones you will fill out on-line and which ones you want to upload from your computer. You will need to be able to create PDF files for most of your text documents. (See information on PDF files below). Supporting documents (RUI Certification, letters of support, the signed certification page) must be scanned into a document. Several formats, including Word, WordPerfect, and PDF files, are now accepted by NSF. If you choose not to use PDF, FastLane will convert your documents to PDF for you. Mac users need to add the appropriate extensions to the file name for it to be uploaded at NSF.

Web Browsers. FastLane is supposed to work with Netscape or Internet Explorer, but if you are having trouble with one browser try another one. The FastLane Help Desk or your SRO can offer suggestions (see last page).

PDF files. In the past, NSF¹s FastLane only accepted PDF files because a PDF file has the advantage of looking the same at NSF as it does on your computer. In the past couple of months, several (but not all) formats are accepted. FastLane now supports file uploads in a variety of formats including Word, WordPerfect, PostScript (some) and TeX (MiKTeX 1.20e). You should use standard fonts to avoid font substitutions and you will need to proofread and accept the uploaded files. This table lists formats that are supported:

EXTENSION ASSOCIATED APPLICATION
.DAR DVI to PDF compiler (archive)
.DGZ DVI to PDF compiler (archive)
.DOC Microsoft Word
.DVI DVI to PDF compiler
.DVZ DVI to PDF compiler (archive)
.EPS Adobe Acrobat Distiller
.GZ TeX to PDF compiler (archive)
.PDF Adobe Acrobat
.PPT Microsoft PowerPoint
.PRN Adobe Acrobat Distiller
.PS Adobe Acrobat Distiller
.RTF Supported by many word processors
.TAR TeX to PDF compiler (archive)
.TAZ TeX to PDF compiler (archive)
.TEX TeX to PDF compiler (archive)
.TGZ TeX to PDF compiler (archive)
.TXT Supported by many word processors and text editors
.WPD WordPerfect


FastLane can be used to create proposals that will be submitted by mail -- although few programs now accept anything but electronic submissions. The Budget Preparation module does not require any special software and the forms created are acceptable to NSF even though they look somewhat different than those in the Grant Proposal Guide.

Tip for MS Word Users (from Whitney King): Select the entire document you are preparing. Then select Format in the menu bar and then Paragraph. Set the line spacing at EXACTLY 13 (or 12 if you really need room). Doing this step will fix the line spacing and prevent figures and tables from moving around in your document.

Printing. You should be able to print anything from FastLane on your computer, and it should look exactly as it does in FastLane. If you have problems, first check the fonts and defaults in the software used to create the PDF files and make sure that they are the same as your word processor. If you still need help, you can contact the Faculty Staff Support Center (ext. 4222), call the SRO (ext. 4341) or colleagues who have previously submitted proposals via FastLane.

Budgets. Use FastLane to create the budget forms by entering the information you have developed off line. In the new version, you will enter budget information in four different categories. NOTE: FastLane does not calculate fringe benefits; enter the total amount that you have calculated. FastLane will calculate Indirect Costs; under "Item," put "Salaries & Wages" and then enter the rate and the total amount of S&W in your budget.

If you want someone else to be able to work on your proposal (e.g., a co-PI or an assistant), you must assign a PIN to your proposal; anyone with a FastLane PIN, your proposal number, and the proposal PIN can then make changes to your proposal. On the Proposal Actions page use the "Proposal PIN¹ button to do this.

Allow SRO Access. The "Allow SRO Access" button will allow you to choose one of four options for Grants Office access to your proposal: (1) no access, (2) view only, (3) view and edit, or (4) view, edit, and submit. Ultimately, you must provide SRO access for your proposal to be submitted. If you give the SRO access to "edit" your proposal, she will not edit your proposal without your indication of what you would like done. The "edit" feature enables the SRO to edit the budget and other on-line forms and to upload PDF files (that you provide, by email or disk). NOTE: The SRO will not submit any proposal until the PI has given permission to her via phone or e-mail.

Hours. FastLane is usually available daily from 7:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. EST. Watch for special notices about shutdowns. FastLane can be extremely slow when there is an upcoming deadline for a major program. NSF does LAN maintenance on the third Saturday of each month from 12:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. EST. All NSF sites, including FastLane, are unavailable for access during this time.

The "Save as Template" button will let you use that proposal in the future as a base for a new proposal (so you won¹t have to redo forms that haven¹t changed). You can press this at any point in the process.

Other Supporting Documents. In the "new" version, there is a module for these Section I documents. They must be converted to one PDF file and uploaded.

Electronic Submission. Proposals are submitted electronically by the SRO after submission has been authorized by the College AND after you have indicated that you are ready to submit. The SRO requires that Colby's Grants Process be completed prior to submitting any proposal electronically (go here for further information on that process). Electronic submission is as final as mail submission--if you change your mind you need to contact your program officer and make appropriate arrangements. Always proofread a paper version before saying it¹s time to submit!

Mail the signed certification page and other required documentation right away if required by the program guidelines. If required, these materials must be postmarked within five business days of the electronic submission.

Faculty at Colby who have recently submitted proposals by FastLane include:
Biology: Judy Stone
Chemistry: Whitney King, Rebecca Conry
Geology: Bob Gastaldo
History: Paul Josephson
Physics: Robert Bluhm
Science, Technology and Society: Jim Fleming

For more information, contact
--Seven Grenier, SRO, CFGR Office, 209 SSWAC, ext. 4341, sgrenier@colby.edu
--Faculty Staff Support Center (for help with Acrobat Writer, creating PDF files, hardware problems): x4222.
--NSF FastLane Help Desk (for technical assistance with FastLane): 800-673-6188.
--Send email to: fastlane@nsf.gov.
--For help with budgets, contact Scott Smith, Financial Services (ext. 4123, sdsmith@colby.edu)

Updated: 10/2009