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Discovery Horizons (pilot)

Duration Up to five years
Value From $50K to $100K per year
Deadlines June 15, 2021: Letter of intent deadline
October 18, 2021: Full application deadline
How to apply All stages of the application must be submitted through the This link will take you to another Web site Convergence portal.

Letter of intent (LOI) instructions

Full application
A limited number of applicants will be invited to submit a full application based on a relevance review of their LOI.
For more information Contact


Discovery Horizons grants support investigator-initiated individual and team projects that broadly integrate or transcend disciplines to advance knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering. Full applications submitted to this NSERC program will be reviewed by a This link will take you to another Web site tri-agency interdisciplinary peer review committee.

In partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), NSERC is piloting this new interdisciplinary peer review mechanism. The shared peer review committee will assess all full applications submitted to NSERC’s Discovery Horizons program, as well as relevant applications submitted to SSHRC’s Insight Grants and CIHR’s Project Grants programs.

In the context of this funding opportunity, the term “interdisciplinary” should be understood to fully encompass all research that connects, crosses or falls in between the traditional disciplines of the three agencies, including transdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, convergence research and other approaches at the interface.

Discovery Horizon grants are expected to be valued from $50K–$100K per year. For this pilot year, NSERC is expecting to award approximately 10–20 grants.


The Discovery Horizons program provides NSERC’s entry-point to the tri-agency interdisciplinary peer-review mechanism. It supports Discovery research projects that would significantly benefit from being assessed by a tri-agency interdisciplinary peer review committee, and aims to

  1. answer natural sciences and engineering (NSE) research questions that are best addressed through interdisciplinary approaches
  2. advance NSE disciplines through cross fertilization and new ways of thinking about research questions, ideas and frameworks; approaches and methods; platforms, tools and infrastructure; people, partners and trainees
  3. provide leading-edge NSE training for highly qualified personnel (HQP) in interdisciplinary research environments


Applicants and co-applicants

Both individuals and teams may apply to the Discovery Horizons program. The applicant and any co-applicants must all be eligible to hold NSERC funding. One person must be designated to administer the grant. This person is the “applicant” and is responsible for completing and submitting the full application on behalf of the team. NSERC’s eligibility criteria for faculty can provide more information on the role of applicants and co-applicants.

There are no requirements with respect to team size or composition. However, individuals are only allowed to participate in one Discovery Horizons application, as either an applicant or co-applicant, per competition cycle.

Note that the applicant may add or remove invitations to co-applicants and collaborators at both phases of the application process (LOI and full application).


Collaborators contribute to the execution of research activities but do not have access to grant funds.

Any individual whose contributions to the project will be supervised by a member of the research team and/or by another collaborator cannot be considered a collaborator.

Applicant categories

Applicants and co-applicants to the Discovery Horizons program are categorized as either early career researchers or established researchers. Refer to the Discovery Grants applicant categories page for more information. Applicant categorization is the responsibility of NSERC staff and is done based on the information provided in the application.

Subject matter eligibility and funding from other sources

An eligible proposal must meet both of the following criteria:

  1. Its primary objective must be to advance knowledge in the natural sciences or engineering
  2. It must integrate or transcend disciplines in ways that would significantly benefit from peer review by a tri-agency interdisciplinary committee

The This link will take you to another Web site tri-agency interdisciplinary peer review committee will assess projects submitted to all three federal granting agencies.  Applications should be submitted to the agency that is responsible for the dominant research discipline(s) or area(s). Refer to This link will take you to another Web site Selecting the appropriate federal granting agency, and the Addendum to the guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health for further information.

Applications must indicate that the funds requested from the Discovery Horizons program will be for expenses that are distinct from those covered by support from other sources. For funding applied for, you must indicate that there will be no duplication of funding for the same expense(s) and explain how funds will be used if all applications are successful.

Equity, diversity and inclusion

NSERC is acting on the evidence that achieving a more equitable, diverse and inclusive Canadian research enterprise is essential to creating the excellent, innovative and impactful research necessary to advance knowledge and understanding, and to respond to local, national and global challenges. This principle informs the commitments described in the Tri-agency statement on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Applicants are expected to increase the inclusion and advancement of under-represented groups in the natural sciences and engineering, as one means to enhance excellence in research and training. Where applicable, consideration of sex, gender and diversity in the research design should be addressed in the proposal. Equity, diversity and inclusion considerations should be developed into the rationale for the composition of research teams, including trainees. For more information, applicants should refer to the application instructions and the Guide for applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application.

All applicants to any tri-agency program are asked to voluntarily provide self-identification information to aid efforts to strengthen equity, diversity and inclusion in Canada’s research sector. Discovery Horizons applicants and co-applicants will also be asked to provide consent for NSERC to potentially use their self-identification information to improve equity and diversity in funding decisions. Priority may be given to letters of intent and/or applications from those who self-identify as members of underrepresented groups, amongst similarly ranked LOIs and applications.

Application procedure

The Discovery Horizons application process has two stages.

Letter of intent 

Deadline: June 15, 2021

The LOI is mandatory and includes a brief summary and responses to the four points below. Reviewers will assess program fit, to identify a limited number of LOI applicants who will be invited (no later than August 16) to submit a full application.

  1. Explain how this project would benefit from being assessed by a tri-agency interdisciplinary peer review committee, as opposed to a joint review by NSERC's Discovery Grants evaluation groups
  2. Demonstrate that the interdisciplinary approach is essential to achieving the project goals
  3. Describe how the interdisciplinary approach enriches HQP training
  4. Demonstrate that the interdisciplinary elements are integrated and inseparable (i.e., not sub-projects that could be reviewed on their own merit)

See the instructions for completing a letter of intent for more details.

Full application

Deadline: October 18, 2021

Selected applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal and will receive further guidance on application requirements with that invitation. Full applications will need to address the selection criteria listed below, in a ten-page (max) research proposal.

The full application instructions provide more details.

Review procedures and selection criteria

Letter of intent

LOIs will be reviewed for relevance and program fit using the following evaluation rubric:





Does the project require interdisciplinary tri-agency review for fair assessment? Project includes clear elements outside the expertise of NSERC’s Discovery Grants peer review committees Some elements of the project may be on the borders of NSERC’s Discovery Grants peer review committees All elements of the project fit within the expertise of NSERC’s Discovery Grants peer review committees
Is the interdisciplinary approach essential to achieving project goals? Project goals could not be achieved without the interdisciplinary approach Interdisciplinary elements add value but project goals could mostly be achieved without them Project goals could be achieved without interdisciplinary elements
Are the interdisciplinary elements integrated and inseparable? The interdisciplinary elements could not be addressed in separate sub-projects that could be reviewed by different agencies Interdisciplinary elements are included but potentially separable Project could readily be divided into separate proposals that could be reviewed by different agencies
Does the interdisciplinary approach significantly enrich the HQP training? Training opportunities are novel, due to fully integrating expanded interdisciplinary perspectives and development opportunities Training opportunities include some interdisciplinary perspectives and development opportunities Training opportunities are standard, and do not integrate expanded interdisciplinary perspectives and development opportunities

LOIs will be rated by peer reviewers to identify those most relevant to the objectives of the Discovery Horizons program. NSERC is dedicated to promoting and maintaining a diversified base of high-quality research capability in the natural sciences and engineering at Canadian universities. In order to invite a broad range of applicants/teams to participate in the full application stage, NSERC may take additional factors (for example, career stage, regional representation or self-identification as a member of an underrepresented group of the applicant or co-applicants) into account when selecting amongst similarly ranked LOIs.

Full application stage

Full applications will be evaluated by the tri-agency interdisciplinary peer review committee using the following selection criteria:

Merit of the proposed research

  • Quality of the proposal
    • The clarity, scope and originality of research questions and objectives

  • Methods and approaches
    • Appropriateness of the proposed methods and approaches
    • Appropriate incorporation of sex, gender and diversity in the research design, if applicable
    • Evidence of commitment to the development of active and meaningful partnerships with appropriate individuals and organizations, if applicable

  • Feasibility
    • Appropriateness and justification of the budget in relation to the proposed activities
    • Appropriateness of the environment (academic institution and/or other organization) to enable the conduct and success of the proposed activities

Anticipated outcomes

  • Impact
    • Potential for the outcomes of the proposed activities to have influence and impact

  • Knowledge mobilization and dissemination
    • Quality and appropriateness of knowledge mobilization plans, including effective dissemination, exchange and engagement with stakeholders within and/or beyond the research community, where applicable

  • Training plan
    • Extent to which the proposed activities incorporate plans for the training and development of HQP
    • Appropriate considerations of equity, diversity and inclusion in the training plan

Record of the applicant(s)

  • Expertise and experience
    • Appropriate expertise to undertake the proposed research, including complementary and interdisciplinary knowledge, expertise and experience
    • Experience and track record of the investigator(s)—importance, originality, quality and impact of past research

  • Past contribution to the training of HQP
    • Quality and extent of past contributions to the training of HQP