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Discovery Institutes Support grants

Note: NSERC will be not accepting applications to the DIS program at this time.

Duration Up to five years
Value Up to $1,500,000 per year
Important dates June 1, 2021 – Letter of intent (LOI) deadline
June 15, 2021 – Invitation to submit full application
November 1, 2021 – Full application deadline
How to apply See below Note: For the 2022 competition, applications will be accepted only from renewing institutes. This includes existing NSERC-funded applicant and co-applicant institutes currently awarded funding through the Collaborative and Thematic Resources Support in Mathematics and Statistics (CTRMS) and Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics Support (CITA) programs.
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The objectives of Discovery Institutes Support (DIS) grants are to enable the development of research activities and foster training and collaboration, within and among Canadian theoretical research institutes.


DIS grants assist Canadian-based theoretical research institutes to cover their operating and maintenance costs. Theoretical research institutes provide intellectual infrastructure and support, are used by researchers from different institutions across Canada, are discipline based and promote research and training of highly qualified personnel (HQP). These institutes can provide an environment that serves to accelerate research, develop partnerships and interactions with different disciplines and foster interdisciplinary research. Theoretical research institutes spark and promote regional, national and/or international interactions and can provide mechanisms for researchers to meet, collaborate and exchange ideas.

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 encouraged to increase the inclusion and advancement of under-represented groups in the natural sciences and engineering as one way 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. EDI considerations should be developed into the rationale of the composition of research teams and trainees.

For more information, applicants should refer to the NSERC guide on integrating equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in research.

Specific rules for the use of grants funds

Eligible costs

DIS grants provide funding to assist coverage of the following costs:

  • salaries of research support staff employed to operate and maintain the institute and provide assistance to users
  • operation and maintenance of the institute
  • materials, supplies and minor equipment essential to the operation and maintenance of the institute
  • travel expenses for directors and key personnel related to the institute’s research priorities and program delivery
  • dissemination costs, as part of the institute’s outreach activities toward relevant communities
  • operation of scientific review panels and governing bodies
  • remuneration of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows involved in a context of institute-related activities
  • visitor expenses, including travel and local support
  • honoraria for invited speakers

Ineligible costs

DIS grants cannot be used to pay for any indirect costs of research or expenses that are central or departmental institutional costs. Examples of such indirect costs include, but are not limited to, those for the maintenance and renovation of research spaces and buildings, leasing costs of spaces and equipment, utilities, security and occupational safety, financial and administrative support, and insurance. Furthermore, DIS grants cannot be used to pay for the establishment, construction or infrastructure expansion of an institute.

For further information on use of grant funds consult the Tri-agency guide on financial administration.

Selection criteria

Applications will be assessed on the basis of the six selection criteria listed below. Each criterion lists the factors that will be considered. The onus is on the applicants to thoroughly address each criterion in their application.

  1. Scope and added value of the institute
    • national and international nature of the institute; regional importance highlighted, if appropriate
    • reach of the institute, within and beyond the research community regionally, throughout Canada and internationally, where applicable
    • extent to which activities and programs offered are unique and provide added value compared to other Canadian institutes and funding programs
    • details on the complementarity, and additional context, in instances where there is a high degree of collaboration between or among several institutes
  2. Opportunities for use of, and access to, the institute by researcher communities and students
    • past, current and projected level of use of the institute by researchers within the field and within related multidisciplinary fields nationally and internationally; can discuss trends as compared to past levels of use, if applicable
    • impact of the institute on the advancement of research programs of current and projected users and, when applicable, on the dissemination and use of the knowledge generated in the supported area(s) of research
    • allocation of access to the institute by different users (that is, process for selection of themes and organizers, students, postdoctoral fellows, participants, etc.)
    • existing or proposed initiatives that specifically encourage participation by under-represented groups
  3. Merit and impact of the research activities enabled by the institute
    • scientific or engineering excellence and impact of past, current and planned research activities
    • scientific or engineering excellence of the institute leadership, review committees and activity organizers and their level of commitment to the activities within the institute
    • significance of the research activities to the research communities and related multidisciplinary fields
  4. Fostering partnerships, interactions and outreach
    • potential for partnerships with complementary Canadian or international institutes in the field; effectiveness of activities and plans for encouraging and supporting interdisciplinary collaborations
    • outreach, engagement and/or collaboration activities with under-represented groups in natural sciences and engineering research
    • demonstrated outreach to potential Canadian or international academic and non-academic sectors
    • demonstration of, or plan for, leadership and mentorship training events that strengthen EDI awareness of organizers and participants
  5. Contribution of the institute to the training and development of HQP
    • importance of the institute for training, including unique and inclusive mentorship and training opportunities that are complementary with, and add value to, training carried out in other sectors (for example, universities)
    • extent and excellence of proposed strategies and plans to train and develop HQP in research areas critical to the advancement of new knowledge in the field and in related multidisciplinary fields
    • demonstration of EDI considerations in past and planned training activities
  6. Management and budget
    • effective management structure to direct, manage and integrate the activities of the institute
    • consideration of EDI in the composition of governance bodies
    • activities or initiatives aimed at supporting the establishment of and ensuring an equitable and inclusive research and work environment
    • operational efficiencies achieved through partnerships with similar institutes (if applicable)
    • effective research planning, within and among institutes, to sustain well-coordinated and innovative research activities
    • detailed budget for the proposed costs
    • demonstrated need for, and effectiveness of, support through a DIS grant as opposed to other NSERC grants (held or applied for) and contributions from other sources
    • nature and extent of the commitment and support from universities, other organizations and users

Eligibility of applicants and co-applicants

The applicant and all co-applicants must be eligible for NSERC funding. One person must be designated to administer the grant. This person is the “applicant” and is responsible for completing and submitting the letter of intent (LOI) and the full application (if invited) on behalf of the institute. You are invited to consult NSERC’s Eligibility requirements for faculty to apply for or hold grant funds for more information on the role of applicants and co-applicants.

Application procedures

DIS applications will be evaluated through a two-stage process. Initially, applicants must submit an LOI to NSERC with all required material by the deadline date. The LOI should be saved as a single portable document format (PDF) document and uploaded to NSERC’s secure portal before the deadline. NSERC will communicate with all applicants to inform them of the status of their LOI. Successful applicants will be invited to submit a full application and will be given further instructions regarding submission details.

For the LOI, applicants must submit a five-page document, using 8.5" x 11" paper with margins set at a minimum of ¾" (1.87 cm) and in free-form text format (12-point Times New Roman font), that addresses the following:

  • overview of the institute, including the national and international nature of the institute; regional importance highlighted, if appropriate
  • brief explanation of budget requested (up to five years) and other potential Canadian and international funding agency support
  • proposed list of co-applicants (maximum of 10)
  • list of up to 10 external reviewers* who
    • are not in a conflict of interest
    • are from different institutions
    • can provide an independent assessment of your application
    • are capable of reviewing your application in the language in which it is written
  • list of reviewer exclusions**

* Applicants are encouraged to suggest a diverse cross-section of potential reviewers with appropriate expertise (Canadian, international, established and early–career, women and other under-represented groups, from academic and non-academic institutions). Applicants must not contact suggested external reviewers in advance.

** You may request that some researchers, organizations or large collaborations not be involved in the review of your application. Note that this request may be accessible under the Privacy Act.

Review procedures

Letters of intent

LOIs will be reviewed by NSERC for eligibility and conformity with the objectives of the program.

Full applications

Full proposals will be reviewed by a multidisciplinary, international committee through a rigorous, independent peer review process based on the DIS selection criteria. Applicants will be invited to present their application to the review committee and provide clarification on any issues raised. Once the review of applications is concluded, the committee will complete a report and provide recommendations on funding to NSERC. Internationally constituted institutes will be reviewed in conjunction with partner funding agencies, with NSERC as the lead.

Conflicts of interest

NSERC’s Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers, and Observers will be strictly applied throughout the review process.


For these grants, the payment of the second and any subsequent yearly instalment is conditional on the submission of an annual report to NSERC. The submission deadline for this report is March 15.