Welcome

tornow headshotWelcome from BIO Assistant Director Joanne Tornow

As the Assistant Director of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) at the National Science Foundation, it is my pleasure to welcome you to BIO Buzz, the blog for BIO’s Office of the Assistant Director. This blog will be a platform for disseminating information about policies, procedures, activities and initiatives that extend across BIO Divisions and affect the biological sciences community as a whole.

Our vision for the Directorate requires that the shared core values of the BIO Divisions—transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness—are reflected in the activities of the BIO Front Office. One step toward realizing this vision is to advance our existing communications strategy and enhance engagement within the Directorate and between BIO, the scientific community, and the general public. Effective communication is essential to fulfilling the missions of NSF and BIO. We hope you find the information here informative. Welcome to BIO Buzz!

Notice: New Email Validation System May Block NSF Email Communications

NSF has applied a mandated global email policy change that may be interfering with NSF communications to and from external email recipients. All email activities may be impacted, including automatic NSF email notifications, ad-hoc review requests, panelist correspondence, and any correspondence with PIs, co-PIs, fellows and job candidates.

This new email validation system, called “Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance” (DMARC) is an email authentication, policy, and reporting protocol that helps to deal with phishing, spam, and server spoofing. This change was made as outlined in the Department of Homeland Security’s Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 18-01.

Since some universities, organizations, and federal agencies have not applied the DMARC policy for their email servers, email sent by NSF may be classified as spam by organizational email services and may be quarantined prior to delivery. Additionally, if an external email recipient auto-forwards email that is sent to their organization’s email account (ex. a .edu email address) to another account (ex. a gmail.com email address), they will not receive the forwarded email. A full explanation of this issue can be found on the DMARC website.

Although there are no actions NSF or individual recipients can take to prevent emails from being blocked at this time, we strongly recommend following up emails with a phone call, especially if you don’t receive an expected reply. Additionally, please alert your IT Department or Email Administrator for information on ways your institution may be able to address the issue.

Reminder: Integration Institutes Request for Information Due March 1

This is a reminder that the deadline for the Integration Institutes Request for Information is this Friday, March 1. The BIO Directorate is seeking high-level ideas from the community on fundamental biological research questions and topics poised for major advances. For more information, please visit our previous post, visit the Dear Colleague Letter or send an email to BIO-RFI-II@nsf.gov.

Help Shape BIO’s Future: Submit your Integration Institute idea by March 1!

Would you like to help shape the future of biological research? The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) recently published a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) seeking high-level ideas from the community on the research questions and topics that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment.

As a reminder, this is a call for ideas, not proposals, meaning there is no funding associated with this DCL, but rather provides the community with an opportunity to share its visions for the future of biology. Any ideas you have – even those that include collaborations with fields outside the biological sciences – will be considered and will help inform BIO strategies for supporting a number of Integration Institutes over the next several years.

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please see the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-027) for details on how to submit your ideas, and direct any questions to BIO-RFI-II@nsf.gov.

A Letter from the Assistant Director

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Dear Colleagues,

BIO is excited to be back to work following the long lapse in appropriations. We thank the biological sciences community for its patience and its support of students, postdocs, faculty, technical and administrative support staff and researchers during this challenging time.

Fortunately, because BIO core programs have a no-deadline submission process and relevant systems remained online during the shutdown, BIO has experienced few disruptions to our division programs. However, this also means that we have a backlog of submitted proposals and missed panels. As we get our systems up and running again, we are establishing processes that will enable us to focus on high-priority areas, particularly in light of the three-week continuing resolution. Our staff is working hard to reschedule cancelled merit review panels and process awards, and is prioritizing in particular the review and funding of postdoctoral fellowships and REU site awards. As we work to expedite the return to normal operations, I call upon the volunteerism of the reviewer community and ask for your flexibility in participating in rescheduled and virtual panels.

In addition to addressing the backlog of activities from the lapse, BIO remains committed to delivering on ongoing competitions, including the Understanding Rules of Life competitions. Please note that deadline dates for BIO special solicitations and DCLs remain unchanged.

A special note to our colleagues in the ecological sciences community about the changes that took place at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) during the lapse in appropriations: Now that NSF has resumed operations, we are re-engaging with all key stakeholders in the project. I remain fully committed to ensuring that NEON realizes its scientific promise as it transitions to full operations. I wish to express my gratitude to all those who have worked together to bring NEON construction to the finish line, including Battelle staff and NEON’s Science, Technology and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC), and thank the STEAC for their thoughtful engagement and continued commitment to NEON.

I once again thank you for your patience in this challenging time and ask for your continued support as we work to get back on track as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
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Joanne Tornow, PhD
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Integration Institutes Request for Information Due March 1

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences has published a Dear Colleague Letter seeking ideas from the community on Integration Institutes for cross-cutting biology. These institutes would support collaborative teams of researchers to address questions that span multiple levels of organization in living systems and require expertise from diverse biological subdisciplines.

This is not a call for research proposals, but rather for high-level ideas about the types of questions and resources that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment.

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please see the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-027) for details on how to submit your ideas.

Statement from the Acting Assistant Director for Biological Sciences on Proposal Submission Limits

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Dear Colleagues,

In August, the BIO directorate released new solicitations to its proposal submission process to eliminate deadlines and limit the number of proposals that could be submitted to a given division annually by a PI or co-PI. As BIO was receiving far more worthy proposals than it has money to support, this submission cap was established with a view to ensuring that BIO’s merit review process would not be overwhelmed with the move to no deadlines.

In the ensuing three months, the community expressed serious concern that this new policy would hinder collaboration as well as limit funding prospects for new investigators. BIO places a high value on collaboration and on fostering careers of new investigators; thus, we held internal discussions to consider ways to address these concerns. In addition, relatively few proposals have been submitted to BIO since the release of the solicitations.

Having listened to community concern and tracked the current low rate of submission, and following extensive internal consultation, BIO is lifting all PI or co-PI restrictions on proposal submission for FY 2019, effective immediately.

BIO recognizes that it is important to track the effects of the no-deadline policy on proposal submission patterns, to ensure that a high-quality review process is sustained. Therefore, we are seeking approval from the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee to establish a subcommittee to assist in developing the evidence base for any future policy changes that may be needed.

Solicitations for proposals will be amended and released over the next few weeks to reflect these changes.

Sincerely,
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Joanne Tornow, PhD
Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences

Special BIO Advisory Committee Meeting to be held 11/16

The BIO advisory committee will hold a special meeting on Friday, November 16th from 2:30-4:30 PM to discuss immediately establishing a subcommittee to consider different options for addressing community concerns with the BIO proposal submission limits.

This meeting will be held via teleconference among the Advisory Committee members. Public visitors will be able to attend the meeting in person at NSF headquarters; please contact Alexis Patullo at apatullo@nsf.gov to request a visitor badge.

For more information on this meeting, please visit the NSF BIO Advisory Committee page.

AccelNet Webinar Next Monday, 11/5

Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations (AccelNet) supports strategic linkages among U.S. research networks and complementary networks abroad that will leverage research and educational resources to tackle grand scientific challenges that require significant coordinated international efforts.  AccelNet invites proposals, submitted by U.S.-based researchers, for the creation of international networks of networks in research areas aligned either with one of the NSF Big Ideas or a community-identified challenge with international dimensions.

For the first competition, Letters of Intent for are due December 21, 2018 and Full Proposals due February 28, 2019.  The NSF Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) funded several workshops that will take place in 2019, and we will offer webinars for the community.

The first webinar will be this Monday, November 5 – visit the event page for webcast info. Updates on future webinars will be posted on the program page.

Additional information on this program is available on the AccelNet Program Page. We invite you to direct any questions to oise-accelnet@nsf.gov.

NSF announces new measures to protect research community from harassment

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has taken the next steps in its agency-wide effort to protect the research community from harassment, publishing a term and condition that requires awardee organizations to report findings and determinations of sexual harassment, as well as establishing a secure online portal for submitting harassment notifications.

To access these resources, please see the press release, the NSF Fact Sheet, and visit nsf.gov/harassment.

 

A Letter from the Acting Assistant Director

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Dear Colleagues,

This is an exciting time for the biological sciences. The way we do science is rapidly changing; it is increasingly collaborative, interdisciplinary, and enhanced by new capability to collect and analyze more complex data than ever before. We at the National Science Foundation Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) are committed to creating funding opportunities that foster collaboration and innovative research to advance biological knowledge. As part of this effort, we have recently made changes to enable us to respond to this changing research environment and continue to meet the needs of our community – early career and senior scientists alike – as it progresses into the future.

We have just released a set of solicitations designed to support the biological sciences community broadly and to take advantage of emerging research opportunities. In addition to retaining all core and special funding programs, we have added a new funding opportunity: a Rules of Life track, which provides new mechanisms for review and funding of ambitious, integrative research projects addressing questions across scales that would not ordinarily fit well within a single BIO division. With these solicitations, we have also completed our initial transition to a BIO-wide no deadline submission process. By accepting proposals at any time, BIO aims to encourage submission of creative, well-developed, interdisciplinary projects by providing investigators with greater flexibility to prepare their proposals.

Given that BIO already receives many more excellent, funding-worthy proposals than we have money to support, more submission opportunities do not equate to more awards. Thus, with a shift to no deadlines, it was clear there needed to be some restrictions to limit submission and resubmission of similar proposals within a given year. After extensive consideration, conversations with key community stakeholders, and analysis of past submission patterns, we determined the most balanced way to do this was to limit annual submissions as PI or co-PI. Each year, researchers may submit one proposal each to MCB, IOS and DEB core programs, and two proposals to DBI infrastructure programs. In addition, researchers may submit one proposal to the Rules of Life track each year. Further, to ensure that this cap does not harm collaborative projects, we have removed previous restrictions on submissions as subaward PIs. We sought an objective way to limit proposal submissions to carefully considered, unique research ideas, while removing barriers to collaboration by allowing unlimited involvement on proposals with potential to receive budgets.

We recognize concerns have been expressed about potential negative impacts of this shift, and I can assure the community that we have extensively considered these same issues. We have paid particular attention to the possible impacts on early career researchers. We are confident these caps will not harm their opportunities to receive research funding; in addition to the funding opportunities open to all researchers within BIO, early career researchers will remain eligible to apply for CAREER awards. Nurturing the next generation of biologists is a priority for BIO program staff, and we will continue to monitor progress closely. I encourage the community to read the FAQs and blogs posted by each division on the new submission cap and shift to no deadlines for answers to common questions and more details on the opportunities available within BIO. As we go through this first year under the new submission system, BIO will track these and other areas of concern and will evolve as necessary.

Collectively, these new solicitations offer many opportunities for innovative, challenging and potentially transformative science. I am eager to see how our new solicitations will move forward BIO’s mission to enable discoveries for understanding life and advance the frontiers of biological knowledge.

Sincerely,
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Joanne Tornow, PhD
Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences