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!

Webinar: LEAPS for Biology

As noted previously on this blog, NSF has recently launched a new opportunity for professional societies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion — LEAPS (LEAding cultural change through Professional Societies) for Biology. NSF is offering a webinar for the LEAPS program on March 24th at 2 p.m. EST.  We encourage representatives from societies across the biological sciences and those societies focused on broadening participation (SACNAS, AISES, ABRCMS) and/or from the NSF INCLUDES National Network to participate. Individuals from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other organizations/institutions serving diverse populations are also encouraged to attend.

If interested, please register in advance at: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_fMuNjibLT4OZeAq4VLQNCg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

If you have any questions, please contact one of the following Program Officers:

Fourth Interdisciplinary Workshop in Series on Pandemic Prediction and Prevention Approaching

The Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO); Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE); Engineering (ENG); Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE); and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) have jointly supported a series of interdisciplinary workshops to engage research communities around the topic of Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention.

The fourth and concluding workshop will be held on March 22-23, 2021 and examine how human attitudes, social behavior, and the drivers underlying both contribute to disease transmission through their determination of policy and behavioral obstacles and supports. We encourage investigators across the biological sciences involved in infectious disease-related research to participate as the workshop will provide an opportunity to network with researchers in akin areas across the sciences and engineering. You can register at https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_p3YtA1RwQPCV6z1wWZAx7g.

Previous workshops have focused on the ability to rapidly detect and assess the threat of emerging pathogens; an understanding of how the global behavior of an organism is related to interactions between components at the molecular, cellular, and physiological scales; and the identification of pre-emergence and the prediction of rare events.

The goal of the series is to bring together interdisciplinary experts in the biological, engineering, computer, and social and behavioral sciences to start conversations and catalyze ideas on how to advance scientific understanding beyond state-of-the-art in pre-emergence and emergence forecasting, real-time monitoring, and detection of inflection point events in order to prevent and mitigate the occurrence of future pandemics. As per our mission, these NSF supported workshops will focus on the foundational knowledge and capabilities needed to inform future infectious disease outbreak prediction and pandemic prevention.

Each of these workshops is expected to have up to 50 invited active participants. The community can participate in a listen-only mode and interact through chat and Q&A functions.

 More information on the series can be found at https://www.nsf.gov/events/event_summ.jsp?cntn_id=302023&org=CISE.

NSF Launches New Opportunity for Professional Societies to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The National Science Foundation has recently released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) encouraging professional societies to work together to form networks to promote cultural change in biology to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. The DCL, called LEAPS (LEAding cultural change through Professional Societies) of Biology, intends to fund conference proposals, planning proposals, and Research Coordination Network (RCN) proposals that will facilitate collaboration among biology professional societies with the goal of broadening participation of the STEM workforce at scale.  

This DCL encourages submissions from societies focused on broadening participation (SACNAS, AISES, ABRCMS) and/or from the NSF INCLUDES National Network. Professional societies are uniquely positioned to lead cultural, structural, and social change through appointing or electing society leaders, convening meetings, publishing, issuing awards, providing training, and creating career support networks. They can shape the culture at the scale of the (sub-) discipline and have the potential to influence other disciplines, institutions, and departments.

Potential partnerships could also include Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other organizations/institutions serving diverse populations. The participation of multiple societies from more than one biological discipline and/or of multiple societies from the same discipline that range in membership size is also encouraged.  

For more information, please read the full DCL. To be considered for funding in fiscal year 2021, proposals should be submitted by May 14, 2021. Proposals submitted after that date will be considered for fiscal year 2022 funding.

For questions concerning the DCL, please contact one of the following Program Directors:

Update on COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact both researchers and research infrastructure alike. Despite the negative effects, the research community has continued to advance our knowledge, spur innovation, and make discoveries. You also continue to serve as reviewers and panelists, for which we thank you.

Throughout the past year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported the research community by providing guidance, funding flexibilities, and deadline extensions. This support will remain a top priority for NSF as we seek to recover from the pandemic. Up-to-date information on these offerings continues to be added to the agency’s Coronavirus Information page.

As we continue to assess the ongoing impact the pandemic is having on the scientific workforce, NSF and the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) recognizes that it is particularly affecting individuals at critical career points and those at historically under-resourced institutions. While broad support for the community continues to be our priority, including in the opportunity to request supplements to existing awards, BIO wants to highlight the below programs that can support these specific groups. 

Researchers across the biological sciences should review these opportunities and share within their networks. In order to answer any questions you may have about these efforts, or the support available to the wider community, we held a BIO-wide virtual office hour on Tuesday, March 2 from 11AM to 12 PM Eastern. A recording of the session is available (Access Passcode: ++6ZM*=i).

On behalf of BIO and all of NSF, I thank you for your continued work and support during these trying times.

Sincerely,

Joanne Tornow
NSF Assistant Director, BIO


Postdoctoral Research Fellows
As we did in FY 2020, BIO intends to increase the total amount of funding available through the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) Program to support early-career scientists as they embark on research projects investigating life from the genome to the ecosystem level.  

Early-career Investigators
BIO plans an increase to the number of Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards across the Directorate, sustaining the enhancement of these awards within BIO in FY 2020.

Mid-career Researchers
Through the Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research  (Transitions) program in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) and the NSF-wide Mid-Career Advancement (MCA) program, BIO will support researchers at the Associate Professor stage or equivalent, to substantively enhance and advance their research program through mutually beneficial partnerships. Transitions also supports those at the Full Professor stage, or equivalent.

Undergraduate Biology Education
BIO recently published a Dear Colleague Letter encouraging proposals for the Research Coordination Networks for Undergraduate Biology Education (RCN-UBE) Program, which seeks to improve undergraduate biology in different areas, including through the use of virtual learning, by leveraging the power of a collaborative network.

NSF Calls for Examinations of Emergent Networks as Part of Understanding the Rules of Life “Big Idea”

Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

The biological world is interconnected by complex networks. What are the rules that control these networks? How are the interactions altered by environments? Are the rules similar across all biological scales? How can an understanding of such roles be harnessed to benefit society?

The new Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN) solicitation encourages convergent, cross-disciplinary research – including the biological sciences – to examine such rules, the outcomes of these interactions, and to aid in the prediction of emergent properties. The program also seeks to train STEM practitioners to contribute to this area of convergent research. Proposals under the solicitation should be submitted by May 10, 2021.

As part of the Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype, one of ten “Big Ideas” NSF-wide, this new solicitation builds on previous URoL programs to help increase knowledge and the ability to predict an organism’s observable characteristics—its phenotype—from its genotype.

Understanding the mechanisms at play in the interconnections between living organisms and their environments, across every biological scale, will provide vital insight into grand biological challenges, help advance biotechnology to spur the US bioeconomy, and aid in solving some of society’s issues, including the growing impacts of infectious disease and climate change.

Investigators from across the biological sciences are encouraged to submit proposals in concert with researchers in other disciplines, including the mathematical and physical sciences, geosciences, computer and information sciences, engineering, and behavioral and social sciences.

Directorates from across NSF will be holding a virtual office hour on March 11 beginning at 2:00pm Eastern to answer questions on the solicitation. Register in advance for this webinar: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_kP23L5ymTFKw5EVCqBFcCQ.

For full details and guidance on award types, amounts and other questions, see Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN).

NSF Announces Call for Center for Advancement and Synthesis of Open Environmental Data and Sciences

NSF has released a new solicitation for a Center for Advancement and Synthesis of Open Environmental Data and Sciences (NSF 21-549). Letters of Intent for the solicitation are due on April 1, 2021

Exemplifying open and team science, the Center will be fueled by open and freely available biological and other environmental data to catalyze novel scientific questions in environmental biology through the use of data-intensive approaches, research networks, and training in the accession, management, analysis, visualization, and synthesis of large data sets.

The Center will provide vision for speeding discovery through the increased use of large, publicly accessible datasets – such as those provided by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio), the LTER network, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and others – to address biological research questions through collaborations with scientists in other related disciplines, as well as key questions that emerge at interfaces between biology, informatics, and a breadth of environmental sciences.

It also will foster the development of generalizable cyberinfrastructure solutions and community-driven standards for software, data, and metadata that support open and team science, and role-modeling best practices.

The Center will be a leader in diversifying the data-intensive environmental science workforce across demographic, geographic, institutional, and disciplinary dimensions and will further enable data-driven discovery through immersive education and training experiences to provide the advanced skills needed to maximize the scientific potential of large volumes of available open data.

For more information on the solicitation, including a list of cognizant Program Officers, please visit the program page: https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505829&org=NSF&sel_org=NSF&from=fund.

Recap of BIO-wide Virtual Office Hours on Migration to Research.gov and Launch of Demo Site

As described in a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-129) and in an earlier post on this blog, proposal submissions for the “no-deadline” programs within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) are migrating to Research.gov. This effort is the first phase of a migration of all NSF solicitations to Research.gov.

During the week of October 19, BIO Program Officers held a series of virtual office hours to assist the community through this change. The slides from the office hours are linked below.

NSF recently released a proposal preparation demonstration site, which provides proposers the opportunity to create Research.gov proposals in the role of a Principal Investigator (PI) prior to preparing and submitting proposals in the actual Research.gov Proposal Submission System. All research community demo site users must sign in to Research.gov to access the demo site. For further demo site details, please see the Research.gov advisory and demo site Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) available via the Research.gov About Proposal Preparation and Submission page left navigation menu. A set of topic-specific video tutorials is also available.

If you have any questions regarding the migration process, please reach out to your cognizant Program Officer; the Program Officer for the program to which you are applying; or BIOnodeadline@nsf.gov, which is monitored by Program Officers from across BIO. Technical support and FAQs and videos on proposal submission through Research.gov are also available.

 If you have IT system-related questions, please contact the NSF Help Desk at 1-800-381-1532 (7:00 AM – 9:00 PM ET; Monday – Friday except federal holidays) or via rgov@nsf.gov. Policy-related questions should be directed to policy@nsf.gov.

If you would like to stay up to date on future enhancements to Research.gov and important information about FastLane, please subscribe to NSF’s System Updates listserv by simply sending a blank email to system_updates-subscribe-request@listserv.nsf.gov and you will be automatically enrolled.

From the AD: BIO “No-Deadline” Solicitations Migrating to Research.gov

As part of NSF’s ongoing efforts to innovate and migrate proposal preparation and submission capabilities from FastLane to Research.gov (see Important Notice No. 147), the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has announced that proposal submissions for our “no-deadline” programs will migrate to Research.gov beginning with revised solicitations to be released in the near future. This change was announced in a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-129) released today and is the first phase of a migration of all NSF solicitations to Research.gov.

Specifically, the following programs will have new solicitations published in the coming weeks at which point investigators should begin submitting proposals through Research.gov. There will be a grace period of 90-days from the date on which the new solicitations are published during which proposals can still be submitted through FastLane. After the 90-day period, the new solicitations will no longer be available in FastLane and any new proposals must be submitted through Research.Gov (or Grants.Gov).

The programs whose solicitations will migrate from FastLane to Research.gov are:

Research.gov improves the user experience while also reducing administrative burden. The system is also flexible enough to meet both users’ changing needs and emerging government requirements. A significant fraction of proposals is already being submitted through Research.gov and investigators report it to be intuitive to use. We do not anticipate that the change to Research.gov will have significant impacts on the submission process. This migration will not affect the merit review process in any way.

To support the community through this migration, technical support and FAQs and videos on proposal submission through Research.gov are available. In addition, we are offering a series of BIO-wide virtual office hours during which you can ask questions of BIO Program Officers.

The virtual office hours will occur on Monday, October 19 at 11 a.m. EDT; Tuesday October 20 at 10 a.m. EDT; Wednesday, October 21 at 1 p.m. EDT; and Thursday, October 22 at 3 p.m. EDT. Members of the community can register for these sessions via NSF.gov.

Finally, if you have any immediate questions please reach out to BIOnodeadline@nsf.gov, which is monitored by Program Officers from across BIO.

Sincerely,

Image of the signature of Dr. Joanne Tornow, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Joanne S. Tornow, Ph.D.

Assistant Director

Analyzing the Impact of No Deadlines

As you may know, as announced in FY 2018, most programs across the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) had no deadline in FY 2019, a change from previous years. BIO, with the help of a subcommittee of the BIO Advisory Committee, has analyzed proposal data* from FY 2018 and FY 2019 and provided a review of the impact of that change on proposal submissions, funding rates, and more. I’d like to thank that group for their work and share some of the analysis.

The biggest takeaways are – as shown in the chart below – the number of proposals received in FY 2019 was less than in FY 2018, and the funding rate increased in FY 2019 compared to FY 2018. Specifically, In FY 2018 the funding rate across BIO was 21.0% and in FY 2019 it rose to 28.1%.

A chart depicting the change in funding rates and proposal submissions within BIO between FY 2018 and FY 2019.We saw no substantial impact on gender, race, or ethnicity of submitters (PIs or co-PIs on proposal submissions). However, we have seen an increase in the number of individuals who do not provide these data. Similarly, a significant number of co-PIs do not report the year of their highest degree. We are actively monitoring this trend and encourage submitters to provide this information as it helps us better understand the biological sciences community and those seeking funding from BIO.

Lastly, there was a slight shift to shorter periods between submission and funding decision in FY 2019 as compared to FY 2018. There were, however, external circumstances that could have affected this outcome, including the lapse in appropriations. Future data will enlighten our interpretation of the trends in these and other metrics.

BIO will continue to monitor these metrics and others moving forward to measure the impact of the no-deadline policy over time.

*Data includes externally reviewed proposals in core and special programs across all BIO Divisions. It does not include internally reviewed proposals such as RAPIDs, EAGERs, RAISEs, supplements, or conferences, nor does it include human resource proposals such as Fellowships. The unit measured is proposals, which counts single proposal and collaborative proposals as individual units.

Recap: BIO-wide Office Hours

A slide depicting various biological specimens and noting BIO-wide office hours were held March 30 through April 2, 2020BIO Virtual Office Hours Slides

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) held a series of four virtual office hours during the week of March 30 to provide an opportunity for researchers from across the biological sciences to ask concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on NSF efforts, solicitations, and awards, and to hear ideas from the community about how NSF might respond to those impacts in the long-term. Representatives from each of the four Divisions within BIO were present during each session.

During these difficult times, the health and safety of our community remains our utmost concern. NSF is working to provide researchers with the highest level of flexibility to support your health and safety as well as your work.

Slides from the sessions are linked above and here. For information on how NSF is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the answers to frequently asked questions about the impact on awards and panels, please visit https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/coronavirus/. If you have questions specific to an award or solicitation, please contact the Program Officer; all contact information for BIO Program Officers is available at https://www.nsf.gov/dir/index.jsp?org=BIO