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!
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.
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.
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.
Joanne Tornow, PhD
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences
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.
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.
Joanne Tornow, PhD
Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences
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 email@example.com to request a visitor badge.
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.
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.
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.
Joanne Tornow, PhD
Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences
BIO recently welcomed a new Acting Assistant Director, Dr. Joanne Tornow. Though she is coming to BIO after six years in NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences and the Office of Information and Resource Management, Dr. Tornow is no stranger BIO, having spent more than a decade in a variety of roles across the Directorate. We sat down with Dr. Tornow to get to know her a little better and welcome her back to her first home at NSF.
When did your interest in the sciences first begin?
I trace back my falling in love with biology and genetics to my 9th grade biology class. It all just made perfect sense and I loved it, so from then on, I was a biology person. At the time that I was in college, molecular biology did not really exist as a discipline, but microbial biology and microbial and molecular genetics was just starting, so I concentrated on what was then a very emerging area of microbial genetics. As I progressed, there was really very little debate in my own mind about what I was interested in. I love biology and knew I wanted to pursue it as a career.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey from a career as a traditional, academic researcher to science administrator?
I did the traditional academic path – graduate school, postdoc, faculty position – and then there was an opportunity during my sabbatical to do something completely different that I was really interested in.
At the time, Dolly had just been cloned the year before and we were in the middle of the Human Genome Project. I was teaching genetics to undergraduates and molecular genetics graduate students, and these events were raising all of these questions about the intersection of science and policy, genetic privacy, cloning – it was really a fascinating time. So when I stumbled on the AAAS policy fellowship, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go and see how the policy side intersected with the science and then bring that back to the classroom.
I spent a year working on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee, getting experience working on the Hill and understanding how that process worked – how the federal budget is generated and how it drives policy. Then an opportunity came up to go to OSTP [the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy] for a year, and there I was able to work on things that were a little bit more relevant to my science.
What was your favorite part of working on the policy side of things?
Just a month or two after I started my fellowship in OSTP, the first papers on isolating human embryonic stem cells came out. Every month or so, something else was getting cloned. It created some really great policy questions, and so it was a wonderful time for me to be at OSTP – that was a fabulous year.
How did you ending up coming to NSF?
At the end of that year, I was getting ready to go back to my institution. I had been in contact with NSF because I knew that when I had initially planned to come to DC on my sabbatical that NSF had been an option. A position was available as a rotator and they reached out to me. By that time, after two years in DC I had sort of made the switch in my mind from doing the academic life to thinking about science in the bigger context, and it was really appealing to me both personally and professionally to stay in this area, so I took the position.
You and BIO have a long history together! When were you last here, and what projects were you involved with?
Starting in the Fall of 1999, I was program director for gene expression in the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). The portfolio for gene expression was much broader than understanding the control of transcription, which was my area of expertise. I was a program director in MCB for about six and a half years before leaving for a little bit to do a detail in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) front office.
After that, I came back to be senior advisor in the BIO front office, but as it turned out, I went up to the Director’s office for about 8 months on a detail to work on a particular project for the Deputy Director, and so spent very little time in the front office. After that, I returned to BIO and was the Acting Division Director for MCB for two years.
By that time [former BIO AD] Jim Collins was finishing up his tenure and left, and I moved in to be the acting Executive Officer [equivalent to the current Deputy Assistant Director]. When a new AD was found two years later, there were a variety of vacancies in the Deputy AD spots, so I applied for those and that’s when I moved to the Directorate for Social, Behavior and Economic Sciences (SBE) as Deputy AD.
Each of these jobs – that whole path, including my details in EHR and in the OD, and my time in OIRM – all gave me different perspectives and really helped me when I came back to be an Acting Division Director and now Acting Assistant Director in BIO. Having spent the time at OSTP, on the Hill, in the OD – all of those experiences helped me be more effective here at NSF.
What are you most looking forward to for your time as Acting Assistant Director for BIO?
There are a couple of things that I’m really looking forward to. One is that it’s been six years since I’ve been in BIO and I’m just really loving getting back in touch with BIO and catching up on all that’s happened – all the ways that the science and the programs in BIO have advanced. So that’s probably the best part about this – I’m really just getting back to my first love.