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!

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

From the AD: A Letter to The Biological Sciences Community

Image of the world with "NSF" lettering in white.

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), and NSF more broadly, understands the impact that COVID-19 and the responses thereto are having on the research community. We have heard from numerous community members and societies about lab closures, stresses associated with transitions to virtual classrooms and determining new methods of supporting students, and the loss of administration time and resources to COVID-related campus-wide planning. We know that these are affecting, and will continue to affect, the research enterprise by straining resources, ending or delaying planned research and/or impeding training and education, and we are committed to being responsive to the community in these difficult times. With this post, I would like to share with you information about NSF’s current operations and provide guidance to current awardees. But, most importantly, I want to emphasize that personal safety is the highest priority and I hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in this difficult time.

NSF current operations:
BIO program staff are on duty and available to the community, albeit virtually, and we welcome your proposal submissions at any point in the coming weeks and months. We are continuing to review proposals and make awards in a timely fashion and have implemented fully virtual panels to complete this process. Based on feedback from BIO panelists during my own video conversations with them, the high quality of the NSF merit review process is being sustained. Moreover, because NSF is uniquely prepared to respond quickly to address scientific unknowns concerning this coronavirus, Agency staff are working hard to review the literally hundreds of requests for RAPID funding being submitted each week.

As a reminder, the core programs throughout BIO do not have submission deadlines and we have extended the few special programs that do have deadlines. An agency-wide list of solicitations and Dear Colleague Letters for which deadlines have been extended can be found here.

Current awardees:
On March 23, NSF released guidance for all awardees on how to mitigate the impacts these challenging times are having and will have. NSF Director France Córdova also released an accompanying letter to the research community noting that “we are committed to providing the greatest available flexibilities to support your health and safety as well as your work.”

For current awards, grantees and program officers also have flexibility to provide no-cost extensions. NSF gives all awardee organizations the authority to extend an award for one year of no-cost extension (NCE) without needing to seek NSF approval. That first-year extension is called a Grantee-Approved extension and should be utilized prior to requesting an NSF-Approved extension. Your organization’s grants office simply needs to inform NSF, two weeks prior to the end of the award, that they intend to use a Grantee-Approved NCE by sending a notification to NSF via Research.gov. If additional time beyond the first year of extension is required, a formal request for an NSF-Approved NCE can be submitted by the organization’s grants officer via Research.gov prior to the end date of the grant. BIO program officers will accommodate such requests for a second year of NCE associated with delays due to COVID-19.

Finally, I and all the Directorate staff are interested in hearing how, in addition to those ways outlined above, BIO and NSF can mitigate the longer-term harm of COVID-19 on U.S. research and training. We will be holding a series of four BIO-wide virtual office hours next week where you can share concerns, ask questions, or offer your suggestions on how we can do more to address this national emergency. Sessions will be held at 4 pm Monday, March 30; 3 pm Tuesday, March 31; 2 pm Wednesday, April 1; and 1 pm Thursday, April 2; all times are EDT. Please feel free to attend the session that best fits your schedule; representatives from across BIO will be in attendance during each session.

For more information on NSF’s activities and response to COVID-19, please visit our coronavirus information page; this site is updated regularly.

Sincerely,

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

 

Reintegrating Biology Workshop Series Outcomes

The BIO Directorate considers integrative approaches to understanding life’s key innovations as essential for understanding the full diversity of mechanisms regulating fundamental biological processes.

The Reintegrating Biology series of workshops (https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1940791&HistoricalAwards=false) included a combination of virtual and in-person events and provided a venue for the broader biological community to discuss the opportunities and challenges for integrating across the biological sub-disciplines. As part of this series of workshops, a total of 318 researchers participated in four concurrent jumpstart meetings in Atlanta, Austin, San Diego and virtually during December 4-6, 2019.  Participants collaborated on a series of vision papers describing what could be accomplished by reintegrating across the subdisciplines of biology, and some of the obstacles preventing such a reintegration from happening. So far, 60 vision papers have been received and can be viewed at: https://reintegratingbiology.org/vision-papers/. Other vision papers have already been submitted for publication. The next Reintegrating Biology event will be a virtual Microlab on January 16 where participants from the four jumpstart meetings will discuss similar themes that emerged during the different events.

NSF would like to thank the participants of the four jumpstart meetings and the broader biological research community for helping make the series of reintegrating biology workshops such a success. These discussions will inform both current integrative biology funding opportunities such as the Rules of Life track in each of the divisional solicitations and the Biology Integration Institutes program (https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505684&org=BIO&from=home), as well as future activities.

From the AD: Save the Date for BIO’s 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series

Image of the world with

Dear Colleagues,

Please join the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) for the 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series.

BIO’s Distinguished Lecture Series brings eminent researchers to NSF Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia to speak to BIO scientists, other scientists in the agency, staff members, and a broader Washington-area audience about their research.

Below is more information about the 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series Speakers. Refer to BIO’s homepage for updated information as the lecture dates get closer.

If you wish to attend in person at NSF Headquarters (2415 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA 22314), please contact Nick Hunt (jamhunt@nsf.gov). Advance sign-up requests are required, and guidelines for visiting NSF are at https://www.nsf.gov/about/visit/

I hope you will be able to attend what are sure to be stimulating and thought-provoking lectures.

Sincerely,

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

Joanne Tornow, PhD
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

 

BIO’s 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series

Image of Dr. Michael Lynch Dr. Michael Lynch

Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution

Arizona State University

January 22

11-12pm

E3410

Image of Dr. David Micklos Dr. David Micklos

Dolan DNA Learning Center

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

March 5

3-4pm

E3410

Image of Dr. Jef Boeke Dr. Jef Boeke

Institute for Systems Genetics

New York University Langone Medical Center

May 21

11-12pm

E3410

Image of Dr. Hopi Hoekstra Dr. Hopi Hoekstra

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Harvard University

September 24

11-12pm

TBA

 

From the AD: Remembering Dr. Mary Clutter

Image of the world with "NSF" lettering in white.

Dear Colleagues,

I am deeply saddened to inform you of the passing of Dr. Mary Clutter.

 

Image of Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Mary Clutter Image credit: National Science Foundation

Dr. Clutter served as the Assistant Director (AD) for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) from 1992 to 2005, during which time she served two stints as acting Deputy Director for NSF.  Prior to that, she served as Division Director for Cellular Biosciences in what was previously the Directorate for Biology, Behavioral, and Social Sciences (BBS), as Science Advisor in the Office of the Director from 1985 to 1987, and as a Program Director starting in the 1970s.  She passed away on Sunday, December 8, 2019.

 

Dr. Clutter was a native of Pennsylvania and attended Allegheny College, where she obtained an undergraduate degree in biology.  She later earned her masters and doctorate degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.  She joined NSF as a rotator from Yale University and subsequently was appointed permanently.

Dr. Clutter was always about science first.  Her prescient view of 21st Century Biology predicted it to be integrative from the molecule to the environment, interdisciplinary across all disciplines, driven by a revolution in genomics and computational biology.  She championed plant biology and genomics, advocated for the creation of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and fostered innovative funding mechanisms within BIO (e.g., Research Coordination Networks and Graduate Research Traineeships) that were subsequently embraced agency-wide.  Furthermore, her commitment to advancing women in academe, in science, and at the NSF was a major hallmark of her time as AD for BIO.  Most notable was her policy memo that prohibited BIO funding of workshops and conferences that did not include women among the presenters, a courageous stance that was noted at the time by the Washington Post.  Dr. Clutter is also credited with the second largest reorganization within NSF in 1992 that resulted in the creation of the Directorates for Biological Sciences and Social, Behavior and Economic Sciences.

Dr. Mary Clutter leaves behind a vibrant legacy that will live on in the memories of her NSF colleagues. We are forever grateful for her service, dedication, and visionary leadership.

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

 

From The AD: New Funding Opportunities for Understanding the Rules of Life

Image of the world with "NSF" lettering in white.

Dear Colleagues,

BIO is excited to announce to the biological sciences community two new funding opportunities under the Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL) Big Idea: 1) Epigenetics and 2) Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms (MTM). The URoL Big Idea seeks to create a new paradigm at the convergence of science, engineering, and technology that will elucidate theoretical frameworks (rules) to enable prediction of the diversity of evolutionary solutions that biological systems use to support life processes seen across the planet. The National Science Foundation has recently invested $36 million in the first projects under the URoL portfolio from two separate solicitations and across more than thirty institutions.

The Epigenetics and MTM opportunities represent a collaboration across Directorates and Offices within the National Science Foundation. Specifically, Epigenetics intends to enable innovative research and promote multidisciplinary education and workforce training in the broad area of epigenetics, while MTM aims to understand and establish theory and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes.

Integrative perspectives and research approaches from more than one research discipline are welcomed, as this is a cross-Directorate effort. The interdisciplinary scope of both programs aims to provide unique training and outreach opportunities to train the next generation of scientists in a diversity of scientific approaches and to engage society more generally.

Both programs offer two submission tracks:

  • Track 1 – for projects with a total budget of up to $500,000 and an award duration of up to 3 years, and
  • Track 2 – for projects with a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and award duration of up to 5 years.

For complete details on deadlines and submission guidelines, refer to the Epigenetics program website or contact the Epigenetics Team (epigen@nsf.gov), and the MTM program website or the MTM Team (microbiome@nsf.gov).

BIO looks forward to continuing working on this cross-Directorate venture.

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

Upcoming Biology Integration Institutes Webinar

Please join us for the upcoming webinar about the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) on November 18th, 2019 at 2pm EST!

During this webinar, program directors from the BIO BII Team will address questions about the recently released solicitation (NSF 20-508).

Use the registration link below to register for our November 18th webinar.

Click here to register

The BII is a new funding opportunity to strengthen the connections between biological subdisciplines and encourage a reintegration of biology. This funding opportunity is a part of BIO’s larger efforts to stimulate integrative thinking in the biological research community.

To learn more about the Biology Integration Institutes, visit the solicitation and program website.

Letters of Intent for Implementation Proposals are due December 20, 2019. The deadline for full proposals, in both the Design and Implementation tracks, is February 6, 2020.