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

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.