Now Hiring: New Division Director


Dr. Paula Mabee’s rotation as DEB Division Director is coming to a close and the search for a new Division Director has publically begun. This is a 1-3 year Limited Term Appointment and is open to visiting scientists from universities, colleges or other institutions. The position is within the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.

A brief position description is as follows: The Division Director provides vision and leadership, and works jointly with the Deputy Division Director in oversight of all activities of the Division of Environmental Biology. The Division Director also serves as a member of the senior leadership team of the Directorate for Biological Sciences, working cooperatively with other Division and Deputy Division Directors, in advising and aiding the Assistant Director, the Deputy Assistant Director and senior staff in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

The Division Director’s responsibilities include providing guidance to program officers, administrative and support personnel, recruitment of scientific staff, assessing needs and trends, developing breakthrough opportunities, implementing overall strategic planning, and policy setting. The Division Director ensures the effective use of division staff and resources in meeting organizational goals and objectives. The Division Director supervises professional staff within the Division. The Division Director determines funding requirements, prepares and justifies budget estimates, balances program needs, allocates resources, and oversees the evaluation of proposals and recommendations for awards and declinations. The Division Director represents NSF to relevant external groups and fosters partnerships with other Divisions, Directorates, Federal agencies, scientific organizations, and the academic community.

For details on how to apply, please visit the job announcement and email Deputy Division Director Alan Tessier (atessier@nsf.gov) with any additional questions.

Featuring the OPUS Program


DEB’s Opportunities for Promoting Understanding through Synthesis (OPUS) Program, provides mid- and late-career scientists the opportunity to synthesize their career’s work to make a new contribution in their field.  The DEB clusters fund OPUS activities over 1-2 years to create products that contribute substantially to the development of new knowledge, understanding, and research direction in a field, as well as to the development of an investigator’s future work. These can include syntheses of collaborations as well.  Proposals to this program can be submitted to any of the core cluster areas:   Evolutionary Processes (EP), Systematics and Biodiversity Science (SBS), Population and Community Ecology (PCE), or Ecosystem Science (ES).

We look forward to receiving your OPUS proposals in August and hope future investigators will read this and be inspired to submit an OPUS proposal in the near future. The funds are often used for sabbatical support, however they can be applied to any normally allowable research expenditure required to complete the project. OPUS projects must primarily synthesize published data rather than engage in new data collection.  Previous products from OPUS awards have included books, films, and high impact peer-reviewed publications.  You can see a list of recent awards made through this program here.

Here’s a quick look at how support has been distributed since the program’s inception. We’ve received a total of 247 OPUS proposals and have supported 72, for an overall funding rate of 29%. Although awards are evenly distributed among the Core clusters (Fig 1), the funding rates vary somewhat: 34% for EP, 36% for SBS, 20% for PCE, and 36% for Ecosystems.  This likely reflects the fact that submissions have been concentrated in PCE (Fig 1).  Additionally, SBS did not participate in the OPUS program until after 2009.

OPUS 1

Figure 1- OPUS Submissions and Awards by DEB Core Cluster, EP-Evolutionary Processes, SBS- Systematics and Biodiversity Science, PCE- Population and Community Ecology, ES- Ecosystem Science.

Most, but not all, OPUS projects are submitted by single investigators. Of the 72 awards made, nine female (13%) and two minority PIs (3%) have been funded (Fig 2).  Of the proposals submitted, only 33 (12%) were led by female PIs, although 50 (20%) involved female PIs or Co-PIs. Of all the submissions, 8 investigators chose not to self-identify their gender but all the awarded proposals self-identified.  Furthermore, only 8 (5%) were led by minority PIs, although 14 (6%) involved minority investigators as PI or Co-PI. These statistics only include those who chose to self-identify.  24 investigators chose not to specify their race but all the awarded proposals self-identified. Those cases where PIs did not identify their gender or minority status were excluded from this summary of PI demographics, as is also true in Figure 2.The vast majority of applications came from institutions with numerous Ph.D. programs, but Predominately Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) achieve similar success rates; the success rate of applications from Ph.D. granting institutions is 27%, PUI submissions were funded at a rate of 50%, and MSI submissions at a rate of 27%.

Figure 2 shows OPUS PI and Institutional Demographics. PUI- institutions that are primarily undergraduate and have awarded 20 or fewer Ph.D./D.Sci. degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years. MSI denotes Minority-serving Institutions and PhD-Institutions denotes schools that award more than 20 D.Sci degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years.

So what makes a great OPUS? We’re looking for a new idea or framework resulting from an existing body of work; think of a brand new album, not a “greatest hits” or “remastered” collection. As always, NSF is eager to support diverse community members. Visit the solicitation page here and contact a Program Officer to consider whether you have a project to submit!

 

Meet DEB: Cody Bowles, Program Assistant


cody

Cody at Yellowstone National Park

Tell us about yourself. I’m an NPR aficionado, news and policy fanatic, and recent graduate of George Mason University.

What do you do here at DEB? I’m a Program Assistant with DEB. I work to plan and organize panels for the Evolutionary Processes and Systematics and Biodiversity Science clusters. I help arrange travel for panelists, coordinate meeting logistics, and troubleshoot any technical issues that may arise.

Where are you from? Richmond, Virginia.

Which member of the Scooby-Doo gang do you most identify with? Definitely Velma! I have an orange sweater, lose my glasses often, and tend to be a bit dorky.

What do you like about working here? I love the environment and the people here at the National Science Foundation. I’ve been here less than a year, but everyone has been nice and welcoming.

 

NSF Systems offline June 30-July 4

NSF Systems offline June 30-July 4


Many NSF Systems will be unavailable Friday, June 30th at 8pm EST until Tuesday, July 4th at 6pm as NSF begins relocation to Alexandria, Virginia.

After years of construction, the National Science Foundation will soon begin the relocation process to Alexandria, Virginia. NSF offices will be moving over several months, and BIO staff are scheduled to move the weekend of September 15th, 2017 to start work in the new building on September 18th. The new address will be:

National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22314

fork

credit: Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock.com

As part of the moving process, the Data Center systems and equipment need to be physically moved to Alexandria, a process we refer to as the “forklift”, because they will actually be using a forklift. Therefore, from 8pm June 30th, through July 4th many of the NSF IT Systems will be unavailable, so please plan accordingly if you were going to work on something that requires NSF systems over the long holiday weekend. This is likely to impact both the public facing systems like the NSF website and FastLane, and the internal systems, such as employee’s access to email. We hope that all will be back to normal on July 5th.

 

 

New Required Format for Collaborators & Other Affiliations


Are you planning to submit a proposal to NSF? As of April 24, 2017, there is a new required template for the submission of the Collaborators & Other Affiliations (COA) information.  This is the information that must be submitted by each PI, co-PI, or Other Senior Personnel identified on a proposal (i.e., anyone who has a biosketch in the proposal) that helps NSF to avoid conflicts when requesting reviews from the community.  Don’t confuse this spreadsheet template with the Personnel List Spreadsheet template required by the DEB solicitation: http://www.nsf.gov/bio/deb/debpersonnellist.xlsx. They are two different things.  There should only be one Personnel List Spreadsheet that lists all of the people associated with an entire project emailed to DEB as instructed in the solicitation, whereas each person associated with a project must have their Collaborators & Other Affiliations (COA) information submitted as a Single Copy Document using this new template.

This new standardized format will ensure that the information is complete, and most importantly, searchable by NSF Program Officers. It includes a section for the person’s name and affiliation(s), PhD Advisors/Advisees, Collaborators, Co-Editors, and other Relationships, with detailed descriptions of who should be included in each section as described in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures guide.

Most important things to remember:

  1. Each person listed on a proposal as PI, co-PI, or Other Senior Personnel must submit the document along with their Biosketch and their Current and Pending Support Statement.
  2. After filling out the template, the document must be saved as .xlsx or .xls format, and uploaded to FastLane as a Collaborators & Other Affiliations Single Copy Document
  3. The template and more information about this new process can be found online here: https://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/coa.jsp

So why not get ahead of the crowd and make sure that you and all of your collaborators have an updated Collaborators & Other Affiliations template filled out and ready to go? This is not something you want to be pulling together from all of your collaborators the day before you are trying to submit a proposal. And why not share this new NSF process with your Sponsored Research Office, as well?

 

What Makes for a Competitive DEB CAREER Proposal?


CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development Program) is an NSF-wide award for early career (pre-tenure) faculty. It is one of the most prestigious and sought after grants made by the National Science Foundation. CAREERs support pre-tenure faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars. CAREER proposals should have a well-thought-out plan for the integration of teaching/training and research. This integration is key to a successful proposal. The work you propose in a CAREER submission should build a firm foundation for a long “career” involving your planned research and education programs.

In DEB, CAREER proposals are reviewed alongside other full proposals submitted to the same program (e.g., Population & Community Ecology, Evolutionary Processes). As you can see from the figure below success rates are between 6-18%. (Compare that to overall rate for full proposals in DEB https://debblog.nsfbio.com/2017/01/06/deb-numbers-fy-2016-wrap-up).

CAREER

You are eligible to apply for a CAREER if you are an Assistant Professor (or in an equivalent tenure-track position). You do not need to be at a Research I University to apply; you can apply from any NSF-eligible institution (e.g., primarily undergraduate institution, 2-year college, independent museum or research lab). You will need a letter of support from your department chair affirming your eligibility and demonstrating how the proposed work advances the research and educational goals of your department. It should also explain how the department is committed to mentoring and supporting you as a teacher and scholar through your professional development. Please refer to the CAREER award solicitation for more details.

Because integration of teaching and research is the heart-and-soul of a CAREER proposal, the required education plan should be tightly integrated with research described in the Intellectual Merit section; placing it solely in the Broader Impacts section is typically a mistake. The plan should not be a rehashing of your current duties as an Assistant Professor (e.g., teaching your current graduate or undergraduate level courses). The more inseparable from your research, the better.  The education plan can include formal and informal teaching (e.g., webinars, public talks, workshops) and can take place in non-academic settings and focus on traditionally underserved communities. It is good to keep in mind the current infrastructural capabilities and resources of your home institution (e.g., does it have a program for underrepresented groups that you can use for recruitment in your education program? Does it have a mechanism for engaging with the general public?). The education component could be directed at any level of student from kindergarten to graduate students, or include training and education of the general public.  The important thing is that your education plan is consistent and integrated with your research career goals.  The very best CAREER proposals are those in which the research informs teaching and the teaching informs the research. In other words, strive for research and education plans that are synergistic, not “just” integrated.

Because CAREER awards are intended to set the trajectory of your career, it is fine to include plans for learning new techniques (research or teaching). Reviewers and Program Officers take the long view; they understand the need for early-career scientists to fill gaps or strengthen bridges before pushing ahead on a particular theme. In such circumstances, it’s important to be up-front, to provide justification or explanation, and to budget accordingly.

A successful CAREER award should result in more than an incremental increase in our knowledge of a subject area, and should have a broad (but feasible) focus. Furthermore, a CAREER proposal should place your research in the context of a program of career development that includes the interactions between education and research and/or outreach. The proposal should demonstrate your expertise and ability to perform the proposed work. Please keep in mind that you cannot have Co-PIs in a CAREER proposal. CAREER proposals are about your work, but if critical for a given project, collaborators are now allowed in the form of senior personnel. Collaborators should provide some essential, specialized (yet limited) component of the project, or mentoring that contributes to your professional development. (If you do include senior personnel in your proposal, they must submit a Biosketch, Current & Pending Grants, and their ‘Collaborators and Other Affiliations.’) You can also have your collaborators write a “Letter of Collaboration.” These are not letters of recommendation – please follow the NSF provided template in the CAREER solicitation.

You have three opportunities to apply for a CAREER award (and only one opportunity per year). You cannot apply if you will be tenured (i.e., no longer an Assistant Professor) before October 1st following the proposal deadline of July 19, 2017. In BIO, the proposal budget (including indirect costs) should exceed $500,000 for a 5-year duration. (Fun fact: This is the only type of proposal in DEB with a budgetary floor, not a ceiling.) For more about CAREER awards please read the NSF program solicitation and contact a Program Officer in the most relevant cluster, if you have questions.

 

DDIGs Come to a Close


The Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) program in the Division of Environmental Biology has come to an end. This decision was difficult, but the NSF and BIO’s programs  are facing many challenges and this is the best course of action at this time.

The first DDIG solicitation was issued nearly 50 years ago and was intended to provide supplemental funds for graduate students doing field work (a largely unfunded area at the time especially when it came to field work off campus). As the needs of graduate students evolved, DDIGs expanded to help cover additional costs such as dissemination of results and expanded research expenditures.

The funds were intended to widen the existing body of dissertation research and act as a capstone to enhance the students’ work. Over time, DDIGs became a prestigious addition to any CV, with many more students submitting proposals. Eventually, the number of DDIG awards mirrored the number of full proposal awards.

DDIG

 *Proposals from core programs only

 

In the table above, you’ll see the number of DDIG proposals reviewed in the past two years compared to the number of full research proposals reviewed. In the recent past, full proposal awards and DDIG awards are similar in number.  What those DDIG numbers also represent are four review panels comprised of nearly eighty panelists whose recruitment, travel, and reimbursement were coordinated by NSF staff.  The cost and effort of staging a DDIG panel and processing the decisions are virtually identical to the cost and effort of a standard grant panel. Yes, DDIGs are small budget awards; they are generally less than $20,000, but DDIGs still demand all the same oversight, management, and approval processes as standard grants.

Many of our Program Officers were themselves recipients of DDIG awards and looked forward to reading the innovative and high-risk research ideas being generated by fearless students. DDIGs have catalyzed a culture of independence and risk taking among graduate students within the sciences funded by DEB; we sincerely hope that graduate training programs will strive to find ways to sustain that culture.

The decision by DEB (and IOS) to end the DDIG solicitation was difficult but in the face of high workload it was a necessary course of action. The NSF will continue supporting graduate research through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) and the NSF Research Traineeship Program (NRT). If you have any additional questions after reading the Dear Colleague Letter and FAQ, please feel free to reach out to us at debquestions@nsf.gov.