LTER Site Management Updates


DEB recently made a change in how the Biological Sciences Directorate’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites are managed. We’d like to tell you about it.

First, some background. The LTER program is financially supported by three Directorates: Biological Sciences (BIO), Geosciences (GEO), and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), and the Office of Polar Programs. Most LTER sites are supported and managed by BIO — more specifically by DEB. The rest reside in the Biological Oceanography and Office of Polar Programs in GEO. Within NSF, an LTER Working Group comprised of staff and Program Officers in BIO and GEO meet regularly to coordinate management activities such as site reviews, renewal panels, and budgets. Outside of NSF, the LTER National Communications Office is a hub for research synthesis, communication, outreach, education and training across all sites.

That organizational scheme for LTER has been in place for many years, albeit with various tweaks. What’s changed is how BIO’s LTER sites are managed at the level that PIs tend to care about most: their own site. Historically, one permanent Program Officer (PO) was given primary oversight for all LTER sites funded by BIO. Henry Gholz did it for many years, followed by Nancy Huntly and then by Saran Twombly. Thus, PIs grew accustomed to seeing just one PO at LTER sites and events — and they knew pretty much immediately whom to contact about challenges and opportunities.

Roughly a year ago, DEB switched to a Working Group model of managing BIO’s LTER sites. The DEB Working Group consists of three Program Officers, representing Ecosystem Sciences, Population and Community Ecology, and Evolutionary Processes, who collectively manage the program. Sites will each have a single PO who will act as their Point of Contact. POs have been assigned a portfolio of sites that generally correspond to their interests or expertise. At least one member of DEB’s LTER Working Group is a permanent PO at NSF. Management and budgetary decisions are made by consensus, except for minor stuff. The group meets bi-weekly.

We’d like to emphasize that this is not a divide-and-conquer approach to the many and diverse issues of LTER award management (e.g., site visits and renewal proposals). Quite the opposite. We enjoy discussing those issues and are usually able to reach consensus based on our collective wisdom (and perhaps missteps in our individual pasts). It’s a shared management model in which, for example, concerns about a particular site are considered in the context of all sites and everyone on the DEB LTER Working Group has a voice in decision making.

Additionally, this arrangement provides a more balanced perspective of LTER science, helping sites realize opportunities for new interdisciplinary work. And, we hope it will provide more continuity in management style and substance, since it’s extremely unlikely that there will ever by an abrupt and complete turnover of the Working Group.

Our Decision Timeline or “When will I hear back?”


With our Fall 2017 panels wrapped up, Program Officers are now reviewing panel recommendations and considering their portfolios in order to make final award and decline recommendations. For those unfamiliar with the process, recommendations from Program Officers are sent through administrative review and, lastly, agreed upon or “concurred” by the Division Director.

Decisions will be released a bit later this year than in previous years because of the end of the preliminary proposal review system and the move to ‘no deadline’ and a new solicitation will not be released until early summer 2018. Additionally, there is the added complication of a continuing resolution budget as we explained in a post from last year,

“At present, NSF is operating under a temporary budget measure, called a Continuing Resolution (or CR) … We won’t have significant funds available to cover new grants until a longer-term funding measure is enacted.”

So, while we have a prioritized list of award recommendations, we do not yet have the funds needed to take action on those recommendations. Moreover, we do not know how much funding we will actually have available. Therefore, we will institute a prioritized notification system, which will be implemented as follows:

If your proposal fell into the definite decline group, then you will be getting an official notice from DEB and the proposal status will be updated in FastLane. If your proposal fell into the definite award group you will be getting a call or email from your Program Officer, along with some information about the materials you should get ready (e.g., submitting budget revisions or abstract language). If your proposal fell into the ‘hope to fund’ category, you will also be notified, and your Program Officer will be letting you know what the prospect is for your particular proposal.

As a result, investigators should start to hear back from NSF early in the new year. If you still have not heard anything by the end of January 2018, drop the Program Officer managing your proposal an email to schedule a call. But please remember that for collaborative proposals, the lead PI is the point of contact.

Rules of Life Dear Colleague Letter


The Biological Sciences Directorate at NSF has announced a new funding opportunity to support integrative research that crosses the traditional disciplinary boundaries represented by BIO Divisions or between the BIO Directorate and other NSF Directorates. This opportunity represents an initial investment in one of the NSF 10 Big Ideas, called Rules of Life. Rules of Life seeks to highlight the importance of research that forecasts the direction and dynamics of change in living systems. This funding will enable research projects dedicated to understanding processes associated with the emergence of complex properties in biological systems, and identifying underlying general principles (“rules”) across the full spectrum of biological phenomena.

 
In Rules of Life, “rules” are meant as the general principles or theoretical constructs that explain and predict the characteristics of living systems and for phenomena that cross spatial or organizational levels (from the molecular and sub-cellular to organisms, populations, communities, clades, and biomes) and/or temporal scales (e.g., from macromolecular folding to development to evolutionary processes across all of life. The new Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) outlines which proposal ideas and specific activities are eligible and provides preparation instructions.

 
The DCL sets out three funding opportunities: Conferences, EAGERs (Early Concept Grants For Exploratory Research), and RAISEs (Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering). As stated in the DCL, it is important to remember that proposed ideas for Conferences and EAGERs need to appeal to more than one BIO Division; RAISE proposals need to span Directorates. PIs considering an EAGER or RAISE proposal should submit a two-page prospectus outlining their idea by February 20th, 2018. Conference proposals have a submission deadline of June 1st, 2018. PIs should contact a program officer to discuss their idea before submitting a proposal.

 

Invited proposals should be prepared and submitted according to the guidelines of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Inquiries should be directed to RoLBIO@nsf.gov.

Institute for Broadening Participation


Have you heard of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP)? IBP’s mission is to increase diversity in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields by connecting students with relevant resources and opportunities. IBP can connect undergraduate students, graduate students, and post docs to scholarships, fellowships, and full time positions.

You can filter your search for opportunities by state or geographic region, as seen below.

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The site also offers resources and tools for faculty and administrators on how to promote their programs and reach a wide range of students. This is a popular platform faculty and administrators use to recruit students from underrepresented groups and you can find numerous scholarships and fellowships specifically for women and minorities in STEM.

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So, whether you’re an undergraduate looking for an REU-type summer research opportunity or an investigator seeking students from underrepresented groups, check out IBP’s website. Click around, be mindful of the deadlines, and apply!

Meet DEB: Christina Washington


 

Christina

Christina Washington, Program Assistant

 

 

What’s your role here at DEB?
I am a program assistant (only a few weeks old!). I am learning how to handle travel and reimbursements for visiting panelists and how to set up future panels.

How did you find out about NSF?
I found out about NSF when I did a search of science-related positions and I did some research on the organization. I immediately connected with their mission and the great projects they support.

Cats or dogs?
Definitely dogs. Cats look right through you.

Cake or pie?
Cake or pie? I don’t think people have to choose. I’ll eat both!

Anything else?
Just a side note, I’m a HUGE sci-fi fantasy and superhero fan. I love Marvel and have watched all their movies twice (probably more, shhh!) and DC (which is ok). I love NSF so much. Everyone is nice and very welcoming. I can’t wait to learn more!

 

 

DCL Announcing New South African Collaboration


The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) is excited to announce a new co-funding opportunity between NSF-BIO and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF). As per a newly issued Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), U.S. and South African researchers can submit collaborative International Research Coordination Network (IRCN) proposals to DEB and NRF at any time. Proposals submitted to NSF must follow guidelines within the Research Coordination Network (RCN) solicitation (NSF 17-594).

It’s important to remember that IRCNs provide a formal co-funding mechanism where both agencies contribute funds to support the coordination of research activities and not the research itself. For example, travel and lodging for meetings, workshops, and lab exchanges all fall under the umbrella of coordination activities. Investigators should already have other funding sources lined up to support the research itself.

With regards to funding, the DCL states, “NSF/DEB will support the participation of U.S. researchers and will contribute up to $500,000 (USD 100,000 per year) per award, and NRF will support the participation of South African researchers and contribute up to 2,500,000 Rands (R 500,000/year). A maximum of two environmental biology IRCN awards per year is anticipated to be available.”

If you have any additional questions after reading the DCL and the RCN solicitation, please contact Simon Malcomber at smalcomb@nsf.gov.