Meet DEB: Matthew Carling and Christopher Schneider


carling

Matthew Carling

 

 

Name: Matthew Carling, Evolutionary Processes Program Officer

Education: B.S. University of Michigan, Ph.D. Louisiana State University

Home Institution: University of Wyoming

Tell us about your research,

I am serving as a rotating Program Officer which means I do all the same tasks as permanent Program Officers (facilitate panels, make funding recommendations, day-to-day grant administration, etc.) but I’m also representing my community of investigators here at NSF for a few years before I return to my home institution in Wyoming. As an investigator, I am a museum-trained ornithologist and most of the work in my lab involves trying to understand the mechanisms and processes underlying speciation and adaptation. For example, we have a number of projects focused on using naturally occurring hybrid zones between closely-related bird species to understand both the generation and maintenance of reproductive isolation. As the curator of the University of Wyoming Museum of Vertebrates, I am also actively engaged in building and using museum collections not just for research, but also to engage the public in myriad ways.

What made you want to serve NSF?

The prospect of joining a dynamic and dedicated group of fellow program officers and staff working as a team to help push science forward. Plus, I’m not going to lie, there are better restaurants here than in Wyoming.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

Community service. A core part of the mission of NSF is “to promote the progress of science,” and, to me, that involves working closely with the scientific community to identify the best ways to do exactly that – promote scientific progress. I am also looking forward to trying to help PIs, particularly early-career PIs, in any way I am able so they can better understand what makes a successful proposal.

 

Schneider

Christopher Schneider

Name: Christopher Schneider, Systematics and Biodiversity Science Program Officer

Education: B.S. University of California at Berkley, M.A. University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D. Lewis and Clark College, Portland OR

Home Institution: Boston University

Tell us about your research,

I am serving as a rotating Program Officer. I am a broadly trained vertebrate zoologist, systematist, and evolutionary biologist specializing in the study of frogs and lizards. Much of my career has been spent studying the mechanisms that generate the remarkably high biodiversity of mountainous regions in the tropics, which comprise only about 5% of the world’s landmass, but may contain two-thirds of the world’s vertebrate animal species. I use a combination of expeditionary field work and molecular genetic analyses to test hypotheses about the origin of species, their history and biogeography. I have worked in Australia, Brazil, West Africa, Sri Lanka, Ecuador and the Caribbean and I continue to marvel at the stunning diversity and variety of species, many new to science, that we study.

What made you want to serve NSF?

NSF is the hub of some of the most exciting science on the planet and I’d imagined that working there as part of a purpose-driven team to support science would be deeply rewarding. Yet, somehow, the time was never right. My responsibilities to graduate students and my home institution (Boston University), a child in school, and a spouse’s career all conspired to make a move to NSF seem implausible. In addition, I love the academic life of scholarship, teaching, research, and student mentorship, so was not in a hurry to set that aside. But late last year the stars aligned. My lab became smaller and more manageable, the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster in the Division of Environmental Biology had an opening, my wife accepted a great job offer in the area, and my child went off to college. Needless to say, I am thrilled to finally be working with the outstanding scientists and staff at NSF.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

A key part of NSF’s mission is to support the basic sciences that drive innovation and understanding. It is exciting to be part of that mission and I look forward to working with my colleagues and staff to support the best science, develop new research funding opportunities, and maintain the vibrant atmosphere of exploration and discovery that advances science and education and inspires the public.

 

Graduate Research Fellowship Program: October Deadline


The deadline for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is coming up!  Now is the time to direct students to this opportunity.  Below we highlight the specifics of this fellowship opportunity, but it is also key to remember that this program supports students on the basis of their potential for significant research achievements in STEM.  The application consists of two statements and three supporting letters.  The statements include the Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals statement (3 pages), and a Graduate Research Plan (2 pages).  Although the nature of the first essay is the same no matter the stage of the applicant, the second essay varies substantially among stages and is viewed differently by reviewers.

For undergraduates applying, this essay is intended to reflect the type of project the student would like to do as they look forward to their graduate program, whereas for current graduate students, and especially those beginning their second year of graduate school, the project is typically more specific and better grounded in their current program and broader research plans. In all cases, the application is viewed holistically and evaluated on both the research potential and broader impacts associated with the applicant.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program grants three years of financial support for pursuing a research-based master’s or PhD degree in science technology, engineering, math, or STEM education. Applicants must demonstrate significant achievements in STEM and attend any accredited college or university in the United States or its territories.

Eligibility

  • Applicants must be a US citizen, national, or permanent resident
  • Applicants can apply while still in their undergraduate program but must be accepted into a graduate degree program by the time they accept the Fellowship
  • Applicants can have completed no more than 12 months of full-time graduate study by August 1st but can only apply once as a graduate student, either in their first or second year (see the solicitation for details as this is a new policy in 2017).
  • Different fields of study have different deadlines within NSF. Below is the schedule for each field of study
Fields of Study 2017 Deadlines 2018 Deadlines
Life Sciences, Geosciences October 23 October 22
Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Engineering, Materials Research October 24 October 23
Psychology, Social Sciences, STEM Education and Learning October 26 October 25
Chemistry, mathematical Sciences, Physics and Astronomy October 27 October 26
Reference Letter Submission November 2 November 1
  5:00 PM ET 5:00 PM ET

Benefits

  • $34,000 annual stipend
  • Cost of Education allowance of $12,000 to the institution
  • Professional development opportunities through Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) and Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP)
  • Access to supplemental funding to sustain research while on medical deferral (e.g. maternity/paternity leave)

Read the current solicitation for the full set of guidelines, and for additional questions please reach out to the Graduate Research Fellowship Operations Center, telephone: 866-NSF-GRFP, 866-673-4737 (toll-free from the US and Canada) or 202-331-3542 (international) or email: info@nsfgrfp.org

 

 

Dear Colleague Letter: Hurricane Harvey


NSF is now accepting proposals related to Hurricane Harvey. The new Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) outlines the three types of proposals that may be submitted to conduct new research related to Hurricane Harvey including RAPIDs, EAGERs, and supplemental funding requests. Investigators must contact the NSF Program Officer most closely related to the proposal topic before submitting. Please read the DCL carefully and follow the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) instructions.  NSF has also created a new web portal for institutions affected by Harvey with information on where to direct inquires.

Those of us serving in DEB are continuing to keep all those affected by Harvey in our hearts and thoughts during this terrible time. If you have any questions after reaching out to your relevant Program Officer, please contact our designated liaison for BIO, Elizabeth Blood, eblood@nsf.gov, (703) 292-4349.

Preliminary Proposal External Report Released


In 2012, DEB and IOS (the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems) instituted major changes to the proposal submission process, piloting a program now known as the preliminary proposal system. DEB and IOS switched to an annual submission deadline, capped the number of proposals a PI can submit at two, and required a four-page preliminary proposal be submitted and reviewed by a panel before PIs could be invited to submit a full 15-page proposal. As you may remember from a previous DEBrief post, the reasons for the switch were multifaceted.

After three years, DEB and IOS contracted an outside group (Abt Associates) to evaluate the success of this pilot program.  Abt analyzed NSF administrative data and submissions from three years before and three years after the creation of the preliminary proposal system.  They also surveyed the PI community and NSF BIO staff to evaluate whether or not those changes were meeting the above stated goals of reducing the work load and to gauge the community’s satisfaction.  You can find the full report here.

DEB and IOS are always striving to best serve their communities of scientists. We want to support the best basic research and we want the determination of what is “best” to be judged by a system of peer-review that is not onerous. We are actively discussing the results of this external review to determine whether to retain or alter the preliminary proposal process.

Cyberinfrastructure Follow-Up


In January, NSF issued a Dear Colleague Letter requesting information on emerging cyberinfrastructure needs. The Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC) is leading the effort to refresh NSF’s strategy and vision for future cyberinfrastructure investments as NSF’s five-year initiative, “Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21)” comes to a close.

Hundreds of scientists and engineers answered the call. Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in their thoughts. Of those who responded, half wrote as individuals and half represented a group.  All the responses are publically available here.  Most came from those affiliated with academic institutions and the rest were from non-profits, NSF-operated facilities, and industry professionals.

DEB-related responses from fields such as biodiversity, biogeography, ecology, and evolution focused on challenges dealing with the exponential growth of data from remote sensors, images, and other digital collections. Additionally, getting those collections to “talk to you each other” and share data sets represents a huge challenge. Another component centered on enabling the integration and analysis of data across disciplines, species, and metadata. In addition to requests for consistent, reusable, open access data sets, many responses focused on the need for workforce training and development to help process, curate, and archive new datasets.

What’s next for NSF’s cyberinfrastructure planning? OAC is working with NSF’s Directorates and Divisions and NSF’s Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, to assess the responses to the Request for Information (RFI). These RFI responses are being considered together with other relevant community input such as the 2016 National Academies report on NSF Advanced Computational Infrastructure, the 2017 Data Building Blocks (DIBBs) PI Workshop, 2017 NSF Cybersecurity Summit, and upcoming 2017 NSF Large Facilities Cyberinfrastructure Workshop (September 6-7). Guided by these community contributions, NSF will develop a refreshed cyberinfrastructure plan that takes us from 2017 into 2030 with all relevant information being posted on the NSF CI 2030 website.

 

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!