NSF Issues New Challenge to Identify Systemic Strategies to Address Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19 on DEI in STEM

NSF has announced the “Taking Action: COVID-19 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Challenge,” an ideas challenge for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs). The challenge is designed to highlight the need for institutional solutions to mitigate the long-term, negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). 

Because the issues impacting STEM undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty vary, the challenge is divided into four categories:

  1. STEM undergraduates at community and technical colleges;
  2. STEM undergraduates at four-year institutions;
  3. STEM graduate students and postdoctoral researchers; and
  4. STEM faculty. 

Each category will have first-, second-, and third-place cash winners and may include up to 10 honorable mention designees.

Winners will be announced in March 2022 and will be invited to present their ideas with the community at a future NSF event. All prize-winning and honorable mention submissions will be added to a repository and made available to the public. 

The NSF programs sponsoring the challenge include: Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP)ADVANCEHistorically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP)Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES), Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program (HSI)Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP), and Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP)


All eligible IHEs are encouraged and invited to submit descriptions of institutional actions that have been implemented, or will be implemented, such as new and revised policies, procedures, and practices to ensure continued progress toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive STEM higher education programs and institutions. Submissions from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and community and technical colleges are particularly encouraged in all challenge categories for which they are eligible. IHEs do not need to have a grant from NSF to submit to this challenge. 

More information

You can find more information and apply for this challenge on Challenge.gov.

Biology Integration Institutes (BII) Webinar

Please join the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) program for a webinar on December 2nd, 2021 from 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EST. There will be a short presentation, followed by an open Q&A session with cognizant Program Officers.

The aim of the BII program is to bring researchers across biology’s many subdisciplines together around the common goal of understanding how the processes that sustain life and enable biological innovation operate and interact within and across different scales of organization, from molecules to cells, tissues to organisms, species, ecosystems, biomes and the entire Earth. The next deadline is January 12, 2022. To see more information about previously funded awards under this program, please see here.

Please register in advance for the webinar below, and share this invitation with anyone you think may be interested:

Register Here

11/8/21 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Biodiversity on a Changing Planet

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on November 8, 2021. We host these office hours 1-2pm EST on the 2nd Monday of every month. There is a designated theme each time, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics. Program Officers provided an introduction to the new solicitation, Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP, NSF 22-508).The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 22-1

If you were unable to attend, here are some of the questions asked during the Q & A section:

Q: Will proposals for the Implementation Track for BoCP be competitive if they are proposed by entirely new teams rather than previously established collaborations? 

A: Competitiveness is about the quality of the proposal, as defined by the merit review criteria. If the team can work together to address the solicitation, then having an entirely new team is completely fine. The Project Management Plan should clearly describe the role and contribution of each team member. The program is not expecting only established teams. 

Q: Can you clarify the “U.S.-only collaborative proposal with international collaborators” under types of proposals? Will this require international collaborators to separately obtain funding on their end? How does this differ from the “international collaboration” proposal? 

A: Regarding international collaborations we expect three kinds of proposals. 1) The BoCP program has formal partnerships with funding agencies in China and South Africa and the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil. For proposals that include collaborators served by these agencies, the U.S. part is funded by NSF and the international part would be funded by those associated agencies. See the solicitation for specific instructions on how these proposals should be submitted. 2) Because biodiversity is changing globally, we also expect proposals that include collaborations between U.S. and international researchers in countries/states other than China, South Africa, and Sao Paulo. In general, we expect that these international collaborators will seek their own funding from sources other than NSF. However, the PAPPG describes the situations in which NSF will support research programs and people internationally. PIs who wish to include international funding in their budget are encouraged to read the PAPPG and contact a Program Officer at biodiversity@nsf.gov. 3) We also expect proposals with all-U.S. researcher teams. Work can be entirely in the U.S. or may involve foreign field work but not include payments to international collaborators. 

Q: Can you speak to the pros/cons of the various collaboration schemes – namely of partner agency proposal vs. U.S. only? I ask given the potential complexity and uncertainty of split funding (and the need for dual agency approval) will such proposals be reviewed more favorably? 

A: The type of collaboration you develop should be guided by the questions you are addressing and the location of the fieldwork you are proposing. Regardless of collaboration type we are looking for proposals that demonstrate true collaborations among investigators and that clearly describe the role and contribution of each collaborator. We value all three sorts of collaborative proposal (described above), and none are viewed more favorably. 

Q: What does NSF consider as evidence of prior collaboration? 

A: We are assuming this question is about the phrase “no prior collaborative track record” in the description of the Design Track. It is completely up to the PIs to decide how to describe the new collaboration and how the investigators will develop a productive collaboration going forward. 

Q: Will NSF consider proposals with non-traditional academic partners like NGOs competitive? 

A: Yes, as long as the organization has a DUNS number or can be a subawardee, an NGO can be included. More information on who can apply can be found in the PAPPG. Be sure that the roles and contributions of all partners are explained in the Project Management Plan. 

Q: Can the proposals focus on biodiversity of a specific smaller taxon, e.g. beetles, conifers, etc.? In some cases, this might constrain the geographical area; they do not occur beyond certain latitudes. 

A: This depends on the types of questions you want to ask. There is no specific geographic location or spatial extent that is the focus of the BoCP program. However, your questions should focus on some aspect of functional biodiversity in response to a changing environment.

Q: It sounds like this funding program is looking for very large and multi-national teams, what is the minimum number of collaborators that could be put together for the design track portion of this funding program? What team size would be ideal for these projects? 

A: There is no magic number. You need to provide a justification for why you need a particular size team based on the questions you’re trying to answer. There is no particular focus on large teams or multi-national teams. The Project Management Plan should clearly describe the role and contribution of each team member. 

Q: The BoCP program seems more ‘applied’ than the older Dimensions of Biodiversity program in that the objectives are more relevant to management (e.g. “modeling and forecasting of the consequences of functional change in biodiversity”). Can you comment on the relative importance of basic vs. applied components of the project? 

A: The BoCP solicitation is intended to focus on functional diversity and frames this in terms of the current biodiversity crisis. This program seeks fundamental research that will advance theory and aspects of biodiversity in the context of past and current ecological and evolutionary processes. The BoCP program is not intended to be “applied” although research results could certainly be relevant to broader uses such as management.

Q: Would a previous Dimensions of Biodiversity proposal be appropriate for the new program as is, with the additional documents, of course? 

A: A previous proposal could provide a start for a proposal for this new solicitation. However, we encourage you to think broadly and be responsive to the BoCP solicitation. This is a different solicitation than Dimensions of Biodiversity (which has been retired) and the integration of genetic, phylogenetic, and functional dimensions of diversity is not the focus of BoCP. 

Q: The focus appears to be on biological and geological processes, but much of the changing planet is driven by social science issues. Is social science a priority or not as part of this solicitation? 

A: While we agree that social science issues are important part of the changing planet, this solicitation is not focused on answering social science questions. Therefore, if your proposal includes a large social science component this may not be the solicitation for you. There are other opportunities at the National Science Foundation that focus on integration of natural and social science. 

Q: What are the major differences in scope between the new BoCP and Organismal Response to Climate Change (ORCC) solicitations? 

A: The main difference is that BoCP is focused on biodiversity on a changing planet while ORCC is focused on organismal responses to climate change. Both programs are interested in proposals that integrate across levels of biological organization. BoCP recognizes that understanding broad-scale biodiversity questions may require consideration of biological and geological processes. BoCP also encourages projects with an international or global focus and data reuse. ORCC targets proposals that will integrate organismal mechanisms of response to climate change with eco-evolutionary approaches and models to better predict and mitigate the effects of climate change on biological systems.

If you have other questions about BoCP, please contact a Program Officer at biodiversity@nsf.gov and they will be happy to answer any questions.

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs. NSF has suggested 5 tips on working with Program Officers as part of the NSF 101 series on our Science Matters blog.

Check out the upcoming office hour topics below and be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register. Our next virtual office hours, held December 13, 2021, from 1-2pm Eastern Time, will cover how to write a great annual report.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

December 13: How to Write a Great Annual Report

January 10: Mid-Career Advancement Solicitation

Upcoming DBI Virtual Office Hours: Introduction to DBI

Please join Program Officers and other staff from across the Division of Biological Infrastructure on Tuesday, November 16th from 3:00 – 4:00 PM EST for our upcoming virtual office hour.

The theme this month will be an Introduction to the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI). Whether you’re a veteran to their programs or brand new, they invite you to sit for a brief presentation followed by an open question and answer period. Questions can be on any NSF- or DBI-related topic!

Register for Office Hours here.

Future DBI-lead office hours will be held on the third Tuesday of every month from 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM Eastern Time. For more information, please follow their blog and check back on their Virtual Office Hours page.

Closed captioning will be available for all office hours.

Update of Macrosystems Biology & NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES) Solicitation and Deadline

The Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES): Research on Biological Systems at Regional to Continental Scales program supports quantitative, interdisciplinary, systems-oriented research on biosphere processes and their complex interactions with climate, land use, and changes in species distribution at regional to continental scales, as well as training activities to broaden participation of researchers in Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science.

The program is entering its second decade at a time when there is increased urgency in advancing the understanding of regional to continental scale biology and environmental science. The revised solicitation for the program is now available at: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2022/nsf22504/nsf22504.htm

The next proposal deadline will be January 10, 2022. After that, the deadline will move to the second Monday in November beginning with November 2022.

The scientific focus of the program has not changed, but there are some important updates to note:

  1. Language indicating that projects using NEON would receive priority for funding has been replaced with language that indicates that NEON use is encouraged where appropriate. 
  2. There is no longer a suggested average budget for the Macrosystem Research Awards (MRA); Macrosystem Small Awards (MSA) remain capped at $300,000.
  3. The anticipated funding amount for the program has been increased to $12M (from $9-11M).
  4. Project Management Plans are now required for MRA proposals only. They are not needed for MSA proposals.
  5. Proposals must now be submitted through Research.gov and can no longer be submitted through FastLane.

For more information or answers to questions about the program please contact members of the MSB-NES working group:

Matthew Kane (mkane@nsf.gov)

Diana Pilson (dpilson@nsf.gov)

Gary Lamberti (glamberti@nsf.gov)

Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) Program Announced

The NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) program will be hosting a question and answer session 2 weeks prior to the PRFB Deadline. The Q&A session will be Nov. 16th, from 3-4 pm Eastern Time.  The PRFB deadline is December 6th, 2021.

Please register in advance for the webinar below, and share this invitation with anyone you think may be interested.


10/18/21 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Welcome to The Division of Environmental Biology

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on October 18, 2021. We host these office hours 1-2pm EST on the 2nd Monday of every month. There is a designated theme each time, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics. Program Officers from each of DEB’s clusters are present at each Virtual Office Hour, so a wide range of scientific perspectives are represented. This month’s topic was the DEB Core Solicitation (NSF 21-504).

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 22-1

DEB NSF webpage

If you were unable to attend, here are some of the questions asked during the Q & A section:

Q: What are funding opportunities for graduate students and postdocs other than GRFP and PRFB?

A: Funding opportunities for graduate students and postdocs include Small Grants, which are in the core solicitation and are limited to $200,000. Graduate students and postdocs should ask their advisor (PI) for assistance in writing and submitting a Small Grant proposal to NSF. Depending on your institution, postdocs can submit proposals as a PI, but that is between you and your institution. Graduate students and post docs can also be supported through inclusion in regular proposals to the core solicitation.

Q: Do Small Grants cover only project-related expenses? Or are living-expenses also included for the grad-student or post-doc on the grant?

A: You can allocate salary and living expenses (e.g., field station fees or per diem if working away from home) for personnel in a Small Grant the same way you would for a full-scale proposal.

Q: What NSF programs, especially within DEB, facilitate collaborations with non-US scientists?

A: The core programs throughout BIO and in some other Directorates accept proposals for international collaborations between NSF and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and between NSF and the Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF). See DEB’s core solicitation for details. The new Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP) solicitation also has formal partnerships with the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). The Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) also has special solicitations to start new research and collaborations with international scientists. Questions can be directed to the cognizant program officers associated with the program or solicitation.

Q: What advice do you have for new investigators submitting proposals?

A: Make sure to read the solicitation, as there are frequent revisions, and the details are important. Have a broad range of scientists provide feedback on your proposal before submitting it. Make sure the proposal is clearly written, interesting, and the aims are clearly stated. Include preliminary data, if possible, to demonstrate your ability to accomplish the aims of the proposal. Write to your cognizant program officer with a one-page summary of your hypotheses for guidance on the scope or fit of a proposal for a program.

Q: When should I submit a proposal?

A: There is no “best” time of year to submit a proposal, so our advice is to submit when you feel your proposal is ready. Under the no-deadline solicitations in Biology, panels are being held year-round and each cluster’s budget is allocated equally (or proportionately by number of proposals) among those panels. Thus, there is no strategic advantage to submitting at a particular time of year.

Q: What are examples of some of the most exciting broader impacts activities you’ve seen in proposals?

A: The best way to learn about broader impacts is to view abstracts of currently funded awards found on the NSF website: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/. Make sure that your broader impacts are doable, have impact and are appropriate for the program. Avoid thinking about broader impacts as a checklist where you need to propose one of each type – focus on what you can do effectively and what matches your resources, expertise, and local opportunities.   Keep in mind that the effectiveness of your broader impacts is most important

Q: Do you have any advice for writing a reference letter for a student applying for a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP)?

A: Make sure the letter includes information on the student’s ability to conduct independent research and leadership. Provide concrete examples of students working through challenges or accomplishing tasks.  If a student self-identifies as being from an underrepresented group, including veterans and individuals with disabilities, it’s certainly helpful to provide that context.  Do not, however, assume a student is from an underrepresented group or is comfortable with you sharing that information. They must self-identify.

Q: The Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP) program solicitation says that it “…incorporates elements of the Bridging Ecology and Evolution (BEE) track which had been in the Division of Environmental Biology.”  What elements have moved from BEE to BoCP?

A: The BEE track elements that aimed to encourage novel approaches to dynamic bi-directional feedbacks between ecology and evolution, and investigations across multiple temporal and spatial scales have been included in the BoCP solicitation.

We also encourage you to check out last year’s DEB core solicitation virtual office hour recap post where we answered more questions. Remember that there is a new solicitation this year, so any solicitation specific questions from last year’s office hours could be out of date. Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs. NSF has suggested 5 tips on working with Program Officers as part of the NSF 101 series on our Science Matters blog.

Check out the upcoming office hour topics below and be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register. Our next virtual office hours will be held November 8, 2021, from 1-2pm Eastern Time on the new Biodiversity on a Changing Planet solicitation.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

November 8: Biodiversity on a Changing Planet

December 13: How to Write a Great Annual Report and Other Post Award Actions

January 10: Mid-Career Advancement Solicitation

Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: Biodiversity on a Changing Planet

Join us Monday, November 8th 1pm-2pm ET for DEB’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will provide an introduction to the new solicitation, Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP, NSF 22-508), which replaces the Dimensions of Biodiversity solicitation. If you have any specific questions about the program or the solicitation, this will be an opportunity to get your questions answered.  To participate, please register, using the link below. Upcoming DEB Virtual Office Hours are announced ahead of time on DEBrief, so we suggest you also sign up for blog notifications.


If you can’t make it to this or any future office hours, don’t worry! Come back to the blog afterwards, as we post recaps and the presentation slides of all office hour sessions. Alternatively, visit our Office Hours homepage for slideshows and recaps of past topics.  

Virtual Office Hours are on the second Monday of every month from 1pm-2pm ET. Below is a list of upcoming dates and topics (subject to change), so be sure to add them to your calendars and register ahead of time!   

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:  

November 8: Biodiversity on a Changing Planet

December 13: How to Write a Great Annual Report and Other Post-Award Actions 

January 10: Mid-Career Advancement Solicitation  

Your Project Titles Matter, Choose Wisely

Project titles matter because they partially determine who will end up reviewing your proposals. Unlike the situation with journals, where an editor can share the abstract of a manuscript with a potential reviewer, all NSF can share is the title. This comes into play in two important ways:

First, when we put together a panel, we strive to find panelists with a broad diversity of interests to cover the broad diversity of proposal topics in a typical panel.  A major challenge is to figure out the best matches of panelist expertise with proposal topics. To help in doing so, we send each panelist a complete list of proposal titles and ask them to rank each from 1 (“I’d love to review this one and have the necessary expertise”) to 4 (“I’m clueless or disinterested”). Although we sometimes overrule those rankings, we certainly pay attention to them. Here’s the point: If you want your proposal to be reviewed by someone who can best appreciate your project and provide the most constructive feedback, your title is pivotal.  Make sure it concisely summarizes what your proposal is about and stay away from vague or grand statements.

Second, the same challenge of matching reviewers to proposals comes into play when Program Officers solicit reviews from ad hoc reviewers (i.e., reviewers who are not panelists).  While Program Officers may be confident in the appropriateness of a particular reviewer for a given proposal, all that reviewer has to go on when making a decision about whether to review the proposal is its title.  The problem is that reviewers are far more likely to say “no” if they don’t have a good sense of what they’re getting themselves into.

Bottom line: You don’t want folks making false assumptions about your proposal’s content when all they have to go on is the title. You can (and should) provide effective project titles.