Fall 2016 DEB Panels status: “When will I have a decision?” edition

DEB’s full proposal panels finished in early November (for those full proposals submitted back in July and August). So, when will you receive review results?

Some of you may have already heard from us. Others will be hearing “soon” (as detailed below).

Right now, all of our programs have synthesized the recommendations of their panels, considered their portfolios, and come up with their planned award and decline recommendations. These are then documented, sent through administrative review, and finally signed off, “concurred,” by the head or deputy for the Division.

DEB’s first priority is processing the decline notices. We’re trying to get your reviews back to you to provide as much time as possible to consider your options for January pre-proposal submissions.

For potential awards, it’s a bit more complicated. We expect award recommendation dates to be later this year than typical. At present, NSF is operating under a temporary budget measure, called a Continuing Resolution (or CR). The current CR runs through December 9, 2016. 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 don’t yet have the funds needed to take action on those recommendations. Moreover, we don’t know how much funding we’ll actually have available so uncertainty is part of the plan. Thus, between “definite award recommendation” and “definite decline recommendation” we have a recommendation gray zone.

How are we handling this?

If your proposal fell into the definite decline group, then you’ll be getting an official notice from DEB. Once the formal decline recommendation is approved, the system updates the proposal status in FastLane and queues up a notification email. We are planning to have all declines approved by December 20, 2016. Note: our IT system sends the notification emails in batches at the end of the day[i]. Thus, if you are frequently refreshing FastLane you will likely see the news there before you get a letter from us.

If your proposal fell into the definite award group or the gray zone, you will first be getting a call or email from your Program Officer. They will be letting you know what the plan is for your particular proposal and how you can get things ready (e.g., submitting budget revisions or abstract language) for an eventual award. Formal action, including the release of reviews, cannot happen until we have funding available. However, folks in this group should also hear from their Program Officers by December 20.

After December 20, if you have not received any communication from us, first check your spam folder and then look up your proposal number and give us a call. But please remember, the lead PI for a proposal or collaborative group is the designated point of contact; if you’re a co-PI you need to get in touch with the lead PI and have them inquire.

[i] We’re not totally sure why this is, but suspect it has to do with email traffic volume and security features: discriminating an intentional batch of emails from an account taken over by a bot.

REPOST: What We’re Thankful For: PIs

This post was originally published in November of 2013. We’re a bit late to the November holiday theme, but we’re still in the post-panel administrative processing phase, and once again will be faced with declining a lot of really interesting ideas. So, even a week late, we thought it would be good to re-visit some reflections on helpful PI habits for which we’re thankful.  We’ve updated a couple of links and references to match current NSF policy documents.

Working in DEB has its ups and downs. There is a great energy that comes from hearing about our PIs’ accomplishments or rallying support for a new funding opportunity. But, there are also the not-so-fun parts of the job and it can seem especially dreary in DEB right about this time of year (we do not particularly enjoy declining requests to fund cool science). So we wanted to take a moment to jump on the bandwagon of seasonally-themed posts and reflect on the little things that brighten our days.

Here’s a list of 10 ways PIs make us thankful. Continue reading

Program Announcement: DEB Core Programs & LTREB Solicitations Updates

Updated guidelines are now available for submissions under the two-stage DEB preliminary/full proposal system. Both DEB Core Programs and Long Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) have been updated.

The new DEB Core Programs publication is NSF 17-512[i].

The new LTREB publication is NSF 17-513[ii].

Please read these guidelines if you plan to submit a preliminary proposal.

In this post, we’re providing a brief summary of the notable points and key changes, but this is not sufficient information to complete a submission.

Both solicitations

  • The definition of “Eligible Institutions” has been updated with limits on the eligible institution types. Institution types that do not meet this definition remain eligible as sub-awardees, but cannot be the primary grant recipient.
  • The deadline for submitting the Personnel List Spreadsheet (from a template, submitted by email) has been reduced to 1 business day (from 3 days) after the proposal deadline for both preliminary and full proposals.
  • The purpose and procedures for requesting a full proposal deferral have been updated and clarified.
  • The requirement for full proposals to provide results of prior NSF support has been clarified and emphasized.
  • The guidelines for Letters of Collaboration (to confirm cooperation or involvement of persons or organizations not receiving funding under the proposal) have been updated to clarify the purpose of, and limits on, such letters.

DEB Core Programs

  • The Core Programs solicitation now includes instructions for submission of international collaborative proposals involving eligible collaborators in the UK (via NERC) or Israel (via BSF). These instructions continue the partnerships originally advertised as Dear Colleague Letters.
  • The budget cap for the small grants (SG) option has been increased to $200,000.


  • The Project Description page limit for RENEWAL proposals has been increased from 8 to 10 pages.

Changes Beyond the DEB Solicitations


Many of our PIs have research interests that overlap between DEB and the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). New submission guidelines for the preliminary proposal system in IOS have also been published as NSF 17-508. Check with IOS and the IOS Blog for additional information.


Please take note that the NSF general proposal guidelines have also been revised. This information is provided in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), which previously comprised two publications known as the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) and Award & Administration Guide (AAG). The new version of the PAPPG, is a single consolidated guide:  NSF 17-1. The guidelines in PAPPG 17-1 apply for proposals submitted or due, or awards made, on or after January 30, 2017. This document contains the full set of general guidelines to PIs, including everything from proposal preparation to award reporting and close-out.

A summary explanation of the new PAPPG format and changes from the previous edition of the guide can be read here: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappg17_1/sigchanges.jsp

These revisions have minimal effect on the requirements for the upcoming DEB preliminary proposal deadline (since the PAPPG comes into force on Jan 30, 2017 – a week after the pre-proposal deadline).

The guidelines in PAPPG 17-1 will apply for invited full proposals (due next August), and other proposals you may be planning to submit to DEB or other NSF programs.

For instance, starting on Jan, 30 2017 any RAPID or EAGER proposals intended for DEB would list the NSF 17-1 PAPPG program announcement number on the proposal cover page.

[i] The old solicitation NSF 15-609 is no longer accepting new proposals.

[ii] The old solicitation NSF 16-500 is no longer accepting new proposals.

Meet DEB: Prosanta Chakrabarty, SBS Program Officer

Meet DEB: Prosanta Chakrabarty, SBS Program Officer

Basic Profile

Dr. Chakrabarty searching for cave-dwelling fishes in Honduras.

Dr. Chakrabarty searching for cave-dwelling fishes in Honduras.

Name: Prosanta Chakrabarty

Education: BSc. McGill University, 2000 (Zoology), Ph.D. University of Michigan, 2006 (Evolutionary Biology)

Home Institution (Rotators): Louisiana State University

NSF Experience/History: I’ve been a Program Director for just a few months, but I’ve been on a couple of review panels, and an external site visit team. I also have had several awards (and many misses) from NSF. Because I had a good view from the outside, I thought it would be good to see how the sausage is made inside NSF.

Research Experience/History: I’m an ichthyologist, and I’m interested in knowing how fishes are related to one another to better understand evolution and Earth history. For instance I work on blind cavefishes, and some species that are each other’s closest relatives are found far apart, even on different continents; because they likely haven’t moved out of their cave habitats, they act as little time capsules telling us how the landmasses around them were once connected. The DNA of these animals can reveal the last period that two groups of organisms last shared a common ancestor. The DNA can reveal a great deal about the biological history but also provide insights into geological history. [Here is a link to a short (<5min) talk I gave on the subject: https://www.ted.com/talks/prosanta_chakrabarty_clues_to_prehistoric_times_found_in_blind_cavefish?language=en  ]

My lab is mostly focused on freshwater and marine fishes from the Neotropics (the Caribbean, Central and South America) and the Indo-West Pacific (everything from the Persian Gulf, Japan, Australia, Madagascar, etc.). As a natural history curator (I’m curator of fishes at the LSU Museum of Natural Science), I am charged with building a collection of specimens and DNA samples to help us better understand the Tree of Life of fishes. My lab and I do at least two or three international trips a year, as well as many local ones, to build a collection that is diverse and can be used by researchers around the world to study fishes. I also teach both Evolution and Ichthyology at the undergrad level at LSU. I enjoy teaching very much as well.

Competitions I currently work on: As a Program Director in the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster, I’m handling pre-proposals, full proposals, and DDIGs (Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants) related to phylogenetic systematics grants in the Division of Environmental Biology.



Describe your current IR/D activities: I came to DEB to give back to NSF and to my community. I also came to get an overview of my field. I’ve been very focused on systematic ichthyology, and since getting tenure a few years ago I wanted to learn how broad phylogenetic systematics really is and where it is going. I’ve been giving a few talks in academic settings including at natural history museums and universities centered around the theme – “What is the Future of Systematics?” I know that is an obnoxious title (who am I to say what the future holds?) – but I’m looking to hear answers not to give them. I think from where I sit I get a good overview of where people are pushing the field forward, so I’m kind of on a listening and reading tour.

I’m also part of a project with one of my postdocs back home at LSU, Brandon Ballengée. He and I have some work through a AAAS funded project called “Crude Life: A Citizen Art and Science Investigation of Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill” http://www.lsu.edu/mediacenter/news/2016/07/05mns_chakrabarty_crudelife.php

This project is an art/science/outreach convergence to gather data on endemic fishes potentially affected by the 2010 spill while raising the public awareness of local species and ecosystems that may be unfamiliar to them. We will be creating a portable art-science museum of Gulf biodiversity that will go on tour in the region. On my next IR/D trip my lab and some locals will seine the beaches in one of the areas hit hardest by the oil spill. We will bring a portable lab and have locals look at all the creatures swimming under their feet that they have been missing. We will explain how the spill can be harming these species even five years later.

One thing you wished more people understood about DEB and why: I think many people in science think that NSF is a candy store and don’t understand why everyone can’t get some candy. It’s a bit more complicated than that. In my experience, NSF is more like a bank giving out loans. You want a loan? Tell us how you will use the money, and how it will better your field and potentially influence society – when you achieve these outcomes, that’s how you pay back the loan. There is only so much money to go around. If we gave everyone a little money, it would be very little. It wouldn’t be enough to do transformative science or to hire postdocs and pay graduate students who are the next generation. Instead in DEB we are trying to target science that will really make a difference, or that has the potential to do so, and give those projects enough funding to see an impact. I’m really proud of that.

Tell your awesome fieldwork adventure story: I’ve been on nearly 30 foreign field trips now, so I’ve got some stories for sure. Most of them I can’t share here, or maybe anywhere. I’ll refer you to my fish lab blog http://lsuichthyology.blogspot.com/ for some of them.

Dr. Chakrabarty on a collecting trip on the Amazon River.

Dr. Chakrabarty on a collecting trip on the Amazon River.

I can tell you about my recent trip to Panama which we just did in May before I came over to NSF. We went to the Darién Gap – an area I’ve been trying to go for years – the logistics of getting here are very complicated politically. This region is, geologically speaking, young. It was the last section of a sea separating Central and South America to close up. And, the fauna and flora reflects that position linking the North and South American continents. My postdoc Fernando Alda made that trip come together, and we had an amazing time collecting freshwater fishes with the local Emberá Indians. Everything about hiking into one of the last undeveloped areas in the Americas in the shadow of harpy eagles and sloths, far from any city, and in search of new species was something that was very special.

On one night our local guide wanted to catch some dinner and went out with my snorkel, diving flashlight, and a spear. We watched while he shot spikey armored catfishes (Ancistrus), big tetras and cichlids. When we turned off our headlamps and watched him floating in the stream with his bright torch against the darkness it looked like he was floating in space. When he came up he mentioned seeing a striped “macana” – which is the local name for electric knifefishes (the family of fishes related to electric eels). We hadn’t seen any of these yet so I asked Fernando which one he means – “Gymnotus” he said. “We better go get it,” I replied – I didn’t know these South American species were in Panama. It turns out that Fernando was the one that discovered they were in Central America with the first record in 2012 [http://www.biotaxa.org/cl/article/view/9.3.655/0]. Fernando rushed out with a portable amplifier that we can use to translate electric fish signals into sound. We stuck the cables under root mats and listened for their calls – Fernando understood their language – and could recognize the species by listening to the pattern – by the volume he could even determine their size. I was with him when he heard what he thought was a big Gymnotus deep in the roots, we missed a couple times with the dipnet, and then on one attempt we saw the characteristic striped patterns of Gymnotus. I’ve never seen anyone so happy to get a fish. Fernando leapt and danced across the stream as if he had just won the Superbowl. I was glad to see such passion for natural history. The fish was gorgeous too, a long (nearly 2’) dark-green headed relative of the electric eel. It is a fantastic fish, only the second record of the genus in Panama…or is it something else? Something new perhaps? We are looking into that now – stay tuned.

What would someone find you doing in your down time? I love exploring this part of the country with my wife and twin daughters. Part of the reason I wanted to come to NSF was to give them a new experience. My girls, who are identical twins, have been to five countries outside of the U.S. and they are great travelers. Like their parents, the girls love seeing and learning about animals, so we’ve been hitting up all the zoos, aquariums, and museums we can find. We are planning to do some camping trips next.

Who do you admire, and why? Sylvia Earle is one of my heroes. One of the few people to have been in some of the deepest parts of the ocean, and she is such a great inspiration to so many people. I had the opportunity to meet her a couple times this year and just found her so down to Earth and approachable, as well as wise; she is also very giving of her time. She has served in government as Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and has been a curator and professor, but always an explorer first. I’d like to be thought of in the same way. She blazed her own path in the 60 and 70s when women were not well represented in the sciences – but she pushed through and made it easier for people from underrepresented groups to move up the scientific ladder: that’s also one of my goals – to broaden participation in STEM fields.

I also really admire my permanent colleagues here in DEB. They don’t get much credit, and their job is largely thankless because from the outside it is hard to know what happens inside NSF. Now that I’m on the inside I see how much the other Program Officers sacrifice and the amount of time they put in for the benefit of others. They are really fighting for science and for scientists. I’m only here as a rotator so I’m glad that they are spending the time teaching me how things are done and why things are done the way they are. My colleagues here are definitely the best part of being at NSF.

Preliminary Proposal Evaluation Survey Reminder


Check your inbox.

Check your spam folder.

Complete the survey!

End the reminder messages.


Background (if the above doesn’t make sense to you).

This is about the Preliminary Proposal system in use in both NSF BIO’s Division of Environmental Biology and Division of Integrative Organismal Systems.

We are in the midst of an external evaluation of the effects of this system on the merit review process.

We posted an initial notification letter about stakeholder surveys. And, copies of this letter were sent out to everyone in the sample ahead of the formal invitations.

The formal survey invitations with the active survey links were sent out by mid-September from the evaluator, Abt Associates.

Reminder emails are also coming out and will continue to do so at regular interviews while the survey remains open and incomplete.

If you have been receiving these messages, please complete the survey. If your colleagues have been receiving these messages and have not completed the survey, encourage them to do so.

If you received an invitation to take the survey,

  • Please take the 10 or so minutes to register your responses via the link in the email.
  • Remember that these are single-use individualized links.
  • Your response matters. This isn’t a census: your invitation is part of a stratified random sample selected for inference to the population.

Thank you for your participation!

MacroSystems Biology and Early NEON Science

A cross-posting from the NSF BIO Division of Biological Infrastructure blog (DBInfo) that we thought would be of interest to our readers too.


What do a fungal disease, lake sediments, and weather radar have in common?

They are all components of research projects funded by the NSF Macrosystems Biology and Early NEON Science Program (MSB). (You can find a list of active awards here.)

Last week, the NSF headquarters served as the gathering place for a meeting of Principal Investigators (PIs) and other researchers working on MSB projects from across the country. We wanted to share with you a little bit more about this unique program in the NSF BIO portfolio and some of the outcomes of the meeting.

Dr. Olds and Dr. Waring are standing in a meeting room in front of a wall with Dr. Warings scientific poster hanging on it. There are other posters in the background. The NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, speaks with MacroSystems Biology researcher Dr. Kristen Waring.

About the Program

Originally just called “Macrosystems Biology,” the Macrosystems Biology and Early NEON Science program is an NSF BIO funding competition that made its first round of awards in FY 2011. The next…

View original post 924 more words

Meet DEB: Paula Mabee, Division Director

Meet DEB: Paula Mabee, Division Director

Basic ProfilePaula Mabee, Division Director, BIO/DEB

Name: Paula Mabee

Education: Ph.D. Duke University, 1987 (Zoology)

Home Institution:
The University of South Dakota

NSF Experience/History:

I have been the Division Director of the Division of Environmental Biology in the NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) since August of 2015, but my history with NSF goes way back. I’ve served on 16 panels and participated in multiple site visits across BIO since 1996, and I have served as an ad hoc reviewer since 1990. I have also been a fortunate NSF awardee. I received my first NSF award – a postdoctoral research fellowship – in 1989, during which I trained in experimental methods in developmental morphology.  This led to my first award as a faculty member at San Diego State University in 1994 for a comparative experimental study of cranial development in teleost fishes.  Following this, I diverged a bit to pursue the development of mobile platform-based field guides with SBIR and STTR funding, leading to the National Geographic Birds birding guide app.  In 2004, NSF supported a collaborative Assembling the Tree of Life (AToL) project for cypriniform fishes (carps, minnows, loaches), for which I was one of the PIs.  Support from the NSF-funded National Evolutionary Synthesis Center for a synthesis working group with the Zebrafish Model Organism Database folks (ZFIN) led to a NSF DBI award in 2007 and another in 2011. These awards supported development of bioinformatics methods to compute across the full range of very diverse anatomical traits and link those traits to candidate developmental genes.  A RCN award in 2010 broadened this type of community-driven data integration by establishing an international Phenotype Research Coordination Network with over 400 participants.

Research Experience/History:

My Ph.D. work and subsequent research focuses on questions at the intersection of evolutionary and developmental biology such as: What is the relationship between developmental and evolutionary change?  What is the genetic basis for anatomical structures that are evolutionarily new? I’ve explored these questions using a variety of experimental and computational approaches, beginning with comparative morphology and phylogenetic systematics, continuing with developmental genetics, and currently bioinformatics. My research contributions include 52 peer-reviewed journal publications, many with student co-authors, and spanning the fields of evolution, phylogenetics, ichthyology, anatomy, bioinformatics, developmental biology, and cross-cutting journals.

Since 2006 my research has been highly collaborative and focused on developing a new bioinformatics approach for connecting the diverse phenotypes of species to the genetic and developmental data from model organisms such as zebrafish and other vertebrates.  Our research team has established methods to connect, search, and compare data from the zebrafish community database (ZFIN) and other vertebrate databases (e.g., Xenbase and MGI).  This has been challenging from the biodiversity phenotype perspective, because in contrast to genomics, where resources are well-developed for computation, it is difficult to render diverse morphological and behavioral features computable.  For example, representing ‘segmented fin rays’ of fishes such that a computer can reason that they are part of fins, composed of bone, and develop from mesoderm, requires a basic logical dictionary of terms called an ontology.  Ontologies appropriate to represent multiple species or phenotypic diversity had not previously been built when we began this research, so we developed these methods and, at the same time, built resources to promote discovery of new knowledge.

The outcome is a resource that combines new software, a database infrastructure, and an interface to serve evolutionary biologists and geneticists.  The connection of genetic, medical, and evolutionary data in one resource –the Phenoscape Knowledgebase (KB)– enables over 500,000 testable hypotheses regarding which specific genes might underlie specific traits in vertebrates and how those traits have changed over time.  For example, modern catfishes do not have tongues and data in the KB implicated a role for the brpf1 gene in evolutionary changes in this trait, a prediction that would have been difficult to formulate without computational methods. Data from our recent wet-lab work validated this prediction [i].

Flathead Catfish; Photo by USFWS, Used under Creative Commons License; Original at: https://flic.kr/p/o1jEgH

Flathead Catfish; Photo by USFWS, used under Creative Commons License

More recently we have used this machine logic to ‘expand’ the trait data available for phylogenetic and evolutionary research [ii].  This is an application of these data that had not been envisioned when we initially planned this research.

What gets me excited about this research is the prospect, some day, of being able to join different data types across environment, ecology, phylogenetics, traits, and genetics to make discoveries that are very difficult at present.


Why did you want to work for DEB?

I think that DEB broadly encompasses my scientific home. In the past, I pitched some unconventional ideas and always found they were appreciated in DEB panels. From the outside, the Division seemed to be welcoming to creative research, and now as a NSF insider, I can see that it is.

Of particular interest to me are questions that both enable and require the integration of different kinds of data.  DEB is faced with increasing numbers of projects that require data integration. This is true in both core programs and DEB’s special programs such as Dimensions of Biodiversity and the Long Term Ecological Research program. These projects require that we be able to integrate data across scales. To do this, I think that looking across traditional knowledge domains is critical.

I feel that biologists are at a particularly interesting juncture in comparative work. Although tools are available to aggregate and analyze some data such as genetic sequences, they are only just emerging to integrate other very central pieces such as phenotypes, phylogenies, and environmental variables. An important challenge is to scale up this integrative approach across all extinct and extant biodiversity, enabling visualization of linked data in time and space, and integrating environmental data to produce a fully informed and machine-enabled comparative biology of the future.

Biggest surprise you’ve encountered coming to DEB from the academic world?

Being here has made me realize the extent to which we are living through the Wild West of data. I noticed this first in the Dimensions of Biodiversity program where PIs have been undertaking a lot of one-off processes, without the ease or benefit of standards or best practices. This raises questions about how to use funding to organize the community for greatest efficiency in these early times. DEB funded research has included incredibly heterogeneous data types, so finding effective strategies for integrating data is very challenging.

This leads me to another surprise, which is the level of introspection among DEB Program Officers and staff.  I had no idea the extent to which Program Officers reflected on whether the existing slate of funding mechanisms sufficed to cover the spectrum of science proposed by the PI community.  No one wants a proposal to fall through a gap.  What was not surprising is that DEB Program Officers have a great deal of respect for the PI community.

What would someone find you doing in your down time?

In short, eating and going to art galleries.  Because I’m living in the DC area now, I’m taking full advantage of all it has to offer. It seems there is no end to the variety and deliciousness of area cuisine. I’ve also been enjoying docent tours at the National Gallery of Art and the show currently at the Renwick Gallery.

Simultaneously, I’m reconnecting with colleagues and many old friends. Because of my interdisciplinary, roaming life, I have been a part of several communities that have had little to no interaction, such as evolutionary biology and genetics. When I got involved with data interoperability for example, I didn’t know anyone in that community. Because there are so many meetings and government agencies in DC, people from all of these disciplines come together here.  It is great fun to have the opportunity to be reacquainted with old friends and meet so many new interesting people.

Personally I love to travel, and I love anything having to do with water, from swimming to scuba diving, sailing, and fly-fishing.  Aquatic pursuits are a big part of my life in South Dakota.  I am also enjoying time with my two college-age sons when they visit D.C.

Where should someone go to eat when they visit NSF?

Wow – this the hardest question of all because there are so many awesome places.  I especially love the Spanish and Middle Eastern restaurants.

[i] Edmunds, R.C., Su, B., Balhoff, J.P., Dahdul, W.M., Lapp, H., Lundberg, J.G., Vision, T.J., Dunham, R.A., Mabee, P.M., Westerfield, M. 2016. Phenoscape: Identifying candidate genes for species-specific phenotypes. Molecular Biology and Evolution 33 (1): 13-24. doi:10.1093/molbev/msv223

[ii] Dececchi, T.A., Mabee, P.M., Blackburn, D. 2016. Data Sources for Trait Databases: Comparing the Phenomic Content of Monographs and Evolutionary Matrices. PLOS One 11(5): e0155680. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155680