Program Announcement: Two Recent Dear Colleague Letters on the NSF BIO site

There are two new Dear Colleague Letters (DCLs) listed under “Special Announcements” on the NSF BIO homepage. Neither of these notices involve submissions to DEB; however, we think the subject matter of these letters may be of interest to some of our readers. Even if not directly applicable to you as a “DEB” PI, both DCLs overlap with topics we’ve seen in interdisciplinary collaborations so we know you know people who would be interested in these. Pass it along.

Beyond the potential for funding, these are also worth mentioning in the context of previous posts about the diversity of funding opportunities at NSF.


“A Dear Colleague Letter for BRAIN EAGERs to Enable Innovative Neurotechnologies to Reveal the Functional and Emergent Properties of Neural Circuits Underlying Behavior and Cognition has been posted. (March, 2014). This letter invites relevant submissions to IOS and DBI (Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and Division of Biological Infrastructure).

The BRAIN EAGERs Dear Colleague Letter is a fairly typical Dear Colleague Letter announcement. It does two things:

1. provides background on a topic that NSF wants to emphasize (in this case the President’s BRAIN Initiative)

2. points applicants to a pre-existing formal funding opportunity that can process the request (in this case the Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research, EAGER, mechanism within the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide).

This exemplifies how Dear Colleague Letters aren’t themselves opportunities for funding; rather, they are soft calls to advertise how an existing funding opportunity meets the needs of particularly relevant or timely areas of research.


“Special guidelines for submitting collaborative proposals under the US NSF/BIO – UK BBSRC Lead Agency Pilot Opportunity have been posted. (March, 2014). This pilot opportunity between NSF BIO and the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invites relevant submissions to MCB (Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences) and DBI

The US NSF/BIO – UK BBSRC Lead Agency Pilot Dear Colleague Letter is interesting because it does contain something “new” but doesn’t actually diverge from established review processes.

This letter announces an agreement between NSF BIO (MCB and DBI) and the UK’s BBSRC to pilot an international collaborative opportunity in which each agency recognizes each other’s process for reviewing proposals. Right now, most international collaboration requires each side to obtain funding separately from the home country. This “Lead Agency” model pilot enables a team of US and UK researchers to submit a single proposal to just one agency (but with separate US and UK budgets). The agencies will share the proposal information and cooperate through a single review process (hosted by whichever side is the larger part of the effort) to avoid the “double jeopardy” of having each side run independent reviews. If successful, each agency would fund their own investigators. Paperwork is only submitted to the non-Lead agency after both agencies have agreed to fund the project.

How is this unlike a normal submission to either program? A few ways:

1. your team needs to get in touch with the program and provide some documentation before you submit a proposal so both countries can make sure the project fits within their funding mandates, and that the appropriate agency has been selected as “lead”.

2. your proposal needs to fully describe both sides of the project in the single proposal and this Dear Colleague Letter specifies how to do that.

3. your NSF proposal budget would cover project costs for the US investigators and a supplemental document would describe project costs for the UK investigators, and vice-versa for BBSRC proposals

How then is this not a different mechanism?

Everything else follows the rules for a normal submission to the Lead agency (US or UK): it’s due on the same deadline, follows the same proposal format, and goes through the same standard peer review process as something submitted to that program without international partners.

In this case, the Dear Colleague Letter exemplifies the use of this mechanism to pilot a new[i] idea  without making major revisions to a formal funding opportunity.

[i] The actual merit review criteria and process for the agency handling review are unchanged. The only thing truly “new” is that both agencies hashed out a clear process and agreed to try promoting it.

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