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.


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!