10/19/20 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology


The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on October 19th, 2020. We host these office hours 1-2pm ET on the second 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 Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) Solicitation (NSF 20-602).

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 20-1

PRFB Program Page

The Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), which manages the PRFB program, will also be holding additional virtual office hours on Monday, November 2nd at 4 p.m. EST and Thursday, November 5th at 4 p.m. EST. Please use this link to join the webinar: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/j/1602272511?pwd=RVdGUjdmZzBWWkJUblZNQ3YxSGdpZz09
(Passcode: ?^9=Z6;  Webinar ID: 160 227 2511; International numbers available: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/u/acgXzjoni)

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

Q: Is there a number of years that qualify you as “early” in your career?

A: Yes, applicants are not eligible for this award if they have worked in any position that requires the doctoral degree for a combined total of more than 12 full time months prior to the deadline.

Q: Can you expand upon what the solicitation meant by broadening participation in underrepresented groups specifically at the post-doc level?

A: You should propose activities that would diversify the scientific workforce at the post-doc level. How you accomplish that is up to you to determine. If you are from an underrepresented group, you could also highlight your own scientific journey and goals.

Q: Is it possible to have more than two collaborating mentors? Are there cons to having more than two?

A: Under the Competitive Area 2, Integrative Research Investigating the Rules of Life Governing Interactions Between Genomes, Environment and Phenotypes, it is very reasonable to have multiple mentors/sponsors because those projects involve multiple subdisciplines and different approaches. On the other hand, reviewers might worry if you have four or more mentors as it may be difficult to coordinate and communicate. The number of sponsors/mentors should be consistent with the aims and activities of the proposed project. The plan for how they intend to work effectively as a team can be described in the sponsoring scientist plan.

Q: Is it okay to submit a PRFB application if the mentor is also submitting a standard NSF proposal with funds to pay a postdoc to do largely the same work? And if so, what happens if you receive both?

A: The PRFB application should contain (be based on) your own research ideas. You should be the intellectual force behind the project. Also, NSF would not fund the same research through two programs, so one would be returned without review.

Q: Can I submit the same research project to a private foundation? And if so, can I accept both awards and redirect my NSF award to lab supplies and other project-related costs?

A: Yes, you can apply the same project to NSF and a private foundation.  If you receive both, you will have to choose one or the other. The NSF fellowship requires a 100% effort allocation, and costs – such as the research funds – cannot be redirected.

Q: Could we apply for multiple PRFBs under different projects/sponsors? Could I apply to a DEB PRFB with one potential project and sponsor and?? apply for IOS with a different potential project and sponsor the same year?

A: While there are three Competitive Areas within the solicitation, there is only one solicitation for postdoctoral fellowships for the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Therefore, you can only submit one project to Solicitation NSF 20-602. However, you could apply to other fellowship programs within the agency, as long as each application/proposal is for a different research project.

Q: Can you re-apply for PRFB after getting rejected, assuming you do not have 12 months of postdoc work by then? If we are re-applying with the same application as previous year, will the application be sent to the same reviewers?

A: Yes, you can submit a revised application. There is no guarantee that the same reviewers will see the proposal again. Reviewers will not see any old comments or old reviews if it’s a resubmission. All submissions are considered new applications, independent of prior submissions. Program Officers are always happy to discuss reviews from your declined application(s).

Q: Where can we find formatting rules for our proposals?

A: These rules can be found within the solicitation as well as on the program page, which includes a “How to Apply for Fellowship Applicants” document.

Q: Where can we find information about the intent and content of the sponsor letter?

A: This can be also be found on the program page within a document called Sponsoring Scientist Statement Instructions.

Q: If awarded, can you defer for a year or two if, for instance, you were committed to a separate post-doc position?

A: You cannot defer the start of the project if awarded. However, there is a long starting window which spans from June 2021 to March 2022. We expect this fellowship to be your first post-doc position.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the review process?

A: There are some solicitation-specific review criteria that we ask the panel to comment on, including the appropriateness of the research, intellectual merit, and broader impacts. All of the review criteria are described in detail in the solicitation in Section A, including those solicitation-specific criteria. Generally, the proposal will be read by several reviewers serving on a panel. The applicant will receive the reviews and a panel summary. There may be a separate review panel for each of the three different competitive areas.

Q: How much do fellows usually have remaining after health insurance for the yearly research stipend? Is there an avenue that fellows have to alleviate this cost?

A: You should investigate what health insurance programs are available at your host institution as this varies. There may be group programs for health insurance that you could join and this will reduce costs.

Q: Can you elaborate a bit more on the length of the fellowship (two years vs. three years) when research includes an international component? Would the three years of funding be for projects that include an international data collection component?

A: The three-year term is for applicants who are doing research in two different locations because the applicant has to relocate and get up to speed at the second international site. What you do at the international site would be determined by your research goals. 

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs.

Our next virtual office hour will be held on November 9th, 2020 from 1-2pm EDT and will provide an introduction to DEB and the review process.

Be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

November 9: Intro to DEB

December 14: Mid-Career Opportunities

January 11: TBD (Feel free to suggest a topic!)

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