3/8/2021 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Early Career Investigators

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on March 8th, 2021. Program Officers provided information to Early Career Investigators, specifically investigators who may not have applied to NSF before. We host these office hours from 1-2 pm EST on the 2nd Monday of every month. Each session has a designated theme, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics.

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 20-1

Resource Links

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

Q: I am a first-time grant applicant at a small liberal arts college on the tenure-track. Would you recommend applying through a CAREER or RUI avenue with a DEB related proposal?

A: It is important to point out that regular proposals, CAREERs, and RUIs could potentially be reviewed together in a panel, all funded out of the reviewing program’s core budget. CAREERs are designed for early-career faculty who wish to establish themselves as teacher-scholars. They are especially appropriate for individuals at small institutions that focus on teaching but also value research.  If you want to develop new teaching techniques that integrate with your research and if your chair clearly values that type of initiative, a CAREER proposal is a great option.  RUI proposals are less prescriptive.  Whereas CAREERs require integration of teaching and research, RUI proposals are about empowering faculty at small institutions to conduct high quality research.  Teaching typically enters the picture “only” as a Broader Impact.  In short, the decision between submitting a CAREER and a RUI boils down to the extent to which teaching is featured as part of research activities. We encourage you to carefully review the RUI and CAREER solicitations and consider which best matches your approach to teaching and research. For more advice on your particular circumstances, we recommend reaching out to a Program Officer who can help you reach a decision.

Q: If a Program Officer requests a ~2 page prospectus to help evaluate fit for my research, how much detail is necessary ?

A: Provide enough detail to allow the Program Officer to evaluate whether your research is appropriate for the program. Please include basic information like title, investigators and institutions, and an estimated budget if you can. It is important that you clearly state your overarching questions and any sub-questions you aim to evaluate in your research. Clearly describe your methods and how they will answer the questions . A brief description of Broader Impacts would also be helpful.  A few (<10) references are often helpful; more are typically not.

Q: For NSF CAREER proposal submission, if we have not received a result/notification in March or April, would it be normal? What may be the reasons?

A: Generally, NSF strives to reach a decision on all proposals within 6 months from submission, however, this goal cannot always be achieved. There are extenuating factors like COVID-19 that have delayed the timeframe. The CAREER deadline was also extended in 2020, which delayed the review and decision process.  Additional delays could be due to budget management priorities where, for example, sometimes a proposal is placed on hold, while Program Officers wait see if funds will be available for it.  If you have not heard from NSF within six months from submission of your CAREER proposal, you should definitely contact the managing Program Officer about it (you can find out who is the managing Program Officer in Fastlane or Research.gov).

Q: Given the rolling deadlines, are there any informal deadlines we should be aware of to catch a certain panel review?

A: There are no informal deadlines. All four clusters  in DEB hold panels 3-4 times during the year. We encourage all PIs to submit their best proposal when they are ready. Their proposal will be reviewed at the next panel after it is received. It’s best to work backwards from when you may want to start your project, and submit your proposal at least 9-10 months before that.

Q: Who  should be designated Senior Personnel vs Other Personnel?

A: This depends on the level of intellectual involvement of the  senior personnel on the project. The question you should ask is, will this person likely be a co-author? If so, then you may want to add them as senior personnel. If they are providing data, samples, access to resources without receiving any funding then you may want to add them as other personnel. There are no firm designations between the two.

Q: Early Career Researchers are often applying to both NSF core programs as well as CAREER. How much overlap is tolerated particularly between CAREER submissions and core program submissions? Should the CAREER proposal be separate from anything else you have submitted or already have in review?

A: In general, you should not be submitting two  proposals about the same research to NSF. Program Officers look at current and pending proposals prior to the panel review and will verify if your proposal is unique. As mentioned above, CAREER proposals and regular proposals could be considered in the same panel, and CAREER proposals require a significant education component. Please keep in mind we will be having a CAREER Virtual Officer Hour on May 10. We hope to see you there!

Q: Can program officers receive instead of a 2-page prospectus, a 2-page response to reviews (particularly addressing conceptual changes)?

A: Reach out to the managing  Program Officer who will be happy to schedule a time to discuss reviews and panel summaries received on your proposal.

Q: I’m currently working in a National Lab, and I have always understood that I can’t submit an NSF proposal.  However, is there any way to be part of one of them?

A: You cannot be a PI or Co-PI on a proposal while working in a National Lab. The only exception to this rule is if you work at the Smithsonian Institution. Moreover, if you are not receiving a salary, then you can be collaborator or senior personnel on an NSF proposal while working in a National Lab. Alternatively, if you are also serving an adjunct position at an institution or university you may submit a proposal through that pathway but may need to receive written approval from the National Lab permitting your participation.

Q: Is it ok to include funding for international collaborators on DEB proposals, assuming they are experts in a critical component needed for your project? If so, are there guidelines/limitations for how much of your budget you can assign to those collaborators?

A:  NSF rarely provides direct funding support to foreign organizations. NSF will consider proposals for cooperative projects involving U.S. and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the U.S. portion of the collaborative effort. However, in cases  where the proposer considers the foreign organization’s involvement to be essential to the project, the proposer must explain why local (U.S.) support is not feasible and why the foreign organization can carry out the activity more effectively. More information can be found in the PAPPG. Please note that DEB has a number of international agreements allowing collaborations with researchers in other nations such as those found in our core solicitation and the Dimensions of Biodiversity program.  If you are uncertain, we recommend you reach out to a Program Officer for advice prior to submitting your proposal.

Q: Increasingly, my research is shifting towards more interdisciplinary collaborations involving ecology, sociology, and biogeography. Does NSF support interdisciplinary research? Where should I submit a prospectus?

A: Yes, NSF supports interdisciplinary research. There are many options to explore, and we recommend you reach out to a Program Officer for advice and review our DEB website for a program description that would be specific to your proposed research.

Q: Is the 3-limit submission to CAREER based on which Division reviews the proposal OR overall across programs, etc.?

A: You have 3 opportunities to submit a CAREER proposal across the foundation.

Q: Is a tenure-track early career faculty in a primarily undergraduate university (an HBCU) eligible to apply for an NSF CAREER grant?

A: Anyone in a tenure-track position at any type of institution of higher education is eligible. There are no institutional limits. Please check the solicitation for eligibility; this may vary outside of DEB.

Q: Do early career researchers get a boost to their scores because of their Early Career Researcher status, akin to the NIH system?

A: Most NSF programs do not assign numerical scores to proposals, so there is no easily quantifiable “boost” from being either an early career researcher or an officially designated Beginning Investigator. Rather, career stage is one of several factors that programs consider when balancing their portfolio of awards. Other factors include diversity, conceptual area, study taxon, geographic area, gender, and type of institution.

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. You can also check out the post on funding opportunities for early career researchers.

Our next virtual office hours will be held April 12th, 2021, from 1-2pm EST and will provide information on opportunities and priorities from the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI). We will be joined by Program Officers from DBI.

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

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

April 12: Getting to know the Division of Biological Infrastructure: Opportunities and Priorities

May 10: CAREER Solicitation

June 14: How to Write a Great Proposal *moved from April

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