4/10/23 Virtual Office Hours Recap: Primarily Undergraduate Institutions

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on April 10, 2023. Program Officers discussed research opportunities available to primarily undergraduate institutions. We host these office hours 1-2pm EST on the 2nd Monday of every month. There is a designated theme each time, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics. Program Officers (POs) from different research areas are present at each Virtual Office Hour, so a wide range of scientific perspectives are represented.

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 23-1

DEB Core Programs Solicitation

RUI Solicitation

BRC-BIO Solicitation

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

PUI Specific Questions

If your university awards more than 20 PhDs within 2 years, what programs can you apply under?

If your university is not considered a Primarily Undergraduate University, you would submit to the DEB core solicitations directly, without indicating RUI in the title or providing the required documentation for the RUI solicitation. Review the solicitation you are interested in, as many are not limited by the type of institution of higher education. Check out the “Who May Submit Proposals” section of the solicitation for specific eligibility information.

Could an IntBIO proposal connect biological research with a subdiscipline that’s normally covered by a different directorate? (For example: bio + engineering, or bio + geoscience?) Faculty at PUIs often have collaborators in different disciplines and it can be difficult to support this type of work.

The Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO) must span two or more subdisciplinary boundaries in biology. However, the BIO core solicitations, regardless of division, allow for multidisciplinary research between different directorates. We utilize the co-review mechanism to evaluate the science of directorates. You can learn more about the co-review process here.

I’m at an institution that grants medical degrees, but otherwise would qualify as a PUI. Do medical degrees count toward determining PUI status?

PUIs are defined by the nature of the institution and not solely based on the highest degree offered. Eligible PUIs are accredited colleges and universities (including two-year community colleges) that award Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees, and/or Master’s degrees in NSF-supported fields, but have awarded 20 or fewer Ph.D./D.Sc. degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years. “NSF-supported fields” does not include medical fields, but your Sponsored Research Office should be able to tell you. Additionally, reach out to a Program Officer if you have further questions.

Proposal rejections hit PUI faculty hard because we can’t submit as many as our R1/R2 colleagues, so how can we make our proposals more competitive and/or fundable?

To make your process more efficient, write up a 1-pager and talk to a program officer before you submit the proposal. You will likely get feedback that will improve the proposal. Proposal rejections are never easy.  Very few PIs have a high success rate, and even those that frequently receive awards get many rejections along the way. It’s not uncommon to have submitted the same idea more than once, taking reviewer feedback into account. It is critically important to do your best to identify why your proposal failed and make an honest assessment of whether you should revise a proposal on the same theme or try a different theme/program/solicitation.  Talking with a program director, after you’ve had time to carefully read the reviews (and most importantly, the panel summary) plus maybe a few weeks to decompress, can be wonderfully helpful. You may also look for workshops or similar opportunities offered by NSF virtually or at conferences that are designed to help with grant writing and review. It can be hard to not take a rejection personally, but remember that proposals are evaluated, not PIs. In sum, our best advice is to be persistent. And if that fails, keep being persistent!

Funding People Questions

Should faculty apply for Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates in Biological Sciences (RaMP) or Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) or is this for students to apply?

Check out solicitations specifically, but RaMP is for faculty applicants and GRFP is for student applicants.

Are there funding opportunities for senior research associates?

In many cases it is up to your home institution to determine if you can be considered a PI. If there is a solicitation you are specifically interested in, review the “Who May Serve as PI” and discuss it with your Sponsored Research/Programs Office. You may also reach out to a program officer if you have further questions.

Is Graduate Research Fellowship Program also for MS students?

The GRFP is for those that intend to pursue a research-based Master’s or Ph.D. program in a GRFP-supported field. More information can be found on their website.

For both the RaMP and REU programs, faculty/admin at R1/R2 institutions have alternate funding for summer salary and administrative support for facilitating the grant. For PUIs, the faculty often must do all those administrative tasks themselves and work on minimal summer support or shunt mentorship to postdocs/grad students. Are we able to build in more administrative and salary support to the grant while satisfying RFP requirements for % of total money going directly to participants?

Each investigator’s institutional context and existing support does of course vary. Any successful proposal will have a coherent plan that offers a good chance of success in their context.  If more administrative support is needed to conduct a project at your institution, you can just explain why that is the case and how the support would facilitate the project.  A project plan that clearly identifies the work that needs to be done and funds some project staff to do it is likely more convincing than one that relies (implicitly) on uncompensated faculty time!

RUI Solicitation Questions

Can an ROA proposal be created to join a lab that has an NSF-funded project underway, or must it be submitted at the same time as the “host” proposal it’s intended to supplement?

Research Opportunity Awards (ROA). The types of ROA opportunities include: (1) A supplement to an existing NSF award to support ROA activities for PUI faculty; (2) Requests to rebudget funds in an existing NSF award to support ROA activities for PUI faculty; or (3) Submission of a new collaborative proposal between a PUI and another institution(s), with a ROA component as a subaward or as part of a linked collaborative proposal. Keep in mind that for supplement opportunities, DEB has a target date of the third Tuesday in January annually and you are encouraged to reach out to your managing Program Officer ahead of submission. More information can be found on the DEB Supplemental Funding Request Info webpage.

Can the RUI designation be applied to a CAREER proposal?

No. You must choose between submitting a proposal to the RUI or to the CAREER program solicitation. You may not include the additional Certificate of RUI Eligibility or the RUI Impact Statement in a CAREER proposal.  However, Program Officers will make note of proposals from primarily undergraduate institutions as they consider portfolio balance.

Can Mid-Career Advancement proposals have RUI designation?

No, however there is a PUI track. The PUI track is a pilot that extends eligibility to Full Professors at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUI) only. MCA proposals that come into this track must have proposed research that falls within the purview of a participating program within the Directorate for Biological Sciences or Directorate for Geosciences.

Can two faculty at different PUI’s submit collaborative grants? If co-collaborators on a RUI proposal are both at (different) PUIs, do we need two separate RUI impact Statements or do we integrate our work into one Impact Statement?

Yes, two faculty from different PUIs can submit a collaborative grant or one faculty from a PUI and one faculty from a non-PUI can submit a collaborative grant. Each PUI must include a Certification of RUI/ROA Eligibility in the Supplementary Documents section of the proposal. Two PUIs can submit in two ways: as a single proposal with both institutions as partners. In that case, they can only submit one Impact Statement combining the impact to both institutions. If the two PUIs decide they will submit as collab, each institution submits a proposal; the “Lead” indicates there is a partner/collaborating institution and our system connects the two proposals. In this case, since each institution is submitting their own Impact Statement.

Is there a way to work in sabbatical support into a RUI: Collaborative Research grant? For instance, including salary for the RUI faculty to work at the lead R1 institution.

 It depends. NSF awards typically support no more than two months of faculty salary per year. However, some solicitations specifically allow sabbatical salary (e.g., OPUSMCA), and some programs are open to funding more than two months’ salary in special cases. Additionally, it’s not unusual for ROA awards to fund a sabbatical-like experience (though perhaps not with a full summer or semester of salary). You should reach out to your Program Officer to inquire about your situation. 

Can a RUI support Master’s positions for students? In other words, does it only support research for undergraduates?

The overriding purpose of RUI is to support faculty research, thereby maintaining faculty members’ intellectual vibrancy in the classroom and within their research community, although the involvement of undergraduate students in research is an important feature of RUI. RUI awards augment the educational strengths of primarily undergraduate institutions by providing students with research-rich learning environments. That being said, graduate students can receive some support from RUI proposals, but the main focus is on research opportunities for undergraduate students. 

I have heard conflicting information from program officers about whether PUI faculty members should designate our collaborative proposals as RUI or not. Some program officers have said to omit RUI designation because they may receive lower funding priority from a panel — and because the projects are often smaller in scope — but it seems like that may not be true. Should faculty at PUIs submit with the RUI designation, regardless of the project, if they’re working with undergraduates?

In general, it isn’t wise to try to second-guess reviewers or panelists.  If your institution is eligible for the RUI designation, and your project is responsive to the goals of the RUI solicitation, adding that designation gives you an opportunity to highlight your institutional context. Reviewers are carefully instructed to consider the unique challenges and opportunities at PUIs.

For any proposal in any program, your job is to make a coherent, compelling case for how your project would advance the goals of the program, and why your team is the right team for that project.  Choosing the RUI designation recognizes the institutional context of the PIs (and their students) and matters for reviewers as they seek to understand what will be done and why. 

If one is eligible to apply for both the RUI program and the BRC-BIO program, do you have advice on how to select which one to apply for?

RUI is a designation that can be used to tag proposals to core programs, indicating that this proposal is coming from a primarily undergraduate institution. The BRC-BIO program has very specific solicitation criteria. If what you want to do does not fit into these criteria, then applying to a regular core program is probably a better idea. 

BRC-BIO Solicitation Questions

Is it possible to submit a BRC-BIO as part of a group (i.e., multiple co-PIs), perhaps at the same PUI?

These projects might include biology-focused research collaborations among faculty within the same institution, across peer-, or research-intensive institutions, or partnerships with industry or other non-academic partners that advance the candidate’s research program.

With the June deadline for BRC-BIO, does the “no more than three years” mean that faculty who have just completed their third year are still eligible?

It depends on your third-year appointment date. Lead PIs must be at the Assistant Professor rank (or equivalent), with service at that rank for no more than 3 years by the proposal submission date. Reach out to a PO for more information and confirmation.

Does a successful BRC-BIO application require supporting data / previous publications?

It does not explicitly require preliminary data, but as with any proposal, providing supporting data or proof of concept evidence can further strengthen your proposal.

General Information

For proposal reviewers and panelists, what kind of qualifications are expected to be considered?

Reviewers typically will have a Ph.D. and demonstrable expertise in a domain relevant to a proposal or program.  Reviewers come from all types of academic and research positions, industry, government, and elsewhere.  We are always excited to have new, early-career scientists involved in the reviewing process – given their recent training, they are often aware of the cutting-edge tools and ideas within a discipline.  Moreover, serving as a reviewer is a wonderful professional development opportunity to learn more about the grant review process. You can indicate your interest in serving as a reviewer here. (DEB Reviewer Recruitment, Expertise Survey (surveymonkey.com))

For the EAGER program, it says that it should not be used for generating preliminary data, so what might be the budget for? I can see equipment needed for testing the new concept, but the equipment may be used to generate data.

EAGERs focus on “high-risk, high-reward” research ideas.  When many people think of preliminary data, they are thinking of data that in and of itself may not be exciting or test new ideas or change how we think but are necessary to set the stage for later work.  This is the distinction – EAGER awards, if they work, are likely to push boundaries. Preliminary data collection, if conducted, sets one up to conduct more interesting research.  It would be unusual to ask for an EAGER to purchase major equipment. 

Additional questions can be found here on our recap post when we previously discussed Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions.   

Please reach out to a PO 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.

Check out the upcoming office hour topics below and be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register. Our next virtual office hour will be held May 8, 2023, from 1-2pm Eastern Time where we will be discussing the CAREER Solicitation (NSF 22-586).

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:                  

May 8: CAREER Solicitation

June 7* 2-3pm: Let’s Talk Broader Impacts hosted by MCB

July: No Virtual Office Hour

August 14:  Partnership to Advance Conservation Science and Practice (PACSP) Update

September 11: Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES)

October 16*: Welcome to DEB

November 13: TBD

December 11: Introduction to the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP)

*indicates change of date from regular schedule

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