NSF’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education wants to hear from YOU!


The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC ERE) invites your input on possible environmental research and education directions to further advance national security and economic competitiveness.

The AC ERE has been interested broadly in fundamental environmental research and education that also has societal utility, and is particularly interested in approaches that promote convergent research across disciplines and sectors to address economic competitiveness and economic security.

To identify emerging research questions in these areas, the AC ERE is reaching out to interested and knowledgeable members of the scientific community in all disciplines and interdisciplinary areas for their views. The AC ERE is also interested in the views of professionals who are directly involved in decision-making or operational activities in these areas, and who therefore can provide a very practical perspective on high-priority research and education topics.

The AC ERE invites individuals and groups of individuals to provide input on one or both of the topics described above via this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ACERE-RFI-2018

The online submission form requires the following information:

  1. Author name(s) and affiliation(s);
  2. Valid contact email address;
  3. Title of the response;
  4. An abstract (200 words or less) summarizing the response; and
  5. Checkbox to consent to allow the AC ERE to display the submitted information, consistent with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).

You will also be asked to identify whether your response focuses on questions in environmental research and education that are pertinent to a) economic growth and competitiveness, b) national and human security, or c) both topics. The submission form includes the following question prompts. Respondents may respond to all or any subset of these questions.

  • What are the major environmental research priorities with the greatest potential to contribute to economic growth and competitiveness and/or national or human security/wellbeing? Priorities could, for example, include empirical, theoretical, or qualitative analyses, establishing baselines, and/or experimental studies. (500 words or less)
  • What methodologies should be used for conducting such studies? Methodological recommendations could include the prospects for interdisciplinary and/or convergent research approaches, including modeling, theory, empirical, qualitative, and/or experimental studies. Methodological recommendations could also discuss the scope of studies, e.g. the balance between single-investigator studies and large teams. (500 words or less)
  • What education (including formal and informal), research, and training opportunities – for students, postdoctoral researchers, and mid-career scientists – are needed? Opportunities might include interdisciplinary, team-based, or other innovative, value-added strategies for realizing higher levels of depth and breadth at the individual level, and/or expansion of the current environmental research community through inclusion of currently under-represented groups. (500 words or less)
  • Beyond economic competitiveness and national security, what other high priority drivers of environmental science and education need attention? (200 words or less)

Submissions must be received by 5:00 PM Eastern Time on August 20, 2018. Respondents may edit their responses while completing the survey, but will not be able to save work in progress to complete later. Respondents will see a confirmation screen upon successful submission responses.

The committee and associated staff will read and analyze all responses received, and use them, in addition to its own background work, to develop a report on these topics to inform NSF and the community. It intends to publish this report by the end of 2018.

The AC ERE also anticipates making submissions publicly accessible through its website (https://www.nsf.gov/ere/ereweb/advisory.jsp). Authors who do not wish to have their full responses posted online may restrict access to the AC ERE and associated staff. However, the author(s) name and affiliation, submission title, and abstract will be included in the publicly accessible list of responses regardless.

The AC ERE invites you to step outside of the immediate demands of your current research and to think boldly about the opportunities for advancing environmental research and education into its next stage through a lens focused on economic competitiveness and/or national security. The Committee looks forward to your contributions.

For questions concerning this effort and submission of input, please contact Leah Nichols, Executive Secretary for the AC ERE, at lenichol@nsf.gov.

In Memoriam – Elaine Washington


washingtonMs. Elaine Washington was a devoted, well-known worker and avid contributor to the NSF mission as an employee of the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) for over 14 years from 2001-2015. She passed away on April 18, 2018. She worked at NSF for nearly 35 years, starting at the 1800 G Street headquarters.

Ms. Washington was an experienced professional responsible for cultivating strategic partnerships through outreach activities. She supported numerous activities in DEB, including advisory panels for Evolutionary Processes (EP), Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences (SBS), Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID), Assembling the Tree of Life (ATOL), Dimensions of Biodiversity and a host of others.

She developed relationships and collaborated seamlessly with the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) Education Directors, Materials Research Society (MRS), American Physical Society (APS), AIP Publishing, Division of Chemistry (CHE), Division of Physics (PHY) and the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI).

She was highly engaged and adept at tasks involving data and information technology. She was also an active participant in working groups, business retreats and office events as an all-around contributor and asset to our agency. Elaine’s can-do attitude, hard work and gentle spirit will be sincerely missed at NSF but remembered fondly in our hearts forever.

Her obituary can be found here.

Paula Mabee, Former Division Director, Bids Farewell to DEB


Paula Mabee, Division Director, BIO/DEB

Paula Mabee

 

After serving as Division Director for nearly two and a half years, I left DEB at the end of 2017, needing to return to my personal life and my academic home. After decades of NSF funding, panel service, and sending in ad hoc reviews, the opportunity to not only view, but to at least partially direct what happens behind the curtain, was immensely satisfying. And, from a personal standpoint, the time at NSF was probably one of the most interesting and fulfilling chapters of my professional life. Why? What did I learn about NSF to pass along to the DEB community, now that I’m on the “outside” again? What might you not know about the inner workings of NSF that I can share with you?

First and foremost, though previous participation as a panelist always left me with the feeling of trust in NSF, from experience on the inside, I can further say that I have enormous respect for the merit review processes put in place and the people who carry them out. The people – your scientific peers who are serving as Program Officers – and the administrative staff – that well-educated and carefully chosen cadre of personnel in DEB – are idealistically committed to the mission of supporting fundamental science for the well-being of the planet. They hold fairness as a core value and are scrupulous in its application. They also care about you as an individual; they take pride in your successes and pay attention to your journey through various career stages. Whether your proposal is awarded or declined, they have great respect for you. Unfortunately, given that nearly a third of the proposals received are well worth funding, and yet DEB success rates are much lower, POs are often the bearers of hard news. This is a tough position to be in – and out of their control – and yet one of their core values is to be as communicative and transparent with you as possible. They have my deepest respect.

Award decisions are made and justified by your scientific peers – the Program Officers serving at NSF – and my job included oversight of this process. For example, if a PO recommended declining a proposal that was deemed highly competitive by a panel (or, vice versa, recommending a proposal that was deemed non-competitive), an explicit and defensible justification was required. In each situation, I saw the thorough and thoughtful approach of POs in considering both the science and careers of the PIs.

And the science! Intellectually, it was really fun to read across the different proposals submitted to DEB. Great ideas in fundamental, diverse, and ambitious areas of science come into DEB. Part of the process for awarding funding involves presenting the list of proposals for recommendation or decline to the Division Director and Deputy Director. The POs pick out a few proposals that they find the most compelling or illustrative of what is happening in a field, and they describe the science to us. I was often filled with admiration for the ambition and vision of the science proposed by DEB PIs. The accomplishments of science and our understanding of the natural world are due to incredible people like you. And NSF recognizes this like no other institution.

Other things from my time at NSF:

  • DEB is responsive! When a directive or inquiry comes to BIO from our bosses, we answer pronto! Days are dynamic, busy, and long – think Madame Secretary and VEEP. Everything possible is being done to demonstrate the value of fundamental science to our nation!
  • The camaraderie in DEB is palpable. The teamwork between administrative and scientific staff is complementary and highly involved. We like each other 🙂
  • The learning curve for a rotator (PO or Division Director) is steep, but necessary and justified. It’s all about fairness!!! There are detailed processes that protect your proposal from reviewers or POs with a conflict of interest. NSF is looking out for you by training up the personnel responsible for handling your proposals.
  • Introspection, reflection. Where is your field going? What did you publish recently? What was the upshot of that workshop or meeting? Your NSF POs (and leadership) are listening. Retreats are a big thing in DEB – a time to hash over whether changes need to happen, to constantly re-evaluate whether NSF solicitations and DEB organizational structure reflects where your field needs to be.
  • Balancing the continued commitment to core programs with more specialized solicitations is one of the more stimulating aspects of serving as Division Director.   Discerning the future ‘fundamental’ or ‘core’ is best done as a team (see above).
  • It’s about the data. NSF – and DEB – has an appetite for remorseless analysis of the internal data relating e.g., success rates to gender, diversity, career stages, etc. To their dismay, little of this can be shared with you, i.e., the outside community, because these are data that are shared by PIs with the agency – not you. And NSF protects this.

I leave DEB filled with deep respect for the scientists serving in rotating or permanent roles at NSF and for the incredibly smart and committed administrative staff who are interested in spending their lives in service to furthering your science. It was a privilege to work with them. If you have the opportunity to serve DEB, please do – say “yes” to those requests for ad hoc reviews (especially – they are a major bottleneck in the review process), panel service, and the opportunity to be a Program Officer or Division Director. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet the many scientists involved in the awesome science supported by DEB, likely many of you who are reading this blog.

LTER Site Management Updates


DEB recently made a change in how the Biological Sciences Directorate’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites are managed. We’d like to tell you about it.

First, some background. The LTER program is financially supported by three Directorates: Biological Sciences (BIO), Geosciences (GEO), and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), and the Office of Polar Programs. Most LTER sites are supported and managed by BIO — more specifically by DEB. The rest reside in the Biological Oceanography and Office of Polar Programs in GEO. Within NSF, an LTER Working Group comprised of staff and Program Officers in BIO and GEO meet regularly to coordinate management activities such as site reviews, renewal panels, and budgets. Outside of NSF, the LTER National Communications Office is a hub for research synthesis, communication, outreach, education and training across all sites.

That organizational scheme for LTER has been in place for many years, albeit with various tweaks. What’s changed is how BIO’s LTER sites are managed at the level that PIs tend to care about most: their own site. Historically, one permanent Program Officer (PO) was given primary oversight for all LTER sites funded by BIO. Henry Gholz did it for many years, followed by Nancy Huntly and then by Saran Twombly. Thus, PIs grew accustomed to seeing just one PO at LTER sites and events — and they knew pretty much immediately whom to contact about challenges and opportunities.

Roughly a year ago, DEB switched to a Working Group model of managing BIO’s LTER sites. The DEB Working Group consists of three Program Officers, representing Ecosystem Sciences, Population and Community Ecology, and Evolutionary Processes, who collectively manage the program. Sites will each have a single PO who will act as their Point of Contact. POs have been assigned a portfolio of sites that generally correspond to their interests or expertise. At least one member of DEB’s LTER Working Group is a permanent PO at NSF. Management and budgetary decisions are made by consensus, except for minor stuff. The group meets bi-weekly.

We’d like to emphasize that this is not a divide-and-conquer approach to the many and diverse issues of LTER award management (e.g., site visits and renewal proposals). Quite the opposite. We enjoy discussing those issues and are usually able to reach consensus based on our collective wisdom (and perhaps missteps in our individual pasts). It’s a shared management model in which, for example, concerns about a particular site are considered in the context of all sites and everyone on the DEB LTER Working Group has a voice in decision making.

Additionally, this arrangement provides a more balanced perspective of LTER science, helping sites realize opportunities for new interdisciplinary work. And, we hope it will provide more continuity in management style and substance, since it’s extremely unlikely that there will ever by an abrupt and complete turnover of the Working Group.

Institute for Broadening Participation


Have you heard of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP)? IBP’s mission is to increase diversity in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields by connecting students with relevant resources and opportunities. IBP can connect undergraduate students, graduate students, and post docs to scholarships, fellowships, and full time positions.

You can filter your search for opportunities by state or geographic region, as seen below.

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The site also offers resources and tools for faculty and administrators on how to promote their programs and reach a wide range of students. This is a popular platform faculty and administrators use to recruit students from underrepresented groups and you can find numerous scholarships and fellowships specifically for women and minorities in STEM.

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So, whether you’re an undergraduate looking for an REU-type summer research opportunity or an investigator seeking students from underrepresented groups, check out IBP’s website. Click around, be mindful of the deadlines, and apply!

Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology Deadline


The annual deadline for the next round of Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) is November 7th, 2017. There’s a great “How to Apply” guide on the PRFB website that walks you through each step of the application process. You must be affiliated with an institution the entire tenure of the fellowship. You must also register as an Independent Researcher through https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/ before you can submit to the Program.

Applicants submit to one of three categories called “competitive areas.” These categories differ in award duration, research scope, and eligibility requirements. The competitive areas are: 1) Broadening Participation in Biology, 2) Interdisciplinary Research Using Biological Collections, 3) National Plant Genome Initiative Postdoctoral Research Fellowships.

To qualify for the first two competitive areas, Broadening Participation and Interdisciplinary Research Using Biological Collections, postdocs cannot have served in any full-time position that requires a doctoral degree for more than 6 months prior to the deadline. For the third competitive area, National Plant Genome Initiative, it’s less than 12 months. In sum, these fellowships are for postdocs who very recently received a PhD.

A completed PRFB application will contain the following sections and each is outlined and described in more detail in the solicitation;

  1. NSF Cover Page
  2. Fastlane application form (this form can only be accessed in FastLane)
  3. Project Summary (one page, only)
  4. Project Description (limited to 6 pages, including all figures and tables)
  5. References Cited (no page limit)
  6. Biographical Sketch (page limit of 2)
  7. Current and Pending Support (be sure and include current and planned submissions to other fellowship programs)
  8. Two letters of reference (submitted directly to FastLane by the letters’ authors)

The duration of the fellowship for the first two competitive areas is 24-36 continuous months, while that of the third competitive area is 36 continuous months. As for the award amounts, please see the solicitation. For additional questions about the PRFB, please email bio-dbi-prfb@nsf.gov and best of luck!