Rules of Life Dear Colleague Letter


The Biological Sciences Directorate at NSF has announced a new funding opportunity to support integrative research that crosses the traditional disciplinary boundaries represented by BIO Divisions or between the BIO Directorate and other NSF Directorates. This opportunity represents an initial investment in one of the NSF 10 Big Ideas, called Rules of Life. Rules of Life seeks to highlight the importance of research that forecasts the direction and dynamics of change in living systems. This funding will enable research projects dedicated to understanding processes associated with the emergence of complex properties in biological systems, and identifying underlying general principles (“rules”) across the full spectrum of biological phenomena.

 
In Rules of Life, “rules” are meant as the general principles or theoretical constructs that explain and predict the characteristics of living systems and for phenomena that cross spatial or organizational levels (from the molecular and sub-cellular to organisms, populations, communities, clades, and biomes) and/or temporal scales (e.g., from macromolecular folding to development to evolutionary processes across all of life. The new Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) outlines which proposal ideas and specific activities are eligible and provides preparation instructions.

 
The DCL sets out three funding opportunities: Conferences, EAGERs (Early Concept Grants For Exploratory Research), and RAISEs (Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering). As stated in the DCL, it is important to remember that proposed ideas for Conferences and EAGERs need to appeal to more than one BIO Division; RAISE proposals need to span Directorates. PIs considering an EAGER or RAISE proposal should submit a two-page prospectus outlining their idea by February 20th, 2018. Conference proposals have a submission deadline of June 1st, 2018. PIs should contact a program officer to discuss their idea before submitting a proposal.

 

Invited proposals should be prepared and submitted according to the guidelines of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Inquiries should be directed to RoLBIO@nsf.gov.

DCL Announcing New South African Collaboration


The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) is excited to announce a new co-funding opportunity between NSF-BIO and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF). As per a newly issued Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), U.S. and South African researchers can submit collaborative International Research Coordination Network (IRCN) proposals to DEB and NRF at any time. Proposals submitted to NSF must follow guidelines within the Research Coordination Network (RCN) solicitation (NSF 17-594).

It’s important to remember that IRCNs provide a formal co-funding mechanism where both agencies contribute funds to support the coordination of research activities and not the research itself. For example, travel and lodging for meetings, workshops, and lab exchanges all fall under the umbrella of coordination activities. Investigators should already have other funding sources lined up to support the research itself.

With regards to funding, the DCL states, “NSF/DEB will support the participation of U.S. researchers and will contribute up to $500,000 (USD 100,000 per year) per award, and NRF will support the participation of South African researchers and contribute up to 2,500,000 Rands (R 500,000/year). A maximum of two environmental biology IRCN awards per year is anticipated to be available.”

If you have any additional questions after reading the DCL and the RCN solicitation, please contact Simon Malcomber at smalcomb@nsf.gov.

Announcing the Switch to No-Deadline


As per the newly issued Dear Colleague Letter, the core programs in the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) are discontinuing the use of the preliminary proposal mechanism.  We are enacting a “no-deadline”, full proposal mechanism for proposals submitted to the core programs, including the DEB LTREB program. There will be no call for preliminary proposals in January 2018. Instead, new solicitations describing funding opportunities will be released in 2018, for awards starting in fiscal year 2019.

Why did DEB make the decision to switch to a “no-deadline” model and what does that mean for submitting proposals?

After a three year pilot of the preliminary proposal system, DEB contracted an outside agency, Abt, to conduct an evaluation of the pilot program. You can read about the results of that report, and get a link to the full report on a previous blog post here.  In sum, the assessment found the switch to preliminary proposals produced mixed results.

With respect to the scientific community, the preliminary proposal system achieved our objective of reducing demands on the reviewers, PIs, and institutions. Yet, the system also produced a frustrated PI community who found the “one date deadline” model too restrictive.

DEB staff largely viewed the preliminary proposal system positively, yet noted significant drawbacks. On the positive side, the system was efficient at filtering out proposals at the preliminary proposal stage, thus improving the quality of full proposals. It also simplified program budget management as all of the full proposals were funded at the same time of year.  However, it exacerbated workload in the winter and spring, making those very stressful times of the year. Concerns were also expressed about the fact that preliminary proposals were not subject to (ad hoc) review, and further, that interdisciplinary preliminary proposals could not be co-reviewed across programs. This latter issue was a decisive factor for BIO senior managers. They felt that the preliminary proposal system worked against efforts to encourage more integrative and interdisciplinary research; i.e., proposals that crossed BIO divisions and spanned levels of biological organization.

DEB will release new solicitations, in spring/summer 2018, with guidelines for submitting full proposals at any time of the year, to any of the DEB core programs. The first awards from those proposals would be made in FY 2019 (FY19 begins on October 1, 2018). These upcoming solicitations will also announce and provide guidelines for writing proposals related to the BIO initiative: Understanding the Rules of Life with the goal of promoting research that crosses BIO divisional, disciplinary boundaries (i.e. DBI, EF, IOS, and MCB).

What are the additional benefits of the no-deadline model to the investigator?

If you’ve been hindered in the past by ill-timed teaching loads, health or personal issues, field work, or other career commitments, consider the burden lifted. You now have the power to determine when and how your project ideas are written and submitted. Investigators can write and submit proposals during times of the year best suited to their schedules. By removing the annual deadline, you and your collaborators have more time and flexibility to coordinate on proposals. The no-deadline model also makes space for planning your submission around major life events.

What’s next?

For the next 6 months, we will be completing review of the full proposals already received in response to the CAREER and August 2nd core program submission deadlines, and making award recommendations.  We then anticipate finalizing our new solicitations and planning for how to handle a review process designed around no-deadline submissions.  We hope investigators will take the extra time to carefully craft proposals and submit them only when they are ready. From our side, we anticipate creating more integrative and dynamic panels that better accommodate the interdisciplinary science we see bubbling up in all of our core programs. But truly, there’s a great deal we can’t predict; we’re taking a risk in moving back to full proposals. Managing funding programs when you don’t know how many or when proposals will be submitted, is a bit scary. We are willing to take this risk in the hopes that this new model will result in better proposals and more integrative science while at the same time providing greater flexibility to the community.

We encourage you to check out the FAQ sheet around the new announcement, subscribe to the blog, sign up for email alerts at nsf.gov, and stay tuned for more details to follow.

Dear Colleague Letter: Hurricane Harvey


NSF is now accepting proposals related to Hurricane Harvey. The new Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) outlines the three types of proposals that may be submitted to conduct new research related to Hurricane Harvey including RAPIDs, EAGERs, and supplemental funding requests. Investigators must contact the NSF Program Officer most closely related to the proposal topic before submitting. Please read the DCL carefully and follow the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) instructions.  NSF has also created a new web portal for institutions affected by Harvey with information on where to direct inquires.

Those of us serving in DEB are continuing to keep all those affected by Harvey in our hearts and thoughts during this terrible time. If you have any questions after reaching out to your relevant Program Officer, please contact our designated liaison for BIO, Elizabeth Blood, eblood@nsf.gov, (703) 292-4349.

Cyberinfrastructure Follow-Up


In January, NSF issued a Dear Colleague Letter requesting information on emerging cyberinfrastructure needs. The Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC) is leading the effort to refresh NSF’s strategy and vision for future cyberinfrastructure investments as NSF’s five-year initiative, “Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21)” comes to a close.

Hundreds of scientists and engineers answered the call. Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in their thoughts. Of those who responded, half wrote as individuals and half represented a group.  All the responses are publically available here.  Most came from those affiliated with academic institutions and the rest were from non-profits, NSF-operated facilities, and industry professionals.

DEB-related responses from fields such as biodiversity, biogeography, ecology, and evolution focused on challenges dealing with the exponential growth of data from remote sensors, images, and other digital collections. Additionally, getting those collections to “talk to you each other” and share data sets represents a huge challenge. Another component centered on enabling the integration and analysis of data across disciplines, species, and metadata. In addition to requests for consistent, reusable, open access data sets, many responses focused on the need for workforce training and development to help process, curate, and archive new datasets.

What’s next for NSF’s cyberinfrastructure planning? OAC is working with NSF’s Directorates and Divisions and NSF’s Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, to assess the responses to the Request for Information (RFI). These RFI responses are being considered together with other relevant community input such as the 2016 National Academies report on NSF Advanced Computational Infrastructure, the 2017 Data Building Blocks (DIBBs) PI Workshop, 2017 NSF Cybersecurity Summit, and upcoming 2017 NSF Large Facilities Cyberinfrastructure Workshop (September 6-7). Guided by these community contributions, NSF will develop a refreshed cyberinfrastructure plan that takes us from 2017 into 2030 with all relevant information being posted on the NSF CI 2030 website.

 

A Reorganization in the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster


Systematics is a rapidly changing field and DEB strives to serve our community while incorporating an ever-changing understanding of the natural world. As the amount of information and data the systematics and biodiversity community gathers grows in quantity and breadth, researchers are looking for ways to incorporate new and existing data layers into the framework of the Tree of Life. Even with advances in next-generation sequencing, MRI/CT imaging, and other methods, there is still a tremendous amount of undiscovered, overlooked, or understudied biodiversity. In response to progress in the field of systematics and biodiversity and based on the number of recent submissions to different DEB solicitations, the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences (SBS) cluster has decided to reorganize its program structure and offerings. These changes will not affect the kind of grants you can submit in terms of funds, scope, or topic.

A visual representation of the changes described in the text.
Starting in the next fiscal year (October 2017), the SBS cluster will manage a single core program called Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences. The simplification reflects the consolidation of the former Genealogy of Life (GoLife), Phylogenetic Systematics (PS), and Biodiversity: Discovery and Analysis (BDA) programs into a single core program. The major changes are:

  • the initiatives of the former GoLife program will now be part of the core rather than supported through a separate solicitation for proposals; and
  • a new category of proposals aimed at advancing biodiversity discovery and description in poorly known areas of the Tree of Life has been added and is called ‘PurSUiT (Poorly Sampled and Unknown Taxa).’

As in the past, ‘ARTS: Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics’ proposals, for taxonomic revisionary and monographic research, will continue to be accepted in SBS.

What does this mean for you? If you have a taxonomic revision or monographic research project, you can submit to the core program using the prefix “ARTS” in your title (e.g., “ARTS: a monograph of unicorns”). If you are studying very poorly known parts of the Tree of Life you can submit to the core program and use the prefix PurSUiT (e.g., “PurSUiT: Discovery and description of new lineages of poorly studied laser cats”). You will still be able to submit grants with the other more widely used prefixes (e.g. SG, RUI, CAREER, and OPUS).

These new programmatic changes won’t be in effect until the start of the next fiscal year (October 2017).

SBS is always looking for the best research in systematics and biodiversity and our capacity to fund exceptional work in our field has not changed. These programmatic changes are in response to progress in the field and submissions to different solicitations; it does not reflect any decreased interest in systematics and biodiversity research within NSF. We hope this simplification and refocusing will help further improve our understanding of life on Earth, the training of future systematists and field biologists and our ability to review and fund the best phylogenetic, taxonomic, and biodiversity research.

Details about the programmatic changes in SBS can be found in a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 17-052) and FAQ document (NSF 17-054). If you have additional questions, please reach out to a DEB Program Officer.