Dear Colleague Letter: Critical Aspects of Sustainability (CAS): Micro- and Nanoplastics (MNP)


NSF has released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) asking for proposals that tackle the fundamental scientific questions underlying micro- and nanoplastic characterization, behavior, and reactivity in the environment (including animal and human health), as well as their elimination from land and water systems.

This is an effort spanning several Directorates and Divisions across NSF but we’ve highlighted DEB’s specific call below:

The Division of Environmental Biology (BIO/DEB) welcomes inquiries that explore basic questions in the ecological and evolutionary sciences. Microplastics represent a relatively new and poorly understood component of ecosystems that may alter fundamental biological processes from cells to ecosystems. In this context, projects that seek to improve understanding of the role of microplastics in fundamental ecological and evolutionary processes will be prioritized. Projects with a primary focus on toxicology will not be considered. PIs interested in submitting an EAGER or RAPID proposal should send a 1-2 page research concept outline to the BIO representative listed below. This prospectus will be used to determine if an invitation to invite a full EAGER or RAPID proposal is warranted. A prospectus is not necessary for submission of a regular core proposal. Please consult the current DEB core solicitation (https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503634&org=DEB&from=home) for a detailed description of programs within the division.”

Please send your research concept outline and any questions you may have to John Schade at jschade@nsf.gov.

DCL: Developing and Supporting the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) User Community


NEON completed construction and became fully operational in early 2019.  The NSF BIO Directorate has issued a Dear Colleague letter expanding on its interest in developing and supporting the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) user community. The letter details NSF’s plans to issue awards supporting the use of NEON data, including NEON user workshops and conferences, research coordination network awards, and support through the Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science Program and other existing programs. BIO plans to provide support for other activities that enable NEON-based research through fostering team science, user group coordination, and new NEON-fueled scientific collaborations. These NEON user community activities are anticipated to be highly complementary to, but distinct from the NEON facility, and are intended to help fully realize the open science mission of NEON.

 

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.