Panel Service: What to Expect

Are you curious about serving on a panel, but something has stopped you? Maybe you’re waiting for a Program Officer to track you down or are secretly relieved when prior commitments always seem to fall on panel dates. Or (worst of all!) you’ve allowed that dreaded imposter syndrome to outpace your enthusiasm.

Have no fear! Let’s take a moment to go over who (and how) we typically recruit panelists, what you can expect leading up to the panel, what happens on the actual meeting days, and why panel service could be beneficial to you.

Who serves on panels?

Panelists range in experience from post-doctoral scholars through the ranks to tenured faculty. They also include museum curators and researchers, and research-focused federal employees outside of NSF. This means you need a PhD and must be active in your field.


Program Officers review the content of each proposal and recruit panelists who are qualified to review the slate of proposals in a given panel. This can explain why you may be recruited for some panels and not others. We try our best to build diverse panels, with broad representation of men and women, career stages, types of institution (Research-1, colleges, and minority-serving), states (especially EPSCoR eligible), and membership in underrepresented groups. (With respect to the latter, we rely on you to self-identify when you register with Fastlane or

To gear up for panel recruitment/service, it is good to serve initially as an ad hoc reviewer and to have submitted a proposal (not matter its outcome) as PI or Co-PI so that you are familiar with the process.

We take recommendations from other panelists and have sign-up sheets at Evolution and ESA meetings. You can also relay your interest in serving by visiting our website and signing up using our Reviewer Survey.

Before Panel Service

So, you’ve agreed to serve on a panel*. That’s great! You’ll receive an email (a “Charge Letter”), directing you how to register for the panel, make travel and lodging arrangements, and plan for any technological or special accommodations.

After lots of communication from the managing Program Officer, and each panelist identifying their conflicts of interests, you’ll be given your review assignments – usually 4-6 weeks prior to the panel dates.

Next, you’ll write your individual reviews for 10-14 proposals evaluating the intellectual merit and broader impacts. These individual reviews are completed before the panel starts. We recommend that reviews be submitted 3 to 5 days ahead of the panel so that everyone — Program Officers and other panelists — has the chance to ponder the complete set of opinions on each proposal. (Note that you won’t be able to see other reviews on a given proposal until you’ve submitted your own review.)

*Please note that if you have a proposal currently under review in DEB, you cannot serve as a panelist during this funding cycle. This also means that if you agree to serve on a panel, please don’t then submit a proposal to DEB.

Day of Service

The panel is a multi-day discussion of each proposal’s intellectual merits and broader impacts. A panel meets at or near NSF, although virtual panels are also used. For each proposal in a DEB panel, at least two other panelists will provide reviews. You and your fellow panelists will discuss each proposal, come to a consensus, and then make a recommendation about its overall quality to NSF. It’s important to understand that the panel’s recommendations are just that — recommendations. NSF Program Officers always take them to heart but their ultimate decisions on which proposals to fund involve additional considerations, most notably what we call “portfolio balance”.

DEB tends to organize larger panels than elsewhere in NSF to tackle the broad and shifting suite of specialties and diversity of projects in our programmatic area. It’s not unusual for a DEB panel to be made up of 20 panelists (with 4-6 Program Officers and associated staff) to tackle more than 100 proposals over 3 days.

How does serving on a panel serve you?

  1. Each panel hosts a Q&A session with DEB senior leadership and representatives from the BIO Directorate Office of the Assistant Director. This is your chance to ask about upcoming funding opportunities and recent (or future) programmatic changes. We also value your suggestions for how to improve the review processes to better serve our community of investigators.
  2. You gain insight into new and emergent science in your field.
  3. You learn about grantsmanship.
  4. You learn about the merit review process.
  5. You build networks of scientists working on similar projects with similar goals.
  6. It’s intellectually stimulating. We guarantee you’ll be pushed in new directions.


Still Required: Personnel List Spreadsheet

When submitting to the DEB Core Programs solicitation (NSF 18-587), remember that we still require a Personnel List Spreadsheet to be emailed to within one business day of your proposal submission.

From NSF 18-587:

“Personnel List Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet template can be found at Please read the instructions carefully. Using the template, compile an Excel file that provides information for all persons identified in the proposal as: “PI or co-PI” (i.e., those listed on the cover page); “Other Senior Personnel/Subawardee”; or “Other Personnel” who have a biosketch included in the proposal. Only one spreadsheet should be submitted per project. All participants in a multi-institutional collaborative proposal should be included on the lead proposal’s Personnel List Spreadsheet. The file must include the FastLane proposal ID assigned after submission of your proposal (i.e., not the Temporary ID # or ID #). Once completed, the file should be submitted by email to within one business day of proposal submission.”

There is only one Personnel List Spreadsheet per project that lists all the PIs, co-PIs, subawadees, and other senior personnel who are involved in the entire project. If there are lead and non-lead proposals, the lead institution submits the spreadsheet and includes all the personnel for the entire collaborative project.

This is not to be confused with the Collaborators & Other Affiliations (COA) form.

There should be as many COA forms as there are biosketches. Each person who has a biosketch in the proposal must also have a COA form. Unlike the personnel list spreadsheet (which must be emailed to DEB after the proposal is submitted), the COA form is submitted in FastLane, at the time of proposal submission. This COA form lists an individual’s potential conflicts of interest.

If you have any questions about these forms or other requirements, please email us at

FAQs for BIO Directorate Core Programs Solicitations- (Archived)

This post is no longer accurate as of November 15, 2018. Please visit this post for current information.

Are you still searching for answers to questions about our new Core Programs Solicitation? Check out the new FAQ and remember to review our blog’s own solicitation explainer and submission caps explainer. And if you still have questions, please feel free to email your Program Officer or

DEB Caps Explained – (Archived)

This post is no longer accurate as of November 15, 2018. Please visit this post for current information.

Proposal Type Caps Deadline Submission Guidelines
DEB Core (EP, ES, PCE, SBS) DEB Core Cap: 1

Any submission as a PI or Co-PI to any of these proposal types counts towards the DEB Core cap of 1.

No deadline 18-587
SG No deadline 18-587
RUI No deadline 14-579
OPUS Deadline 18-582
LTREB No deadline 18-597
BEE Designation No deadline 18-587
Rules of Life Rules of Life Cap: 1 No deadline 18-587
CAREER Lifetime limit of 3 Deadline 17-537
RCN No cap No deadline 17-594
Conferences No cap No deadline PAPPG
EAGER No cap No deadline* PAPPG
RAPID No cap No deadline* PAPPG
RAISE No cap No deadline* PAPPG
EEID EEID Cap: 2 Deadline 18-581
CNH No cap Deadline 18-503
Dimensions of Biodiversity Dimensions Cap: 1 Deadline New Solicitation TBA

Figure 1. Column one lists some of the many types of proposals that come into our core and special programs. The second column shows you which proposals are limited by a cap. The third column tells you which proposal type has a deadline, and the final column points you to where to look for guidance when preparing the proposal.

For example; In a given fiscal year, an investigator may submit 1 proposal to EEID, 1 to CNH, 1 to CAREER, 1 to Rules of Life, and 1 to the DEB Core (ES, EP, PCE, SBS, BEE) but not LTREB because that exceeds the DEB Core cap of 1.

*Unless specified in an accompanying Dear Colleague Letter

The New DEB Core Programs Solicitation is Here!- (Archived)

This post is no longer accurate as of November 15, 2018. Please visit this post for current information.

DEB’s new core programs solicitation has been published. While many parts of the solicitation remain the same, there are a handful of key differences. This post will outline the new submission mechanism, review the eligibility requirements under the new cap, define the new Bridging Ecology and Evolution designation and Rules of Life, and explain the data storage and accessibility requirements. Our blog posts are not intended to cover all the changes to our solicitation. We encourage you to read the entire solicitation carefully.

Submission Mechanism

DEB’s core programs are no longer on an annual deadline. You can submit your proposal today, tomorrow, next month or next year. Please take the freedom and space to plan and collaborate. This change to no-deadline means we’ll be holding panels throughout the year, but the number and size of our panels may vary. We are still requiring the Personnel List Spreadsheet to be submitted with your proposal. Please use the updated version that can be found in the new solicitation.

When you choose to submit your proposal, it should be a full proposal. We are no longer accepting preliminary proposals. In an earlier post we outlined the pros and cons of the preliminary proposal system.

In sum, you can submit your full proposal any time starting now.

Eligibility for the DEB Core programs under the No-Deadline system

There is one “core program solicitation” that contains two tracks, one a “core track” and one a “Rules of Life” track.

In a given fiscal year, an investigator may be listed as a PI or co-PI on no more than one proposal submitted to the DEB core programs track.  Proposals in excess of the PI/co-PI limit for any person will be returned without review in the reverse order received. There is no limit on the number of proposals on which an investigator may be listed as Lead of a Subaward or as Other Senior Personnel.

Within the core program solicitation, there is a second track called Rules of Life for research that spans divisions in the Directorate of Biological Sciences (see below for more details). This track has its own, separate cap of one proposal for the BIO Directorate. This means investigators can be on the cover sheet as a PI or Co-PI on one proposal to our core program and on one proposal to the BIO-wide Rules of Life initiative.

With the end of deadlines and the flexibility in panel configuration that will ensue, DEB has been thinking about ways to encourage more interdisciplinary research. To enable more submissions that cross program boundaries, two new submission options will be available, one for projects that span more than one DEB core program (Ecology and Evolution), and one for projects that cross the BIO divisions (Rules of Life).

The new Bridging Ecology and Evolution (BEE) designation on DEB’s core track seeks to encourage research and training that integrates ecological and evolutionary processes to provide new insights into environmental biology. Projects should span, at minimum, one of the ecology clusters (Ecosystem Sciences, and Population and Community Ecology) and one of the evolution clusters (Evolutionary Processes, and Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences). Projects designated as BEE proposals should focus on the interplay between ecological processes and evolutionary processes, providing insights into the feedbacks and consequences at the interface of these disciplines. PIs are encouraged to include a statement in the Project Description about the conceptual basis and justification for this integration in advancing ecological and evolutionary science. To submit a BEE proposal, simply begin the title with the acronym “BEE:” and submit it to one of the targeted clusters. BEE proposals will be reviewed by a panel of ecologists and evolutionary biologists who will evaluate the quality of the integration and the potential to provide new insights for eco-evolutionary science. A BEE proposal counts as the PIs and co-PIs’ one allowed submission per year to the DEB core programs. More information about BEE is in the DEB solicitation.

The BIO Directorate’s Rules of Life (RoL) Track seeks to support integrative research and training that aims to identify the underlying general principles that operate across hierarchical levels of living systems, from molecules to organisms to ecosystems, and that explain emergent properties, e.g., robustness and adaptability. RoL proposals must address questions of importance to two or more of the BIO Divisions (Environmental Biology, Integrated Organismal Systems, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Biological Infrastructure). Successful projects will advance the understanding and predictive capabilities of key properties of living systems that emerge from the interaction of genomes, phenotypes, and environment acting over space and time. A RoL proposal should be submitted to one of the programs in DBI, DEB, IOS, or MCB. One or more additional programs in a different division should be specified on the cover page and the integration between the programs should be discussed in the Project Summary Overview section. More information about the RoL Track is in the DEB solicitation.

Data Dissemination and Accessibility

DEB is ratcheting up expectations of data archiving and accessibility, as is generally the case across NSF. Our new solicitation makes clear that PIs who have had prior support within the last five years must provide details on how data have been permanently archived and made publicly available. This information should go in the “Results from Prior NSF” section, following the format described in the PAPPG (II.C.2.d.iii). Likewise, when submitting Annual and Final Reports, BIO PIs will be required to “include information about progress made in data management and sharing of research products (e.g., identifier or accession numbers for data sets…and other types of data sharing and dissemination).”

It will be increasingly important to craft thoughtful and thorough Data Management Plans when submitting new proposals. Reviewers and Program Officers will pay particular attention to how data and specimens are stored and when and how they will become publicly assessable. For context and guidance, see

If you have not already, we encourage you to thoroughly read the new solicitation, subscribe to the blog, and sign up for email alerts at to stay current on all NSF news and updates.




IACUC Updates for 2018

Many people in the DEB community work with vertebrate animals, and therefore require approval from their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) to conduct their research.

Since NSF does not oversee or regulate animal research, it is important for investigators to know that a project’s IACUC approval must be adequately documented before program officers can recommend an award for funding. In this blog post we offer answers to common questions regarding the NSF documenting procedures for IACUC protocols to help you to efficiently comply with the existing policy.

  1. Where can I find information on NSF guidelines regarding IACUCs?

The NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) contains the official policy on how to document your IACUC approval in your proposal (Part I, Chapter II Proposal Preparation Instructions, D. Special Guidelines, 4. Proposals Involving Vertebrate Animals).

  1. Where in the proposal is IACUC approval documented?

On the proposal cover page there is a box that should be checked if the proposal includes research with living vertebrate animals. Immediately following there is a space to provide the IACUC protocol approval date as well as the Public Health Service (PHS) Approved Animal Welfare Assurance number.

  1. How do I know if my institution already has PHS assurance?

Institutions proposing to use vertebrate animals in an NSF-funded project are required to list their single and unique PHS assurance number on the NSF proposal cover sheet. If there is no PHS assurance number listed, check the NIH/OLAW website for the current list of PHS assured institutions: For the IACUC approval to be accepted by NSF, the organization must have a current PHS Approved Assurance. If your institution doesn’t have a current PHS Approved Animal Welfare Assurance number, please list it as “pending” on submission. If NSF intends to make an award to your institution, it will submit a direct request to NIH/OLAW to start the assurance process.

  1. What if I have a current IACUC protocol that encompasses the type of work that I am proposing to do in the NSF proposal that I am submitting?

If the box for vertebrate animals is checked, and an IACUC approval date and PHS Assurance number are provided on the proposal cover page then no additional IACUC documentation is required for the proposal to be recommended or an award processed. When the officer from your institution’s Sponsored Research Office (SRO) signs off on the proposal, they are affirming that the approved protocol exists and is congruent with the work outlined in the NSF proposal. It is important to note that this IACUC protocol must still be current at the time of the proposal submission and an approved protocol for the project must be maintained for the duration of the award (most IACUC protocols expire after 3 years).

  1. What if I do not have an approved IACUC protocol for the proposal I am submitting?

If your IACUC protocol is not yet approved, you can indicate that the IACUC approval is “pending” on the cover page. If you fall in this category, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • IACUC committee tend to meet at a pre-set schedule throughout the year. If you have not yet started the IACUC approval process, please be aware of these timelines and recognize that awards cannot be processed at NSF without IACUC approval.
  • Once granted, NSF must receive a signed IACUC approval from your institution, that must explicitly reference the proposer’s name, the title and number of the NSF proposal, and the date of IACUC approval.
  1. What if the research I am proposing to do will take place outside of the United States?

Projects involving the care or use of vertebrate animals at an international organization or international field site also requires approval of research protocols by the US grantee’s IACUC. Often, local approval from an international institution will also be necessary. Always ask the IACUC at your institution about how they handle international projects that involve living vertebrates.

  1. If the NSF proposal is for a fellowship or for an individual (e.g. postdoc), how is the documentation for the IACUC different?

For fellowships and proposals to individuals, a signed letter from the institution must still be submitted to NSF prior to an award action even if there is an IACUC approval date and PHS Assurance number documented on the proposal cover page at the time of submission. The letter must include the IACUC approval date, the institution’s PHS Assurance number, and it must specifically reference the proposer’s name, the title and number of the NSF proposal, and the date of IACUC approval.

  1. What if I am applying for a fellowship or award to an individual and I plan to conduct this work outside of the United States?

If the proposal is to fund an individual (not an institution) and the proposed work is to take place outside of the U.S., then a signed letter from the appropriate official at the foreign institution must be submitted to NSF that confirms that the work will comply with applicable laws in that foreign country and that it will adhere to the International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research Involving Animals.

  1. If I am applying for an REU (or any other award supplement) will I need to submit IACUC documentation?

Supplements to existing awards generally do not require a separate IACUC approval letter unless the IACUC approval on the parent award is more than three years old or the scope of the project has changed substantially.

If the scope of the work has changed, in lieu of resubmitting an entirely new IACUC protocol an amendment to your existing IACUC protocol may suffice. An amendment is typically much easier to prepare than a new protocol. Check your institution’s IACUC policies to see what types of revisions are recognized as appropriate for a protocol amendment.

  1. If I am submitting a collaborative proposal with multiple institutions will each institution need a separate approved IACUC protocol?

Each institution that proposes to conduct research with living vertebrates must have their own current and approved IACUC documentation – this includes work conducted by a non-lead collaborative institution and work conducted under a subaward.

  1. My proposed research entails using multiple species of living vertebrates, and/or multiple locations. Will one IACUC protocol be sufficient?

Depending on the nature of the work, one IACUC may not be sufficient to cover the entire scope of your work. Please confirm with your institution’s IACUC that all of the work is being covered.

  1. I am submitting a proposal to NSF, but I am not sure if the vertebrate animal work in the proposal requires IACUC approval (e.g., the research involves only observations of vertebrates in the field).

Ask your institution’s IACUC whether the proposed work warrants IACUC approval. If the IACUC does not think one is needed, we recommend that you procure an email from the chair of the IACUC committee (using their institution email) stating that IACUC approval is not necessary for the scope of the proposed work. It is always safer to have the committee make this decision rather than making the decision on your own. Usually, such email can be obtained ad hoc, outside of your institutions regular IACUC meeting and review schedule.

  1. What about preserved specimens — will I need an IACUC to work with non-living vertebrate animals from a natural history collection?

IACUC approvals are only necessary for research with living vertebrate animals.

  1. My proposal doesn’t include vertebrate animals in a research capacity, but my broader impacts and/or outreach activities do involve vertebrate animals. Will I still need IACUC approval?

Most likely IACUC approval is still necessary in this circumstance. Please contact the NSF animal welfare officer for additional information.


Reminder: CAREER Deadline is July 18th

Just when you thought deadlines were going away, this is a reminder that some programs at NSF still have them.

So, if you are interested in the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER), the 2018 deadline for BIO is July 18th. The CAREER Program is NSF-wide and supports early-career faculty. For more information there is an extensive FAQ and a webinar available online. You can also see examples of current DEB CAREER awards through the NSF Award Search.

Questions can be directed to the Program Officers listed as the points of contact for the CAREER program – every Division has one. For DEB-related inquiries, please contact Christopher Schneider at