Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: How to prepare a great budget

Join us for a special session on Wednesday, February 10th from 2pm-3pm EST for BIO’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will be joined by representatives from the Division of Grants and Agreements to provide insight on how to prepare NSF budgets. Representatives from each of the BIO divisions and DGA will be available for questions.

Please use the registration link below to participate (note that it directs to Division of Molecular and Cellular Bioscience’s registration page because this is a cross-division Office Hour). Upcoming DEB Virtual Office Hours are announced ahead of time on DEBrief, so sign up for blog notifications for reminders.


If you can’t make it to this or any future office hours, don’t worry! Come back to the blog, as we will be posting a recap and the presentation slides.  Next month we will be back to our normally scheduled time on the second Monday of every month from 1pm-2pm EST. Below is a list of upcoming dates and topics (subject to change), so be sure to add them to your calendars and register ahead of time!

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

February 10: How to prepare a great budget (note special time 2-3 pm Wednesday Feb. 10)

March 8: Beginning Investigators

April 12: How to write a great proposal

May 10: CAREER Solicitation

9/10/20 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Systematics

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held a special Virtual Office Hour on September 10th, 2020 focusing on opportunities for funding research in Systematics.

The presentation is available here:

              Slides (PDF)

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

Considering the current uncertain situation related to COVID-19, is it possible to submit a proposal that has a substantial overseas travel component, including fieldwork?

At this time, we recommend that you incorporate into your proposal whatever travel and fieldwork is needed to complete your research aims. Since there is so much uncertainty, it is not possible to plan for the long term, and we do not know how long the current restrictions will remain in place. Ultimately, if one does receive funding, and travel to the particular regions still remains untenable, a no cost extension can be requested that will help extend the project until such travel may be possible.

Is specimen digitization of types in foreign countries acceptable in the budget?

Yes, it is, if the digitization activities are specifically connected to questions being addressed by the project. This type of activity may also help achieve goals related to open data, so it could be worthwhile to address in the Project Description and the Data Management Plan how collecting and sharing these data will be relevant for the proposed work.

Can a Small Grant (SG) be submitted as a subcategory of another grant program, like an Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics (ARTS)?

Absolutely. Indeed, submitted grants can qualify for a number of such subcategories and thus can be submitted with multiple acronyms in the title.

If one is looking to create a reference genome to address ecological and ecophysiological questions using transcriptomics, is this the best program to target? 

Research using transcriptomics in this cluster is definitely supported, but the specific rationale for such approaches needs to be addressing questions relevant to systematics, for instance, reconstructing phylogenetic relationships. In this particular case, it does sounds like this work might be a better fit for another cluster in DEB, such as the Ecosystem Studies Program (ES), or perhaps even another Division within Biological Sciences, such as Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). We encourage you to contact the Program Officers in either of these areas to receive additional information.

In a proposal, is it necessary for the Broader Impacts (BIs) to emphasize producing novel outreach or should they instead leverage existing outreach capacity?

Either approach is acceptable. If one can tap into an existing, successful program, then that can be one component of a set of BIs. Further, it may be easier to convince panelists and reviewers that such approaches will be successful. On the other hand, developing novel outreach activities tailored to your project can be exciting to reviewers, though It may be harder to convince panelists and reviewers that such approaches will be successful since they don’t have a pre-existing track record. When writing a proposal, you need to decide which approach fits better into the type of work you aim to do.

Are systematics proposals expected to include new or novel phylogenetic analysis methods?

New methods are always welcome, but they are not required or expected.

Is it possible to submit more than one proposal (with unrelated questions), as a PI?

Yes, currently there is not a limit on the number of proposals that an investigator can submit, as long as they focus on substantially different questions.

For ARTS proposals, should one aim to include questions/methods relevant to the evolution of the group of interest (e.g., biogeography, character evolution, etc.) in addition to the stated goals of revisionary taxonomy and systematics along with training?

A key aim of the ARTS category of proposals is to support revisionary taxonomy and systematics that leads to predictive classifications and includes training. Thus, this is not required. However, more significant ecological and evolutionary questions that can ultimately be addressed through such work may be more likely to resonate well with panelists and reviewers and thus are certainly encouraged.

What is the general distinction between a core SBS proposal and a Bridging Ecology & Evolution (BEE) proposal?

A BEE proposal needs to specifically connect core areas of theory between ecology and evolution or combine hypotheses between the two disciplines with a focus on mechanisms and processes. Such proposals are reviewed not solely within SBS but also by program officers from other clusters within DEB. It is very useful to have a specific statement in a BEE proposal that shows how the work integrates questions and mechanisms that span these different conceptual areas. Just as an example, mapping a set of ecological characteristics to a phylogeny could potentially be of interest as an SBS proposal, but it does not have enough focus on distinct ecological and/or evolutionary processes and mechanisms to make a compelling case for a BEE proposal. A connection across disciplines but also via mechanisms and processes is essential.

Would population/subspecies level proposals be appropriate for the Systematics and Biodiversity Science program?

It depends on your specific idea, but many proposals addressing only questions at the population level are best suited to the Evolutionary Processes cluster. However, many projects include components both above and below the species level, so we encourage you to contact a Program Officer to discuss your particular situation.

For proposals involving collecting taxa overseas, are there any specific requirements regarding the Nagoya protocol?

We expect adherence to the Nagoya protocol and any local regulations when conducting international field work.

I work primarily in developing countries and do a substantial amount of training of international students. Does training and capacity building of non-US students count?

When it comes to student training, the emphasis of NSF funding will be on students at US institutions. However, NSF recognizes the importance of true intellectual collaboration that provides a strong foundation for international work, which will frequently involve foreign researchers in training as well as the core research. Any training for non-US students should be described in terms of how it improves the efficiency of the activities of US researchers. We encourage you to speak with Program Officers if you have any specific questions about ways that this can be structured.

How essential is it to incorporate undergraduate or graduate student training into a proposal?

Such types of student training are an important type of Broader Impacts (BI), but they are not the only or even a required type, and indeed sometimes they may not even be feasible depending on the institution one comes from. Other BIs can be utilized instead. Pick the type of BIs that you think will fit best with your project, its aims, and the institution you are at.

Who do I need to contact if I would like to serve as a reviewer?

We are always looking for interested reviewers and panelists. If you would like to volunteer for panel service, please visit this site and let us know you are interested.

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs.

Systematics and Biodiversity Science-focused Office Hour

The Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster invites you to join a special systematics-themed edition of DEB’s Virtual Office Hours on Thursday, September 10th from 1:00-2:00 PM EDT. Program Officers will be on hand to talk about opportunities for funding research in systematics and to answer your questions. We’ll highlight special proposal categories in the DEB solicitation designed to support systematics research (e.g., ARTS and PurSUiT), as well as cross-cutting programs that systematists might want to explore (e.g., Bridging Ecology & Evolution (BEE) and Dimensions of Biodiversity). Please click on the link below to register for this webinar.

Register for the SBS Office Hour.


8/10/20 Virtual Office Hours Recap – DISES

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on August 10th, 2020. We host these office hours 1-2pm EDT 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 from each of DEB’s clusters are present at each Virtual Office Hour. This month’s topic was Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental System Proposals (DISES) (NSF 20-579). This solicitation is an update of the program previously known as CNH and CNH2.

The presentation and other documents are available here:

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

What are the major differences between the CNH2 solicitation and DISES solicitations?

We have tried to make things easier for PIs. The content and themes are the same, but what we removed was the number of things that caused proposals to be returned without review. There is no longer a requirement to submit a Letter of Intention prior to submission, and the one-page requirement of the project description of DISES was relaxed along with other minor details that were confusing to the community

What is the general expectation for preliminary data for the proposal to DISES, especially given the influence of the pandemic that affects collection of preliminary data?

Preliminary data must indicate feasibility of the proposal and that there are compelling questions that can be answered. We understand getting into the lab can be difficult during these times, but we are understanding in that preliminary data will change given the COVID-19 pandemic. DISES is interested in proposals that are synthetic in nature, which might be an additional way to get data in a creative way to try to answer questions based on your project.

For DISES, can you tell us a bit more about 1. Composition of the review panel (in terms of areas of expertise) and 2. what an ideal balance between the social and biogeophysical sciences might look like in a proposal?

DISES proposals are only reviewed in panel; they are not sent out for ad hoc reviews. In terms of the composition of the panel, we look for a combination of broad thinkers and expertise based on the proposals that come in. We may have multiple panels to ensure that the panels are diverse and have deep expertise and broad thinkers. The balance of disciplines within the proposal depends on the questions that you are asking or the theory/concepts that your proposal is addressing. We want proposals to have enough of the disciplines that we are seeing the integration of sciences and not be skewed toward one discipline or another.

Can PIs submit a proposal as a collaborative proposal from multiple institutions? Could a single investigator submit a proposal?

PIs cannot submit collaborative proposals from multiple institutions. Single PIs can work with PIs at multiple institutions by submitting a proposal with subawards to Co-PIs in other institutes. A single investigator could submit a proposal, but it would be difficult to be competitive given how integrative these projects are. Typically, there are 4 or 5 PIs in different areas that contribute their strengths to the project.

What is the expectation for documentation of support or commitment from community/non-academic partners? Does a simple letter of support suffice, is something else expected?

The DISES solicitation follows guidance laid out in the PAPPG 20-1 for documentation of letters of support, which states: Letters of collaboration should be limited to stating the intent to collaborate and should not contain endorsements or evaluation of the proposed project. The recommended format for letters of collaboration is as follows:

“If the proposal submitted by Dr. [insert the full name of the Principal Investigator] entitled [insert the proposal title] is selected for funding by NSF, it is my intent to collaborate and/or commit resources as detailed in the Project Description or the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.”

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs.

Our next virtual office hours will be held on September 14th, 2020 from 1-2pm EDT and will address Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES; NSF 20-506).

Be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

September 14: Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES)

October 19: BIO Postdoc Program

November 9: Intro to DEB

December 14: Supplements

January 11: TBD (Feel free to suggest a topic!)

BIO Virtual Drop-In Session for ESA Follow-up

Please join NSF Program Officers from the Division of Environmental Biology (DBI), Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), and Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) on Thursday August 13th anytime from 9 am to 5 pm Eastern for an informal question and answer session.

Registration Link

We are hosting this session to allow for the types of conversations about programs and initiatives that would normally happen at the Annual ESA Meeting, but couldn’t this year because of the virtual format. Program Officers will not be presenting prepared material, so please come prepared to type your questions into the Q&A box and hear them answered. We will have Program Officers representing a variety of different programs and topics throughout the day. They can answer questions about these programs or discuss other topics you may want to raise. As always, feel free to reach us through email as well.

Program Officer Program Officer Begin Time End Time Topics
Betsy von Holle Sharon Swartz 9:00am 10:00am Population and Community Ecology, LTREB, Coastlines and People, CAREER, Physiological and Structural Systems, Integrative Organismal Systems
Irv Forseth Sam Scheiner 10:00am 11:00am Integrative Ecological Physiology, ecology and evolution, Integrative Organismal Systems, Evolutionary Processes, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases
Montona Futrell-Griggs Mike Binford 11:00am 12:00pm Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science
Kendra McLauchlan Elizabeth Blood 12:00pm 1:00pm DISES, Ecosystem Science, LTREB, Dimensions of Biodiversity, Navigating the New Arctic
Doug Levey Chris Balakrishnan 1:00pm 2:00pm Population and Community Ecology, LTER, GRFP, Dimensions of Biodiversity, ecology and evolution
Peter McCartney Reed Beaman 2:00pm 3:00pm Cyberinfrastructure, collections, field stations and marine labs
Kendra McLauchlan   3:00pm 4:00pm Ecosystem Science, LTREB, Dimensions of Biodiversity, Navigating the New Arctic
Ford Ballantyne   4:00pm 5:00pm Ecosystem Science, Bridging Ecology and Evolution, Signals in the Soil, EDGE





Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental System Proposals

Join us August 10th from 1pm-2pm EDT for DEB’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will provide an introduction to the Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental System (DISES) Solicitation (NSF 20-579). This solicitation is an update of the program previously known as CNH and CNH2. Representatives from each of the four DEB core programs will be available for questions, which can be on any DEB or NSF topic.

Please use the registration link below to participate. Upcoming DEB Virtual Office Hours are announced ahead of time on DEBrief, so sign up for blog notifications for reminders.


If you can’t make it to this or any future office hours, don’t worry! Come back to the blog, as we will be posting a recap and the presentation slides. As always, our Virtual Office Hours will happen on the second Monday of every month from 1pm-2pm EDT. Below is a list of upcoming dates and topics (subject to change), so be sure to add them to your calendars!

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics: 

August 10: Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems (DISES)

September 14: Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES)

October 19: BIO Postdoc Program

November 9: Intro to DEB

December 14: Supplements to existing awards

January 11: TBD

Virtual Panel Service: What to Expect

NSF remains open and operational and DEB has plans to continue holding virtual panels into the fall and winter seasons. You may have already received an email asking about your availability and may be curious about what a virtual panel experience looks like. In terms of the proposal review process, it looks a lot like in-person service but with some more frequent breaks, which we are finding necessary to reduce video conference fatigue. Let’s dive in!

Who serves on panels?

Panelists range in experience from post-doctoral scholars (rare, so don’t get your hopes up if you’re a postdoc) through the ranks to tenured faculty, museum curators, and other active researchers both inside and outside universities. 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 (e.g., Research-1, Primarily Undergraduate Institutions, Minority-Serving Institutions, museums), states (especially EPSCoR eligible), and membership in groups underrepresented in science. With respect to the latter, we rely on you to self-identify when you register with Fastlane or Grants.gov.

Before we recruit someone for panel recruitment/service, we frequently ask them to serve initially as an ad hoc reviewer so that they become familiar with the review process. (An ad hoc reviewer is like a reviewer of a manuscript submitted to a journal. It’s a one-off review by someone who has expertise in the topic of a particular proposal.)

You can relay your interest in serving by visiting our website and signing up using our Reviewer Survey on our website.

Before Panel Service

So, you’ve been asked and agreed to serve on a panel*. That’s great! You’ll receive an email (a “Charge Letter”), describing how to register for the panel. You need to register before you can access any of the proposals.

After lots of communication from the managing Program Officer and you identifying any 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 the ad hoc or other panelists’ reviews until you’ve submitted all of your own assigned reviews.)

*We query for panelist availability through surveys sent to a subset of the community but just because you are surveyed doesn’t guarantee you’ll be asked to serve on a panel.

Day of Service

The panel is a multi-day discussion of each proposal’s intellectual merits and broader impacts. 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.

How is the virtual panel experience different from the in-person experience?

A virtual panel can present new challenges in some ways but also offers huge benefits in other ways.

Based on conversations with panelists over the years, we know that one of the best things about in-person panel service is meeting and interacting with Program Officers and fellow panelists over dinners and coffee breaks. Although panel dinners are pretty much impossible in the virtual world, we’ve made time for informal break-out sessions during which panelists can chat with Program Officers and fellow panelists.

On the bright side, going virtual allows panelists who would have otherwise been unable to participate (due to family obligations or other time constraints) in panel service. We’ve seen virtual panels expand our community to include those who previously found the travel required for in-person panels too onerous.

We’ve also noted panelists’ dogs are enthusiastically supportive of the virtual format. Panelists’ cats remain indifferent.

How does serving on a virtual 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 your community.
  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.



CANCELLED: Virtual Office Hours April 13th

The Division for Environmental Biology has decided to cancel the scheduled April 13th virtual office hours and postpone the discussion of the Opportunities for Promoting Understanding through Synthesis (OPUS) solicitation (NSF 20-564). We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause potential attendees. However, if you have any questions related to the OPUS solicitation, we encourage you to reach out to a Program Officer or submit questions to debquestions@nsf.gov.

Recently, the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) held virtual office hours to discuss concerns from the research community regarding our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will post notes from these discussions here and on the BIO BUZZ blog soon. We also encourage you to read the letter sent by the Directorate of Biological Sciences’ Assistant Director Joanne Tornow regarding NSF’s response to COVID-19 and to visit NSF’s coronavirus information page, which is updated regularly. As always, if you have specific questions, please reach out to your Program Officer.

Please join us at our next DEB Virtual Office Hour on May 18 from 1-2pm EST at which we will focus on questions regarding the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) solicitation (NSF 20-525). Instructions on how to register will be posted on DEBrief.

Preparing for the New PAPPG: Biosketches and Current and Pending Support

The new version of the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide, or PAPPG (NSF 20-1), goes into effect on June 1st, 2020, and there are some things you can do now to help prepare for your next proposal submission.

Specifically, we wanted to highlight some changes to the preparation and submission of the Biographical Sketch (Biosketch) and Current and Pending Support documents.


Your Biosketch must be submitted using one of two pre-approved formats, either 1) using SciENcv: Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae or 2) NSF’s Fillable PDF. Be sure and read the available FAQs and information about the two pre-approved formats and see our breakdown below.

  • NSF is partnering with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use SciENcv: Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae. It will provide an NSF-approved format for both the Biographical Sketch and Current and Pending Support sections of an NSF proposal.
  • SciENcv allows proposers to integrate their ORCiD profile enabling automatic filling of the Biographical Sketch. Additional information is available on the ORCiD website.
  • SciENcv will produce NSF-compliant PDF versions of these documents. Proposers must save these documents and submit them as part of their proposals via FastLane, Research.gov or Grants.gov.
  • Additional resources including video tutorials are available on the SciENcv website.
  • You also have the option to use the NSF Fillable PDF if you do not want to use SciENcv. You must download the fillable PDF form from the NSF biographical sketch and then submit the completed forms as part of their proposals via FastLane, Research.gov or Grants.gov.

Current and Pending Support

Just like the Biosketch, you now must use the new NSF-approved formats for submitting your current and pending support. These include SciENcv or the NSF Fillable PDF.

To listen to even more information, NSF recently recorded a webinar about the requirement to use an NSF-approved format for both the biographical sketch and current & pending support documents as part of proposals submitted to NSF.

If you try and submit a Biosketch or your Current and Pending Support after June 1st, 2020 and do not use these NSF-approved formats, you will receive an error message and will be unable to submit your proposal. DEB Program Officers tried out SciENcv and found it was very easy to use and minimized some of the repetitive work of updating these documents, but if you don’t want to bother with setting up an account, the fillable PDFs are great options.


Managing Your Awards During a Pandemic

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) is keenly aware of the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on institutions and PIs. As such, we wanted to take a moment to remind PIs about no-cost extensions, with a brief note on annual reporting.

No-cost extensions are both common and easy to request. Knowing how they work may help relieve some of the tension PIs are now feeling.

Key points:

  1. Grantees (your institution!) are pre-authorized by NSF to provide a one-time extension of the end date of the grant of up to 12 months if additional time beyond the established end date is required to assure completion of the original scope of work with existing funds. All “grantee-approved” extension requests must be signed and submitted by your institutional representative via NSF’s electronic systems. If you are going to request a no-cost extension, always first request the “grantee-approved” type.
  2. If additional time beyond the first extension is required, and exceptional circumstances warrant, a formal request to NSF must be signed and submitted by the institutional grants officer via NSF’s electronic systems. The request should be submitted to NSF at least 45 days prior to the end date of the grant. This is called an “NSF-approved” no-cost extension and is a bigger deal than the “grantee-approved” type. You will need to provide the current balance (funds remaining) of the award and your plans for spending it.
  3. Regardless of which type of no-cost extension you may request, it’s critically important to understand that remaining funds can only be spent on work described in your funded proposal (i.e., within the original scope of your award). If you have questions about this, it’s best to call the NSF Program Officer who is managing your award.

If you plan on submitting a request for a no-cost extension, you need to do so BEFORE the final annual report is due; DO NOT submit a final report unless the request is denied.

A note on annual reports:

DEB is also aware than many PIs might struggle to accomplish much research during university closures and in turn might worry about their outputs for annual reports. Please submit brief but accurate reports, making note of expected slowdowns. Again, DEB is sympathetic to the exceptional circumstances taking place.