11/14/22 Virtual Office Hours Recap – NSF BIO Opportunities in Climate Change Research

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on November 14, 2022. Program Officers provided information on how to write a great proposal. We host these office hours 1-2pm EST 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 different research areas are present at each Virtual Office Hour, so a wide range of scientific perspectives are represented.

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 22-1

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

Q: How do I know which Program Officer within a program to contact with a 1-page summary or to set up an appointment to talk with? Do Program Officers ever suggest an alternative program that would better fit?

A: You can pick any name off the list of associated Program Officers for the program of interest. Program Officers carefully review submitted 1-pagers with their program and provide feedback to the PI via phone/email. They will discuss programmatic fit as well as suggest alternative programs and how to contact those programs. We suggest that if you want to contact more than one program or Program Officer then you should send one email that includes all of the Program Officers you have interest in speaking with. This makes it easier for us to coordinate one response with the most accurate information about programmatic fit.

Q: NSF proposal guidelines prohibit submitting proposals with substantial overlap at the same time.  Sometimes the timing of these special programs is such that we are prevented from submitting to them because of another proposal under consideration with substantial overlap. Can you comment on the ‘substantial overlap’ issue regarding Life on a Warming Planet research?

A: Duplicate submissions are prohibited, but proposals with some overlap are allowed. But we need to avoid the potential to fund the same research twice.  Thus, when submitting a proposal, there is a required document called Current and Pending Support where you describe how the current proposal and any pending submissions overlap. Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have concerns about ‘substantial overlap’ in your submissions.

Q: Would climate change research be a fit for the Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges program?

A: Yes, per the solicitation: “Through use-inspired research using convergent, multidisciplinary approaches, URoL:ASC seeks to apply lessons learned from studying rules of life across a broad array of living systems to tackle pressing societal concerns. These concerns include but are not limited to:  climate change and associated risks, including geohazards, extreme events, and loss of biodiversity; environmental degradation, including impacts on land and water resources; inequalities in availability of and access to essential natural assets; lack of sustainability, including for food, energy, and waste production; and threats from pandemic disease, among others.” If you have specific questions about a research idea and its appropriateness for this program, please contact URoL-ASC@nsf.gov.

Q: We would like to submit a proposal to Biodiversity on a Changing Planet to work with colleagues in a foreign country, but there are ongoing travel restrictions there. Should we propose work that assumes such travel will be possible even with ongoing restrictions and potentially challenging political landscape? Is it important to suggest that we have a ‘plan B’ in case we can’t go?

A: Ensure that you have a clear description of the partnership and how it would work, and it would be helpful to have a description of ‘plan B’ should travel restrictions impact your research.  All research faces some uncertainty and some risk of events beyond your control limiting progress.  But if those risks are too high, reviewers may not see the project as feasible or worth the investment. 

Q: For Biodiversity on a Changing Planet, do successful proposals integrate across all levels (cellular, organismal, ecological, evolutionary, geological, and/or paleontological perspectives) or is a subset of these approaches acceptable? e.g., should all proposals include a cellular approach?

A: A subset is perfectly acceptable. There are some revisions in the upcoming solicitation that will help clarify the language. Keep an eye out on the BoCP solicitation website for updated information. 

Q: Does the Organismal Response to Climate Change (ORCC) program allow for NSF-NERC collaborations? If not, to which programs can a NERC collaboration proposal be submitted?

A: At this time, NERC partnerships are not allowed but this doesn’t preclude you from working with colleagues in the UK or any other international partners. NSF-NERC collaborative proposals can be submitted to the DEB core programs (Ecosystem Science, Evolutionary Processes, Population and Community Ecology, and Systematics and Biodiversity Science). Additionally, the Directorate of Geosciences accepts NSF-NERC collaborative proposals.

Q: I work in the agriculture sector. Will that be a limitation when submitting a proposal to NSF?

A: No, but you are encouraged to review the Who May Submit Proposals section of Eligibility Information in the solicitation of interest to you. For example, the DEB (core programs) solicitation states that proposals may only be submitted by institutions of higher education or non-profit, non-academic organizations. Other NSF solicitations have different eligibility requirements.

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs. NSF has suggested 5 tips on working with Program Officers as part of the NSF 101 series on our Science Matters blog.

Check out the upcoming office hour topics below and be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register. Our next virtual office hours will be held December 12, 2022, from 1-2pm Eastern Time and the topic will be the Mid-Career Advancement Solicitation.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:                   

December 12: Mid-Career Advancement Solicitation

January 9: Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP) Update

February 13: How to Write a Great Budget

March 13: PAPPG: Cracking the code – Understanding NSF policies and procedures that shape your funding opportunities

April 10: Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUI)

May 8: CAREER Solicitation

FastLane Review Score Options

With so many new proposal reviewers joining us, we thought now would be a good time to re-share an explanation of rating options on proposals you review.

Selecting an Overall Rating
When you review an NSF proposal, you don’t need to give it a single letter score of E (excellent), V (very good), G (good), F (fair), or P (poor). In the reviewer system (through FastLane) you can check more than one box for “Overall Rating” to give a score between two of the ranks, like V/G or G/F when the 5-point system feels too coarse. By providing a split score, you are telling NSF that the single score, or “Overall Rating”, lies somewhere between the two categories. It’s fine but rare to provide a split score that spans more than two adjacent ratings. We most frequently see this when a reviewer loves, for example, the Intellectual Merit and is very disappointed by the Broader Impacts.  In that case, we might see a E/P.  If you decide to give such a score, it’s critically important to explain what it means; don’t make us guess!

On the flip side, be careful if you’re trying to select a score and check the wrong box: FastLane doesn’t automatically clear the first choice when you make another selection, creating the potential for unintended scores like “V/G/F/P”.

On rare occasions, a reviewer may opt not to provide an overall rating at all and just provide the written comments. While acceptable, we discourage this.

Finally, please strive to use the complete spectrum of scores.  A reviewer that tends to rate most proposals E or V is ultimately less helpful to everyone — NSF, panelists, and PIs.

How Overall Ratings are Used
Generally, the written content of the review matters more than the rating score since we don’t rank proposals by their average scores (unlike some funding agencies).  Nonetheless, scores aren’t ignored; they’re a concise indicator of a reviewer’s opinion, and they can be helpful for interpreting the written content.

During panel discussions, scores can be incredibly useful because they allow us to compare general opinions and quickly see if the reviewers are all starting from a similar place or whether there may be divergent views to work through. Being judicious in your assignment of scores can also be useful to you as a panelist to differentiate between your many assigned proposals and remember them through hours of discussions.


If you’re the PI and having issues viewing the scores of a proposal that you submitted, there is a dedicated helpdesk for FastLane issues at 1-800-673-6188 and an extensive online help resource.

Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: Opportunities for Research in Climate Change 

Join us Monday, November 14th, 1 – 2pm ET for DEB’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will provide insight on funding opportunities for research in climate change. Representatives from DEB programs will be available for questions. To participate, please use the registration link below. Upcoming DEB Virtual Office Hours are announced ahead of time on DEBrief, so we suggest you also sign up for blog notifications.    

REGISTER HERE TO PARTICIPATE

If you can’t make it to this or any future office hours, don’t worry! Come back to the blog afterwards, as we post recaps and the presentation slides of all office hour sessions. Visit our Office Hours homepage for slideshows and recaps of past topics.  

Virtual Office Hours are on the second Monday of every month from 1 – 2pm ET. Below is a list of upcoming dates and topics (subject to change). Be sure to add them to your calendars and register ahead of time.        

Upcoming Office Hour Topics:                       

November 14: Opportunities for Research in Climate Change  

December 12: Mid – Career Advancement Solicitation    

January 9: Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP) Update

February 13: How to Write a Great Budget

March 13: PAPPG: Cracking the code – Understanding NSF policies and procedures that shape your funding opportunities

April 10: Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUI)

May 8: CAREER Solicitation

10/17/22 Virtual Office Hours RecapHow to Write a Great Proposal

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on October 17, 2022. Program Officers provided information on how to write a great proposal. We host these office hours 1-2pm EST 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 different research areas are present at each Virtual Office Hour, so a wide range of scientific perspectives are represented.

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 22-1

DEB NSF webpage

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

Q: What are the biggest mistakes applicants make when developing proposals for NSF?

A: Common mistakes are: 1) not talking to a program officer about your proposal before submission to confirm program fit, 2) lack of integration between the individual aims of the proposal, 3) poor integration or connections between the intellectual merit and broader impacts, and 4) removal of exciting elements of the proposal because of budget constraints. 

Q: When PIs are reviewing previous awards from a solicitation and see a project that is close to their project, should they assume the project will not be funded because similar research has already been funded?

A: Conducting an NSF award search can be a very helpful step as you prepare a proposal.  On one hand, if you see work that is similar to what you are planning being funded by a program, that can give you some confidence the program is the correct “fit” for your ideas. However, if work that is very similar to what you are proposing has already been funded, it is unlikely that a program will fund the same work again.  How similar is too similar is really the hard question to answer and is probably best resolved through a conversation with a program officer at NSF. 

Q: Since it is important to recognize your audience and to write to that audience, who is the audience for an NSF proposal?

A: Keeping the audience in mind is critical for your NSF proposal. First, recognize that not everyone who reads your proposal will be a close, disciplinary expert. Typically, several domain experts in your sub-field will be asked to read your proposal, but other reviewers  will be  “generalists” that are more distant from your exact taxa or question. Thus, keeping jargon to a minimum is wise. Second, if your work crosses disciplinary boundaries, there is a chance that it will be co-reviewed by panels in several disciplines. See this DEB blog post for much more information about the co-review process. If your proposal is likely to be co-reviewed, it will make sense to explicitly write with multiple audiences in mind. 

Q: Can you touch on the importance of scientific risk in the research tasks?

A: “Risk” is a very important dimension of a proposal for PIs to consider. In general, NSF is keenly interested in conceptually risky work that could change how people think about a process or phenomenon. However, NSF is usually not interested in “logistical” risk – that is, when it is unclear whether the PI team can successfully conduct the project because of a lack of resources, expertise, or planning.

Q: How do we weigh integration of the proposal against later aims being dependent upon the earlier aims?

A: Reviewers commonly identify proposals as risky when important major aims rely on successful completion of earlier aims. The degree of risk is generally assessed as low if earlier aims are highly likely to succeed but may be considered prohibitively risky if the initial aims are themselves risky. Panels will often cite the need for more preliminary data or note the high risk of the proposal in those cases. One way to mitigate risks might be to explicitly describe the prospects for success, alternative outcomes, and contingency plans. Preliminary data can help estimate and ameliorate the risk of failure – showing you can do the work and that the first results are intriguing can go a long way towards making your case.  Another strategy that can work is to have aims that build in both risk and reward – some foundational work that is very likely to succeed and would be interesting in its own right, then subsequent aims that may be riskier but potentially higher reward. Talking to your program officer may help you understand the nature such issues.

Q: If our project is similar but goes beyond a previously funded project (i.e., extends previous work), should we connect our project to the prior work if it has not been published yet?

A: In almost all cases, connecting your planned work to previous work is a good idea.  Whether you’ve done that previous work yourself or it was done by others, you’ll want to set your proposed work in the context of what we know already. Unpublished or published previous data can help establish expectations, demonstrate methodological feasibility, and build the reviewer’s confidence that your team can do this work. 

Q: Can you provide any additional tips for proposals that involve international work?

A: Please see the recap blog post from the Virtual Office Hour on August 8th where we discussed International collaboration, for more information.

Q: Is every proposal treated as a new proposal? Or should a resubmission be indicated and include a section of “answers to previous reviews”?

A: There is no general requirement that a resubmission directly address previous submissions and reviews. Some special solicitations may include such a requirement but the core solicitation for the Division of Environmental Biology does not. It is up to the PI to decide if they want to include a section on previous submissions or not.

Q: I know “stakeholders” is a common, specific term within USDA. What does it mean within NSF, and is it commonly used?

A: The term stakeholder is not a specifically defined term across all of NSF. It is commonly used by PIs in discussing their Broader Impacts. In that context, it most often refers to individuals, non-governmental groups, or government entities that will potentially use information provided by the grantee.

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs. NSF has suggested 5 tips on working with Program Officers as part of the NSF 101 series on our Science Matters blog.

Check out the upcoming office hour topics below and be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register. Our next virtual office hours will be held November 14, 2022, from 1-2pm Eastern Time and the topic will be: Opportunities for Research in Climate Change.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:                   

November 14: Opportunities for Research in Climate Change

December 12: Mid-Career Advancement Solicitation

January 9: Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP) Update

February 13: How to Write a Great Budget

March 13: PAPPG: Cracking the code – Understanding NSF policies and procedures that shape your funding opportunities

April 10: Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUI)

May 8: CAREER Solicitation


A Postdoc Post

So, you’re a Postdoc! You may be wondering how you can wade into the NSF ecosystem during this phase of your career. The truth is there are many ways to get involved on both sides of the merit review process.

The most obvious is to apply to the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology (PRFB). In sum, this fellowship encourages individuals to pursue their selected area of life sciences while integrating broadening participation of underrepresented groups. Our Virtual Office Hours team hosts an annual explainer with detailed FAQs that can answer some questions you may have about PRFB. We also encourage you to contact the cognizant Program Officers who can be found at the bottom of the program page for more information.

But maybe you don’t want to pursue a PRFB and you’d like to know if you can submit a regular proposal to our Core Programs. The answer: Maybe. NSF allows Postdocs to be Principal Investigators (PIs) on proposals but the policy at your institution is the key factor here: Some institutions allow postdocs as PIs or CO-PIs, others do not. Check with your sponsoring scientist or reach out to your Sponsored Research Office (SRO) to understand your options for submitting full proposals.

If your institution does allow for you, the postdoc, to serve as PI/CO-PI, then a postdoc mentoring plan is not required. Your name and budget for your salary will be on the PI line, not the postdoc budget line and you will not have an option to upload a mentoring plan (also it would be odd to mentor yourself). If your institution does NOT allow you to be a PI, but you are responsible for the intellectual backbone of the proposal, it is of course especially critical that you are credited for this effort in letters of recommendation and such from your PI.

On the flip side, we’d welcome your expertise as an ad hoc reviewer. As explained in an earlier post, “An ad hoc reviewer is asked to review just one proposal at a time (rarely two) and does not attend the panel…” If you’d like to be an ad hoc reviewer, please fill out this questionnaire and complete your Reviewer Profile in Fastlane so we can find you. Experience as an ad hoc reviewer is a great entry into the NSF review process and many programs require ad hoc experience prior to serving as a panel reviewer.

In conclusion, there are many ways to join the NSF community. If you are ever feeling stumped or are having a difficult time navigating the NSF website, reach out to a Program Officer or drop us a note at debquestions@nsf.gov.

Recording Available: Inclusive Wildland Fire Science Planning Proposals Webinar

NSF held its first Inclusive Wildland Fire Science Planning Proposals Webinar on Tuesday, October 18th. The webinar provides information about NSF Dear Colleague Letter 22-122. Recording for the webinar is now available here with a transcript available here. Please note that the webinar starts at the 2:05 mark. The next webinar will be held on November 30th from 11am-12pm ET.

Medano Fire in Sand Dunes National Park Credit: David Hosansky, Head of Media Relations, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Meet DEB: Catherine O’Reilly, Cathie Aime, and Nochienna Agubuzo 

Name and Cluster: Catherine O’Reilly, Ecosystem Science Cluster 

Education: Earned a B.A. from Carleton College and Ph.D. from University of Arizona 

Home Institution: Illinois State University 

Tell us about your research: Broadly, I’m interested in how human activities influence aquatic ecosystems. A large part of my work has focused on the impacts of climate on lakes, including Lake Tanganyika, East Africa. This deep tropical lake is particularly susceptible to warming, leading to changes in mixing and nutrient availability. This has consequences for fish populations, most of which are endemic. Fish are already under threat by intensive harvesting pressure from a growing human population and the adoption of new technologies. Our transdisciplinary research has shown that traditional knowledge is consistent with scientific studies. However, fishermen subvert efforts to manage catches, and developing sustainable fishing practices is further complicated by the lack of alternative livelihoods.  

I also explore the role of climate through global-scale studies, which have included lake warming, ice cover, and water color. While global scale research is useful for examining the influence of climate and lake geomorphometry, it remains challenging to resolve the role of local factors and cross-scale interactions. 

Why do you want to serve with NSF? NSF has such a prominent place in funding science and a plays key role in establishing career pathways for scientists, it’s an honor to be here. It seemed like this was a good opportunity to learn more about how the agency works while also giving back. I’m looking forward to helping scientists in the community connect to these resources, while also learning more about their challenges.  

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? Across the agency, there is an incredibly high level of diverse projects being funded, along with real efforts to broaden participation. I’m excited to be part of these conversations, and to contribute to encouraging careers in science and supporting cutting edge research. My colleagues in DEB are fantastic and I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can from them.  

Name and Cluster: Mary Catherine (Cathie) Aime, Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster 

Education: Earned B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech  

Home Institution: Purdue University 

Tell us about your research: I’m a mycologist and I’m most interested in fungal biodiversity at all levels, especially from lineages and habitats that are little explored.  Understanding how these fungi are adapted for their environment is especially interesting – every fungus has a unique story to tell. 

Why do you want to serve with NSF? It is a good time in my career to give back to my science and to NSF, which has done so much to support my science. 

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? Learning more about the other types of science in the U.S.; learning how others approach systematics, especially within better documented groups, and hopefully becoming a better-rounded scientist in the process. Working with and learning from people who are as passionate about systematics as I am! 

What is your name and role here at DEB? Hello! My name is Nochienna Agubuzo, and I am a new Program Specialist (PS) in DEB. I am learning my role in support of OM with financial tracking, award processing, and other operations activities. I currently work with two clusters: Evolutionary Processes and Systematic and Biodiversity Science. 

How did you learn about NSF? I first learned about NSF at Pointer Ridge Elementary School in Bowie, Maryland! I was in the 1st grade when my teacher turned on a VHS of the Magic School Bus during an early childhood introduction to science. The National Science Foundation was recognized in the beginning credits for major funding for the Magic School Bus in the 90’s. Over two decades later, I rediscovered NSF through a former colleague who started to work at NSF through a pathways program.  

What did you study in school? I received my Bachelor of Science in Business Management and minored in Management Information Systems at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. 

Which cartoon world would you want to live in? I have never really thought about living in a cartoon world, but if I had to choose, I would live in Pandora – The World of Avatar. That movie was very captivating to me, and I recall wishing I was an Avatar living in their world.  

Upcoming Webinars: Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO) 

The divisions of Biological Infrastructure, Integrative Organismal Systems, and Molecular and Cellular Biology will present informational webinars about the Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO) Program in October and early November. Program Officers will introduce the IntBIO Program and discuss recent updates to the solicitation. They will also provide tips on how to write a great IntBIO proposal.  There will be a 30-minute presentation, followed by an open Q&A session with Program Officers. 

If you are planning to apply to the IntBIO program, please consider participating in one of these events.  For PIs in DEB, we especially recommend the DBI webinar on October 25th

IOS: Oct. 20, 1pm ET, https://iosblog.nsfbio.com/virtual-office-hours/ 

DBI: Oct. 25, 1pm ET, https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_xeFm-X73Sp-_f-sHUbt_Uw  

MCB: Nov. 9, 2 pm ET, https://mcbblog.nsfbio.com/office-hours/