NSF Calls for Examinations of Emergent Networks as Part of Understanding the Rules of Life “Big Idea”

Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

The biological world is interconnected by complex networks. What are the rules that control these networks? How are the interactions altered by environments? Are the rules similar across all biological scales? How can an understanding of such roles be harnessed to benefit society?

The new Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN) solicitation encourages convergent, cross-disciplinary research – including the biological sciences – to examine such rules, the outcomes of these interactions, and to aid in the prediction of emergent properties. The program also seeks to train STEM practitioners to contribute to this area of convergent research. Proposals under the solicitation should be submitted by May 10, 2021.

As part of the Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype, one of ten “Big Ideas” NSF-wide, this new solicitation builds on previous URoL programs to help increase knowledge and the ability to predict an organism’s observable characteristics—its phenotype—from its genotype.

Understanding the mechanisms at play in the interconnections between living organisms and their environments, across every biological scale, will provide vital insight into grand biological challenges, help advance biotechnology to spur the US bioeconomy, and aid in solving some of society’s issues, including the growing impacts of infectious disease and climate change.

Investigators from across the biological sciences are encouraged to submit proposals in concert with researchers in other disciplines, including the mathematical and physical sciences, geosciences, computer and information sciences, engineering, and behavioral and social sciences.

Directorates from across NSF will be holding a virtual office hour on March 11 beginning at 2:00pm Eastern to answer questions on the solicitation. Register in advance for this webinar: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_kP23L5ymTFKw5EVCqBFcCQ.

For full details and guidance on award types, amounts and other questions, see Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN).

Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: Early Career Researchers

Join us Monday, March 8th from 1-2PM EST for DEB’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will provide information for Early Career Researchers.  Representatives from each DEB cluster 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.


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 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! You can also visit our Office Hours homepage for slideshows and recaps of past topics.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

March 8: Early Career Researchers

April 12: Infrastructure resources available to DEB investigators (site REU, collections, databases and data aggregators, etc.)

May 10: CAREER Solicitation

NSF Launches New Opportunity for Professional Societies to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The National Science Foundation has recently released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) encouraging professional societies to work together to form networks to promote cultural change in biology to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. The DCL, called LEAPS (LEAding cultural change through Professional Societies) of Biology, intends to fund conference proposals, planning proposals, and Research Coordination Network (RCN) proposals that will facilitate collaboration among biology professional societies with the goal of broadening participation of the STEM workforce at scale.  

This DCL encourages submissions from societies focused on broadening participation (SACNAS, AISES, ABRCMS) and/or from the NSF INCLUDES National Network. Professional societies are uniquely positioned to lead cultural, structural, and social change through appointing or electing society leaders, convening meetings, publishing, issuing awards, providing training, and creating career support networks. They can shape the culture at the scale of the (sub-) discipline and have the potential to influence other disciplines, institutions, and departments.

Potential partnerships could also include Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other organizations/institutions serving diverse populations. The participation of multiple societies from more than one biological discipline and/or of multiple societies from the same discipline that range in membership size is also encouraged.  

For more information, please read the full DCL. To be considered for funding in fiscal year 2021, proposals should be submitted by May 14, 2021. Proposals submitted after that date will be considered for fiscal year 2022 funding.

For questions concerning the DCL, please contact one of the following Program Directors:

2/10/21 Virtual Office Hours Recap – How to Write a Great Budget

The Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on February 10, 2021. Program Officers were joined by representatives from the Division of Grants and Agreements to provide insight on how to prepare NSF budgets.

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 20-1

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

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

Participant support – This category is a ‘protected category’ that should facilitate the participation of people in the research. Frequently we see Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) or Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in this category. Participant support does not have indirect costs applied to it.

Q: When might one use Participant Support?

A: This will be left up to the researcher and their university to decide, but as mentioned REUs or RETs are commonly placed in this category.  Whether you place undergraduate students in this category versus a paid salary line will depend on how the students factor in the research. It is not appropriate to put postdoctoral salaries or collaborator salaries in this category.

Q: Can I move funds out of Participant Support?

A: You must speak with your Program Officer before  rebudgeting  and receive official NSF permission to do so.  Funds moved from Participant Support could be subject to indirect costs and proposed moves must be well justified.

Q: Should REUs or RETs be put in budgets at the time a proposal is submitted?

A: Yes, if you know that you will have an REU, etc. you should include that when you submit your proposal.  You can submit a supplement request if you belatedly realize you would like to have an REU student. Contact your managing Program Officer about this.

Modification and rebudgeting – Following the awarding of a grant the investigator and their university have the authority to rebudget certain costs (e.g., move money across budget categories) to accomplish the goals of the research. There are some restricted categories (e.g., Participant Support) and a few rebudgeting modifications that require NSF approval (see this chart).

Q: Can I change my start date of my award?

A: While working with a Program Officer, you can modify the start date of your award. However, once awarded the start date cannot be changed.

Q: Can I rebudget funds from travel and student involvement due to the pandemic?

A: Given that COVID-19 had reduced travel and student involvement these funds may be rebudgeted to supplies.

Salaries – NSF allows up to 2 months of salary support for principal investigators across all NSF awards for a single investigator. In rare and well justified cases more than 2 months of support can be requested.

Q: Could an investigator change their level of effort, and therefore support, post-award?

A: Will this change the scope of the project?  If the scope is changed then the institution will need NSF prior approval.  If this does not change the change the scope of the project, then the PI will need to communicate with their institution and follow institutional policies and procedures.  

Q: Does NSF fund protected research time?

A: The two months of salary support is typically considered protected research time. There are some funding opportunities where support for research pursuit over an extended period is allowable (see Mid-Career Advancement NSF 21-516)

Q: Does a researcher need to request salary?

A: Researchers should consult with their university and sponsored research officials to determine whether one can forego salary requests.

G6. Other. – This category contains costs that do not have a predetermined category already outlined in budget workbooks. 

Q: What types of costs can I put in G6. Other?

A: Common examples for BIO proposals are tuition remission and DNA sequencing costs. Costs such as graduate student  tuition remission, fee-for-service expenses for running samples, or research station fees often are also in this category.

Q: What do we do if we don’t have a Sponsored Research Office (SRO)? 

A: There must be Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) at the institution, who is not the PI, who has the authority to make decisions and take responsibility on federal grants. If you are unsure who it is, you can ask Chief Financial Officer at your institution who that representative would be.

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

DEB’s next virtual office hours will be held March 8, 2021, from 1-2 pm EST and will provide information for Early Career Researchers.

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

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

March 8: Early Career Researchers

April 12: Infrastructure resources available to DEB investigators (site REU, collections, databases and data aggregators, etc.)

May 10: CAREER Solicitation

Career-Life Balance Supplements Have Been Expanded

A career is never just about work. You must balance research, teaching, service, family, friends, maintenance of mental and physical well-being, and all the other things that make a life worth living.  The dependent care responsibilities that can be such a rich part of our lives can also cause some hardships in our careers. Career-Life Balance (CLB) supplements were created so that your NSF work may continue as smoothly as possible.

Back in November, NSF released a Dear Colleague Letter calling attention to its continued interest in receiving CLB supplement requests and announcing: 1) an increase in the amount and duration of salary support that may be requested; and 2) an extension of the opportunity to Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-PIs of all active NSF grant or cooperative agreements. We in DEB are enthusiastic about considering CLB supplemental requests on any award where researchers are confronted with a short-term increase in dependent-care responsibilities. We’ve provided guidance for such requests on our DEB supplements webpage and you can check out additional FAQs and resources here.

A few key points:

  • You should describe how a technician, research assistant, or equivalent would be used to sustain the research effort while the PI, co-PI, or other Senior Personnel is on family leave; the NSF Graduate Research Fellow is on medical deferral for a family leave situation; or the postdoctoral researcher or graduate student is on family leave.
  • Make sure you include the following statement, and if there are questions about what constitutes “family-leave” we suggest you contact your Office of Sponsored Programs.
    • “The Authorized Organizational Representative hereby certifies that the request for a technician (or equivalent) is because the (PI/co-PI/senior investigator/Fellow/postdoctoral researcher/graduate student) is, or will be, on family leave status (or equivalent) from the institution in accordance with the institution’s policies. The Authorized Organizational Representative also affirms that it is able to fill the position for which funding is being requested, in an appropriate timeframe.”
  • CLB supplements may be submitted at any time (no target date), but they are only available to PIs and Co-PIs with active awards. If you have more than one award, you may request supplements for each award.
  • Make sure you (and any associated Co-PIs or members of a collaborative) don’t have any overdue annual or final reports, or we won’t be able to process the supplement request.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more evident that balancing an academic career and family responsibilities is hard. We hope the CLB supplements are helpful. If you have a situation that you feel is appropriate for a supplement but is not a consequence of official “family leave,” we encourage you to talk with a Program Officer. As with all supplements, even a CLB supplement, requests are not guaranteed since they depend on the availability of funds. NSF is committed to broadening participation (see our Broadening Participation Portfolio here), and the CLB supplement mechanism is just one way in which we try to do so.

Update on COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact both researchers and research infrastructure alike. Despite the negative effects, the research community has continued to advance our knowledge, spur innovation, and make discoveries. You also continue to serve as reviewers and panelists, for which we thank you.

Throughout the past year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported the research community by providing guidance, funding flexibilities, and deadline extensions. This support will remain a top priority for NSF as we seek to recover from the pandemic. Up-to-date information on these offerings continues to be added to the agency’s Coronavirus Information page.

As we continue to assess the ongoing impact the pandemic is having on the scientific workforce, NSF and the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) recognizes that it is particularly affecting individuals at critical career points and those at historically under-resourced institutions. While broad support for the community continues to be our priority, including in the opportunity to request supplements to existing awards, BIO wants to highlight the below programs that can support these specific groups. 

Researchers across the biological sciences should review these opportunities and share within their networks. In order to answer any questions you may have about these efforts, or the support available to the wider community, we will host a BIO-wide virtual office hour on Tuesday, March 2 from 11AM to 12 PM Eastern. recording of the session is available (Access Passcode: ++6ZM*=i).

On behalf of BIO and all of NSF, I thank you for your continued work and support during these trying times.


Joanne Tornow
NSF Assistant Director, BIO

Postdoctoral Research Fellows
As we did in FY 2020, BIO intends to increase the total amount of funding available through the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) Program to support early-career scientists as they embark on research projects investigating life from the genome to the ecosystem level.  

Early-career Investigators
BIO plans an increase to the number of Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards across the Directorate, sustaining the enhancement of these awards within BIO in FY 2020.

Mid-career Researchers
Through the Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research  (Transitions) program in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) and the NSF-wide Mid-Career Advancement (MCA) program, BIO will support researchers at the Associate Professor stage or equivalent, to substantively enhance and advance their research program through mutually beneficial partnerships. Transitions also supports those at the Full Professor stage, or equivalent.

Undergraduate Biology Education
BIO recently published a Dear Colleague Letter encouraging proposals for the Research Coordination Networks for Undergraduate Biology Education (RCN-UBE) Program, which seeks to improve undergraduate biology in different areas, including through the use of virtual learning, by leveraging the power of a collaborative network.

NSF WEBINAR RE: Center for Advancement & Synthesis of Open Environmental Data & Sciences

On February 23, 2021 at 3:00 PM EST  there will be a 1-hour webinar to provide information concerning the competition for a Center for Advancement & Synthesis of Open Environmental Data & Sciences (NSF 21-549).  The webinar is hosted by the NSF Divisions of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), Environmental Biology (DEB) and the Office for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC).  Following a brief presentation, program directors will be available to answer questions from participants.

Open biological and other environmental data are produced by NSF investments in research and infrastructure such as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network and the Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio), as well as by many other public and private initiatives in the U.S. and worldwide. These efforts afford opportunities for collaborative investigations that will advance our predictive understanding of life on Earth; publicly available data are burgeoning. Access to and creative use of these data can democratize science and diversify the STEM workforce as never before by making the same data available to and usable by everyone, from collaborative teams of experts to individual students, researchers, educators and policy makers. In response, NSF seeks to establish a Center fueled by open and freely available biological and other environmental data to catalyze novel scientific questions in environmental biology through the use of data-intensive approaches, team science and research networks, and training in the accession, management, analysis, visualization, and synthesis of large data sets. The Center will provide vision for speeding discovery through the increased use of large, publicly accessible datasets to address biological research questions through collaborations with scientists in other related disciplines.

Register in advance for this webinar:


Or an H.323/SIP room system:

    H.323: (US West) or (US East)

    Meeting ID: 161 025 1954

    Passcode: 179784

    SIP: 1610251954@sip.zoomgov.com

    Passcode: 179784

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Contact: Hannah Perry  hanperry@nsf.gov

Cross-Disciplinary Workshops on Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention

The Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO); Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE); Engineering (ENG); Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE); and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) at NSF are jointly supporting a series of interdisciplinary workshops (Feb. 16-17; Feb. 22-23; Feb 25-26; additional workshops planned) to engage research communities around the topic of Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention.  

The workshops will bring together experts in the biological, engineering, computer, and social and behavioral sciences to start conversations and catalyze ideas on how to advance scientific understanding beyond state-of-the-art in pre-emergence and emergence forecasting, real-time monitoring, and detection of inflection point events in order to prevent and mitigate the occurrence of future pandemics.  

Each of these workshops is expected to have up to 50 invited active participants. The community can participate in a listen-only mode and interact through chat and Q&A functions. Individuals are encouraged to participate in as many workshops as possible as each will cover a different aspect of the topic and all will be interdisciplinary in nature. Registration info and agendas are available at https://www.nsf.gov/events/event_summ.jsp?cntn_id=302023&org=CISE.  

Workshop 1 (Feb. 16-17, 2021): Rapidly detect and assess the threat of emerging pathogens through advanced biosensing, surveillance, and the tracking of human and non-human populations for risk modeling and pandemic preparedness. 

Workshop 2 (Feb. 22-23, 2021): Understanding of how the global behavior of an organism emerges from the interactions that begin occurring between components at the molecular, cellular, and physiological scales. 

Workshop 3 (Feb. 25-26, 2021): Description: Identification of pre-emergence and the predictions of rare events in multiscale, complex, dynamical systems 

Additional workshops are currently being planned. Stay tuned. 

1/11/2021 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Integrative Research in Biology Solicitation

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on January 11, 2021. We host these office hours from 1-2 pm EST on the 2nd Monday of every month. Each session has a designated theme, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics. Program Officers provided an introduction to the new Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO) solicitation (NSF 21-543).

The presentation and other documents are available here:

Slides (PDF)

PAPPG 20-1

IntBIO solicitation page

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

Q: What do you mean by subdisciplines in biology?

A: The solicitation purposefully does not define subdiscipline, because we think that the definition depends on the discipline that you are already in. We do not want to put artificial constraints on the research. We want to receive creative questions from the community and therefore want you to define what your subdiscipline is and how other subdisciplines will help answer the question you pose.

Q: Is the solicitation limited to collaboration between BIO subdisciplines only or could the project also involve collaboration between BIO and another field?

A: The IntBIO solicitation requires at least two subdisciplines in biology but there can also be collaboration with any other field outside biology as well.

Q: If we’ve already submitted a standard collaborative proposal that we think might be appropriate for IntBIO, is there a mechanism to flag or route the proposal to be reviewed for it?

A: You should contact the Program Officer of the program to which you have already submitted. IntBIO has some special solicitation-specific criteria that you may not have addressed in an already-submitted proposal. So, a first step would be to determine whether your current idea is a fit for IntBIO and then whether there are other elements that you need to incorporate into your current proposal. This might require you to withdraw and resubmit to IntBIO.

Q: Can I apply for this grant if I am not a US citizen?

A: The solicitation states the eligibility requirements. In brief, institutions of higher education having a campus located in the US and non-profit, non-academic organizations in the US are eligible to apply. If you have an appointment at such an institution and your institution deems you eligible to apply on its behalf, then you may apply to IntBIO.

Q: Can collaborators be located in other countries?

A: According to the NSF PAPPG 20-1, NSF will consider support for foreign organizations in certain circumstances, e.g., as long as the foreign organization makes a unique contribution or offers significant education, training or research opportunities to the US. See this link for details. It is highly recommended that you contact a Program Officer about your specific situation as during the review process, reviewers will be asked if the collaboration with a foreign lab is well-justified.

Q: Will IntBIO be replacing other integrative research programs within BIO?

A: No, IntBIO does not replace any program. It specifically replaces the Rules of Life Track previously contained in the core solicitations of BIO’s four divisions. IntBIO offers an additional opportunity for engaging in integrative research across subdisciplines.

Q: Aside from the integrative nature of the work, what other differences should we be aware of in these IntBIO proposals?

A: The research should address an overarching question that crosses scales of biological organization to make new discoveries about how biological systems function and interact. In addition, IntBIO proposals are expected to include a training and education plan aimed at producing a new generation of diverse scientists who are trained in integrative approaches to biological research.

Q: What share of the workload would be expected for two or three PIs? If two, it is 50/50 or can it be 75/25?

A: This is entirely dependent on the goals of the project and should be consistent with the contributions (intellectual and budgetary) that are needed to answer the questions posed.

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 February 10, 2021, from 2-3 pm EST and will provide instructions on how to prepare a proposal budget. We will be joined by representatives from the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA).

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

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

New Dimensions of Biodiversity (21-545) Solicitation Released

The new solicitation for Dimensions of Biodiversity (21-545) has just been released, with a deadline of March 26, 2021. The Dimensions of Biodiversity program has transformed how we describe and understand the scope and role of life on Earth. Successful proposals to this program fully integrate the genetic, phylogenetic, and functional dimensions of biodiversity.

This year’s solicitation is once again in cooperation with international funding agencies in China, Brazil, and South Africa. To further promote international biodiversity projects, the 2021 Dimensions of Biodiversity program is open to applications involving U.S.-China, U.S.-São Paulo, and U.S.-South Africa Collaborative Research Projects. Projects that involve only U.S. participants will not be considered in 2021.

The U.S. PIs submit to NSF and the collaborating Chinese, Brazilian, or South African PIs submit to their appropriate national funding agencies. In developing your proposal, please be aware that your team will need to submit joint proposals to different agencies. Note that the deadlines for NSF proposals may differ from those for the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) of Brazil, and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa. Projects supported by NSF and more than one of the international partner agencies will also be considered, but proposals must be submitted to each agency involved in the project.

Proposals that investigate marine biodiversity or marine environments are not eligible, and, if submitted, will be returned without review.

Any proposal submitted in response to this solicitation should be submitted in accordance with the current NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 20-1).

If you have questions about a potential project for Dimensions of Biodiversity, please send an inquiry to Dimensions@nsf.gov.