MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO SONAM AHLUWALIA AND LOURDES HOLLOWAY

Sonam Ahluwalia joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) as a program assistant in August 2020.

What was working at MCB like?

MCB is a unique division, where people are always looking to improve procedures, share creative ideas, and empower PIs. MCB is a place where any individual can uncover their talents, rise above challenges, and experience a true team environment. I was able to learn incredible skills during my time here and explore other career interests.

What was your first impression of NSF? How did that change over time?

My first impression of NSF was that it was just a government organization that funds science. However, over the years I have learned that NSF is beyond just a federal agency, but embodies forward-thinking, progression, efficiency, and love for all science.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

Do it! There is much to learn and more to gain.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Ms. Ahluwalia, “Sonam was the first person to start in MCB during the pandemic.  There was so much uncertainty, but she just took it in stride.  She learned quickly, volunteered for just about everything, and was unafraid of any challenge.  I can’t wait to see what she does next in her career. “

Lourdes Holloway joined MCB as a Pathways summer student in 2015 and began working as a program assistant in 2018. She became a program specialist in 2019.

What is next for you after your time at MCB?

My next step in my career remains at NSF, moving from BIO/MCB to the Division of Graduate Education in the Education and Human Resources Directorate as a program analyst. In this new position, I will be primarily supporting the Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

What was working at MCB like?

Starting out as a summer student working on records retirement to a program specialist working closely with the operations manager on division finances/operations, it’s been an amazing experience! I am so glad to have started my professional career with MCB, largely due to my colleagues and leadership. MCB is full of dedicated, supportive, and talented staff, which made this experience more rewarding. I appreciate that MCB supports cross-training and development in areas outside of your normal duties. It has allowed me to grow tremendously and develop new skills across various subjects. 

Where can undergraduate or graduate students learn about training opportunities at the NSF?

I would highly recommend current students and recent graduates interested in working at the NSF to consider the Pathways Program. It’s a great way to get your foot into the federal workforce and NSF offers a variety of experiences and positions. I had a great experience and it put me on the path I am still on today. Broadly, there are an incredible amount of training opportunities supported by the NSF. That includes programs run by the Division of Undergraduate Education and by the Division of Graduate Education as well as NSF funding opportunities for undergraduate students and graduate students.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said of Ms. Holloway, “It was my privilege to work closely with Lourdes on a number of projects.  I got to see firsthand how talented she is.  It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in her skills and accomplishments.  I hope her new Division knows what a jewel they have in Lourdes.   We all wish her the best in her new position.“

BROADER IMPACTS: WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW ARE THEY REVIEWED?

All NSF proposals are evaluated based on two criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. Intellectual Merit is reviewed on the value of the science, the potential for the planned investigation to result in impactful outcomes that advance knowledge, and the ability to assess success. But how does Broader Impacts work?

Occasionally, NSF Program Directors will see reviews of Broader impacts that say “The PI plans to do X, Y and Z broader impacts activities. This is a strength of the proposal.”  

We know this isn’t helpful for the PIs, and they aren’t helpful to the Program Director, so we ask reviewers to think about why Broader Impact efforts are a strength, how they benefit society or expand the reach of the science, and/or how they build capacity – either for the individual, their lab, or the institution.

We also want to know whether what the PI has laid out as a plan to accomplish those goals is doable and sufficiently resourced. Thoughtful evaluation of broader impacts will help the PI in carrying out their work, help NSF, and lead to better broader impacts activities with more benefit to society. MCB encourages reviewers to provide reviews that they themselves would find useful as PIs – constructive evaluations highlighting aspects of the proposed activity that were done “just right” as well as aspects that could be improved.  Good reviews help PIs improve not just their proposals, but also the works that eventually gets funded. 

In writing the Broader Impacts statement, we encourage the PI to be thoughtful in what they want to accomplish and how they will accomplish it. Is the activity something that interests them and has measurable outcomes? Are funds requested to support the activity or to help with assessment. Examples of Broader Impact efforts can include teaching, training, and learning; broadening participation of underrepresented groups; building or enhancing partnerships (including across multiple sectors); broad dissemination of the science or technological understanding; enhancements to infrastructure both at your home institution and in developing countries; and/or local impacts like policy or land use.

What are some resources to help think about Broader Impacts (and evaluate them if you are a reviewer)?

NSF provides PIs and reviewers with information about both merit review criteria in the Proposal and Award Policy and Procedure Guide (link).  Additional information on Broader Impacts activities can be found in this document or at this blog post. You can also view the recording and slides of MCB’s Broader Impacts Virtual Office Hour.

The NSF funded Center for Advancing Research Impacts in Society provides helpful guidance on how to evaluate broader impacts in this brochure.

And, of course, the MCB blog has posted about Broader Impacts – including some examples – in the past. You can read all the posts tagged as “Broader Impacts” at https://mcbblog.nsfbio.com/tag/broader-impacts/.

DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTER: NSF REGIONAL INNOVATION ENGINES (RIE) PROGRAM

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) newly established Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) has announced the NSF Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) program. This bold new initiative aims to significantly expanding our Nation’s innovation capacity by investing in key areas of national interest and economic promise, in every region of the United States. To accomplish this ambitious goal, the program will fund the development of Regional Innovation Engines that will cultivate and sustain activities in use-inspired research and development, translation of innovation to practice, entrepreneurship, partnership and stakeholder development, and workforce development to realize thriving regional innovation ecosystems. The outcomes of this program will enhance the nation’s economic and industrial competitiveness as well as national security.

The NSF Engines program provides up to ten years of funding per Engine award with a maximum budget of $160M, with up to an additional two years of funding to support development activities before creating an Engine. The program solicits proposals corresponding to three award types, as outlined below.

  • Type-1 awards are development awards that provide seed funding to enable awardees to lay the groundwork for establishing a new NSF Engine, with the goal of catalyzing a new innovation ecosystem for a specific topic area. Type-1 awards are intended to allow teams to prepare for the submission of a successful Type-2 proposal. The duration of a Type-1 award is up to 24 months, with a maximum proposed budget of $1M.
  • Type-2 awards are intended to support awardees representing a geographical region of service that are well-primed to support a regional innovation ecosystem. Type-2 awards provide funding for up to 10 years, with a total maximum budget of $160M.

Submission of a Type-1 development proposal is not required for the submission of Type-2 proposal. See the NSF Engines Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for further details on the award types and the differences between the various types.

The BAA specifies proposal deadlines for both proposal types. Prior to submission of proposals, teams are required to submit a Concept Outline, which is due June 30, 2022, for both proposal types. Approval of a Concept Outline from a cognizant NSF Program Officer is required to submit a full proposal.

For more information about the NSF Engines program including frequently asked questions and upcoming webinars, visit the NSF Engines program website. Additionally, visit the NSF Engines BAA website to view proposal deadlines and information on award types and differences.   See MCB’s Blog Post from May 10 to learn more about NSF sponsored Bioeconomy Workshops that address critical national needs relevant to Engines.

NSF/BIO AND CHE WILL FUND ACQUISITION OF HELIUM RECOVERY SYSTEMS

NSF recognizes the concerns in the research community associated with the national and global helium shortage and the impact on critical research infrastructure such as advanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy systems and other instruments with cooled magnets.  In response, the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO) and the Division of Chemistry (CHE) in the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) announce their willingness to support the acquisition of helium recovery systems via the NSF Options to Address Helium Supply Shortage Concerns DCL. Given the limited availability of funds, priority for the support will be given to:

  • Existing NSF/BIO or NSF/MPS/CHE investigators
  • Shared use, multi-user, or core-lab academic facilities
  • Applications from under resourced institutions

Specific submission instructions for NSF/BIO and for NSF/MPS/CHE are contained within the DCL.  For BIO proposers, proposals are accepted at any time.  For CHE proposers, proposals should be submitted during the October 1 to October 31, 2022 submission window.

Special Office Hour addressing Helium Recovery Opportunities

In response to substantial early interest, we have scheduled a Special Virtual Office Hour webinar from 4-5 PM (EDT) on Friday, June 10, to provide a quick briefing from program staff in both Divisions, followed by extensive Q&A to help community members prepare for and take advantage of this opportunity.  Anyone planning to pursue this funding opportunity is urged to participate in the webinar by registering here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. For those unable to attend, slides will be posted on our CHE Office Hour website: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=300572&org=CHE

Attendees requiring closed captioning should contact the Chemistry division at ncarey@nsf.gov at least 48 hours in advance to ensure that this service is available.

MCB ANNOUNCES THE SECOND VERSION OF SENTINELS: DREAM SENTINELS

MCB has replaced the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), Sentinel Cells for the Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (NSF 20-105) with a new DCL:  

Sentinel Systems that Detect, Recognize, Actuate, and Mitigate Emergent Biological Threats (DREAM Sentinels).

In this new Sentinels DCL, MCB again partners with the Directorate for Engineering’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems to call for proposals to be submitted to core programs that address novel synthetic biology approaches to quickly sense and respond to the next emergent biological threat prior to its evolution in its host or transmission to human populations.

All proposals submitted in response to this DCL should include biosensing and bioactuation elements that address a biological threat. The biosensing element should leverage the power of modern biotechnology and deliver robust and specific recognition of the biological threat. The results of bioactuation should alert the user, destroy the threat, protect the host, or initiate an immune response or other strategies that would mitigate the threat. Other possible areas of interest are included in the DCL.

Proposals submitted in response to this DCL should have a title prefaced with “DREAM Sentinels:”. Proposals should be submitted to the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster where proposals are accepted without deadline and are reviewed as they are received.

Investigators interested in submitting a proposal are strongly encouraged to contact Anthony Garza, aggarza@nsf.gov. More information on the DCL can be found here.

It is anticipated that up to $3,000,000 will be allocated annually for DREAM Sentinels awards, subject to the availability of funds.

BIOTECHNOLOGY/BIOECONOMY WORKSHOPS ADDRESS CRITICAL NATIONAL NEEDS RELEVANT TO NSF REGIONAL INNOVATION ENGINES

The Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO), Engineering (ENG) Geosciences (GEO), Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), in collaboration with the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnership (TIP), have led a series of workshops that catalyzed community engagement in topics relevant to the Regional Innovation Engines (Engines) funding opportunity that seeks to expand our Nation’s innovation capacity and enhance the Nation’s economic and industrial competitiveness.

The workshops focused on topics that addressed how advances in biotechnology and other fields could advance the U.S. bioeconomy to solve pressing societal problems.  Workshops were facilitated by University Industry Demonstration Partnerships (UIDP) and brought together stakeholders from academia, industry, government, and private foundations.

More information and links to the workshop reports can be found below.

A final workshop on Innovation Ecosystems for Adaptive Sustainable Health  will be held on May 10-11, 2022.

Once finalized, all workshop reports will be made available on the UIDP website, check back here for more information.

Common topics discussed in the workshops that are crucial in establishing successful Engines include:

  • Advancements in fundamental science and technology
  • Developing data repositories on shared and standardized platforms
  • Working across the value chain to translate innovation into impact
  • Identifying best practices in establishing partnerships and stakeholder engagement
  • Collaborating with social scientists to ensure effective messaging that fortifies public trust of new technologies
  • Establishing a resilient and sustainable supply chain
  • Establishing robust cross-disciplinary training and education programs

Learn more about the Engines Program
Individuals interested in Regional Innovation Engines should consult the Broad Agency Announcement – including the FAQs, which lay out possible topics of interest.  Also, consider attending the webinars hosted by the TIP Directorate, the first of which is May 17, at 1 PM EDT. The link for registration is here.

Upcoming Webinar: Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO)

Please join the Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) program for a webinar on Tuesday, May 10th, 2021 from 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT. There will be a short presentation, followed by an open Q&A session with cognizant Program Officers.

BRC-BIO is a new NSF program intended to enhance research capacity and broaden participation among new faculty of biology at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs), and other universities and colleges that are not among the nation’s most research-intensive and resourced institutions.

Some key information from the solicitation:

  • Principal investigators must be at the Assistant Professor rank (or tenure-track equivalent) with service for no more than 3 years at their current institution by the submission date.
  • Proposed projects should help enable the establishment of research programs that will be competitive for future research proposals to the NSF (e.g., CAREER) or other agencies. Projects should enrich undergraduate research experiences and thereby grow the STEM workforce.
  • Projects can include biology-focused research collaborations among those in academia, or partnerships with industry or other non-academic partners that advance the PI’s research program. 
  • Next submission window:  June 01 – June 30, 2022

Please register in advance for the webinar below, and share this invitation with anyone you think may be interested:

https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_XRIhEdP9S4e9nYOsc1axpg

Click here for a recap of the previous webinars for the BRC-BIO program. If you have additional questions, please reach out to the BRC-BIO working group via email (BRC-BIO@nsf.gov).

MCB Congratulates its FY 2022 CAREER Awardees and Reminds the Community of the Upcoming CAREER Solicitation Deadline

MCB Congratulates its newest cohort of CAREER awardees.  The NSF Faculty Early CAREER Development Award (CAREER) is the most prestigious award that NSF gives to early career investigators, enabling these new faculty to embark on an academic career that integrates research and education. In Fiscal year 2022, MCB funded 33 CAREER awards to new faculty in 18 states, including 5 EPSCoR states, and at a diverse set of institutions, including those that are research intensive, primarily undergraduate, and minority-serving. 

Photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem

The CAREER awards in the FY22 MCB portfolio covered topics across the entire spectrum of MCB-funded science from the molecular to cellular, including topics such as genome stability, DNA repair, intracellular signaling, and organelle formation. The projects used computational and experimental tools including those from biophysics and synthetic biology. Some exciting projects include:

  • The development of novel approaches to understand how proteins insert themselves into cellular membranes
  • How oxidative damage to DNA is repaired by cellular enzymes
  • How cells determined which duplicated genes were retained or lost during evolution
  • How components of bacterial immune systems can be utilized as tools for improving medicine or crop production.

A distinguishing criterion of CAREER awards is the integration of research with education, which is often described in the context of broader impacts.  Broader impacts efforts undertaken by this year’s awardees will engage high school students and their teachers, as well as community college, undergraduate and graduate students, in projects that range from course-based research experiences to activities involving inflatable project domes that can be transported across schools. In some of the most innovative activities, undergraduate students will test for water pollution by visually monitoring a biological motor, graduate students will use smartphone optical microscopes and microfluidic technologies to design devices for undergraduate classrooms, high school students will be introduced to synthetic biology through modular education kits, and STEM students will partner with journalism faculty to enhance their ability to effectively communicate science to the non-scientific community.

MCB was fortunate to have received support from the American Rescue Plan to enable the support of so many early career faculty.  

A complete listing of the new MCB CAREER award recipients can be found here (link).

How to Submit to the CAREER Program

The latest update of the CAREER solicitation (NSF 22-586) was recently released. 

Changes include:

  • Proposal submissions must be through Research.gov
  • There are new guidelines for letters from the Department Chair
  • Submission Deadline is Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Potential proposers are encouraged to read the full text of the solicitation. Submissions of CAREER proposals are encouraged from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and are especially encouraged from women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

Related upcoming events:

MCB is holding a Virtual Office Hour on May 11th, 2-3 p.m. EST about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER). You can register for the office hour here.


Interagency Synthetic Biology Working Group (SBWG) website now live

Snapshot of SBWG website homepage

Research in synthetic and engineering biology is applicable to a variety of sectors, including biomanufacturing, defense, energy, agriculture, and medicine, all of which can be used to support our nation’s growing bioeconomy. The Interagency Synthetic Biology Working Group (SBWG) works to facilitate coordination and collaboration across the United States Government agencies as it pertains to synthetic and engineering biology. The SBWG’s website is now live and can be found at beta.nsf.gov/sbwg and lists available funding opportunities, funding agencies, events, and other resources.

The SBWG, which includes representatives from agencies such as the NSF, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, National Institutes of Standards, USDA, NASA and Department of Defense, was charged by the Biological Sciences Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council with the overarching goal of promoting interagency science and technology policy coordination.

BIO hosts annual HBCU-EiR Proposal Writing Workshops

On June 7 and June 13, program directors from the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) will be hosting two proposal writing workshops geared toward faculty members who teach and conduct research at HBCUs. The proposal writing workshop includes information on the basics of merit review as well as a session on writing  a review and participating in a mock panel. While it is tailored to the Excellence in Research (EiR) program, the workshop is not restricted to faculty interested in applying to the EiR program. If you would like to attend the workshop, please email mcbwebreg@nsf.gov to obtain a registration form before April 28.

This is a follow-up to the webinars that BIO hosted in April, geared toward faculty members who are interested in applying to NSF’s HBCU EiR program. The slides from those webinars can be found below.