HBCU – EiR Informational Webinars: April 14 and 22

HBCU-Excellence in Research informational webinars will be held April 14 , 10-11 am EST, and April 22, 2-3 pm EST.

In April, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) will offer an informational webinar reviewing relevant highlights of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU – EiR) solicitation (NSF 20-542). The webinar will introduce program directors from MCB, provide an overview of the solicitation, and provide tips and best practices for submitting competitive proposals. The webinar will also include an introduction to each of the four divisions of NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO):

  • MCB – Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences
  • DBI – Division of Biological Infrastructure
  • DEB – Division of Environmental Biology
  • IOS – Integrative and Organismal Systems

Faculty from eligible institutions are encouraged to attend the webinar. Registration is required; to register, click on the link that corresponds to the date you plan to attend.


In June, MCB will provide webinar-based, interactive workshops featuring the merit review process. The workshops are open to faculty and staff at HBCU institutions who have completed a required pre-work assignment and registered to participate.

***Data indicates that participants who attend the webinar-based workshop tend to submit stronger proposals that are funded at higher rates than non-participants.***

A series of emails about the June workshops is currently being sent to department chairs or grants offices at HBCUs. If you work at an HBCU and wish to receive these emails directly, send your request to webreg@nsf.gov. Please share this information with appropriate faculty and staff.

WELCOME AND FAREWELL: DIVISION LEADERSHIP CHANGES

The division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) welcomes Dr. Theresa Good as its new, permanent, division director. Dr. Good replaces Dr. Basil Nikolau, who ended a three-year term as a rotating division director on March 28. Dr. Brent Miller will serve a three-month term as MCB’s deputy division director.

Dr. Theresa Good, Division Director, completed a doctoral degree in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She began her career as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University, where she was tenured. She then worked as a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research focus was on using bioengineering tools to understand the role of protein aggregation in disease.

Dr. Good began her service with the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a program director in the Directorate for Engineering from 2010-2012 and then in MCB from 2012-2015, where she managed programs in biotechnology, biochemical engineering, and systems and synthetic biology. In 2015, she assumed the role of deputy division director. In this role she managed all aspects of division performance, including both operations and the division’s role in funding the leading edges of fundamental research in biology.

Asked what she hopes to focus on in her first year as MCB division director, Dr. Good said “I’d like to see us find a way to encourage more bold science in the submissions MCB receives from the science community. I want to see us working on opportunities to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. I think there is a need for more two-way communication between MCB and the science community.”

Dr. Brent Miller, acting division director, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences

Dr. Brent Miller, Acting Deputy Division Director, earned a doctoral degree in cell and developmental biology at the University of California, Davis. He served as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow at NSF through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from 2006-2008 before working as a science advisor at Wellcome Trust, where he managed the human physiology portfolio.

After Wellcome, Brent worked as a research staff member at IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, where he worked with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop the Obama administration’s National Bioeconomy Blueprint. He worked most recently as a health science policy analyst at the National Institute of Mental Health leading the effort to develop the institution’s strategic plan. He returned to NSF/BIO in 2015 to work as a science advisor in the Office of the Assistant Director, where he developed the directorate’s capabilities in strategic portfolio analysis. 

Dr. Miller’s experience in developing science vision and strategic planning, as well as his expertise in data analytics, will help ensure MCB’s contribution to NSF’s mission of building the future via investments in discovery and innovation.

Dr. Basil Nikolau, former division director for the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences

Dr. Basil Nikolau, outgoing Division Director, joined MCB as a division director in 2018, ably leading MCB during his three-year term. His love of science was a hallmark of his leadership, as well as his empathy and compassion for others. These qualities helped Dr. Nikolau keep morale high during both the 2019 lapse in appropriations and the current pandemic. He helped channel the division’s energy and concern during periods of social unrest into development of new diversity, equity, and inclusion activities. Dr. Nikolau’s commitment to both science and people was unwavering; as a result, MCB has thrived. MCB wishes Dr. Nikolau a warm farewell and wishes him much success in his next adventure

Hacking is a Broader Impact Activity

Members of Team Supergene, one of the winning teams, discussed their process in a virtual meeting with hackathon organizers. Clockwise from top left: Sherif Negm (team captain, junior); Dr. John Sproul (postdoc); Dr. Lucas Hemmer (postdoc); Xiaolu Wei (graduate student).

Advances in basic biological research methods have generated large amounts of data scattered across divergent datasets and disciplines.

Recognizing this, MCB-funded CAREER-awardee Dr. Amanda Larracuente (MCB-1844693) has developed a broader impact activity to build data literacy, organizing  week-long hackathons open to contestants of any skill level.

The first hackathon, held this past August, was a team effort between Larracuente, Matthew McCall, and Andrew McDavid, her co-chairs on the working group on Life and Biomedical Data Science at the University of Rochester’s Goergen Institute for Data Science. The challenge was to make predictions about a high-dimensional genomic dataset. “For this challenge, it helped to have teams with diverse experiences in computer programming, statistics, and some biology background. It was great to see participants with different backgrounds forming teams!” says Larracuente. Competitors entered the contest either solo or in self-assembled teams of four. Lone entrants who wanted a team experience were assigned to teams based on their self-assessed skills in statistics, programming, and GitHub. Participation was open to anyone enrolled at the University of Rochester, Larracuente’s home institution, and all skill levels and educational background were welcome.

In all, 44 contestants comprised 17 teams, including eight teams of undergraduates. Each day during the five-day contest, teams submitted their predictions to GitHub (a cloud-based hosting service for managing data repositories) and received feedback from the organizers. One important lesson learned, observes Larracuente, is to take advantage of existing campus outreach efforts to broaden recruitment efforts.

Her efforts are motived by her passion for increasing the participation of women and other populations traditionally underrepresented in the field of computational biology. “I really want to help students build confidence in their computational skillset,” says Larracuente.

 She may be succeeding. Khoa Hoang, an undergraduate majoring in microbiology and data science observed, “This has been a cool and beneficial learning experience for many of us…[the hackathon] motivated me a lot to take more data science courses. This is our first time analyzing high dimensional data and it has been a very interesting journey.”

*The division of Molecular and Cellular Bioscience (MCB) recently released a Dear Colleague Letter inviting proposals for conferences focusing on ways to both collate distributed information and synthesize data to advance research. Follow this link for more information on “Conferences to Prepare for the Transformation of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research through Information Synthesis and Integration” (NSF 21-017).

Broadening Participation: New Funding Opportunity

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) to facilitate cultural changes in the biological sciences to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion: “LEAding cultural change through Professional Societies (LEAPS) of Biology.”

The DCL encourages professional societies to submit proposals to facilitate changes that lead to broader participation at all levels of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce in biology. Such changes are expected to lead to a community of biologists, including those in positions of authority, that more fully reflects the demographic constitution of the US population.

Applicants may submit conference proposals, planning proposals, or proposals to develop a Research Coordination Network (RCN). See the announcement for submission details.

Proposals submitted by May 14, 2021, may be funded during FY 21; proposals submitted after May 14 will be considered for funding in FY 22.

Additionally NSF is offering a webinar for the LEAPS program on March 24th at 2 p.m. EST.  We encourage representatives from societies across the biological sciences and those societies focused on broadening participation (SACNAS, AISES, ABRCMS) and/or from the NSF INCLUDES National Network to participate. Individuals from 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 are also encouraged to attend.

If interested, please register in advance at:

https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_fMuNjibLT4OZeAq4VLQNCg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Fourth Interdisciplinary Workshop in Series on Pandemic Prediction and Prevention Approaching

The fourth and concluding workshop of a series of interdisciplinary workshops to engage research communities around the topic of Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention will be held Monday and Tuesday, March 22-23.

Registration is required. Click here for more information about the workshop.

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

Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

Reposted from Bio Buzz, the blog of the Assistant Director of Biology.

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).

BIO-wide Virtual Office Hours Recap – How to Write a Great Budget

Repost from DEBrief, the blog of the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB).

The Directorate for 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 (DGA) to provide insight on how to prepare NSF budgets.

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 the grant is 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 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 are also in this category.

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

A: There must be an 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 the 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. View the presentation and future office hours dates on MCB’s Office Hours page.

Webinar and Update to the “Future Manufacturing (FM)” Solicitation

NSF has updated the “Future Manufacturing (FM)” solicitation (NSF 21-564) by revising the goal:

The goal of Future Manufacturing is to support fundamental research and education of a future workforce to overcome scientific, technological, educational, economic and social barriers in order to enable new manufacturing capabilities that do not exist today.

A webinar about the solicitation will be held Friday, Feb. 26, 1-2 pm EST. Registration for the webinar is required and can be found here.

Interested researchers can find a description of the opportunity and a link to the details on the Future Manufacturing program’s web page. Full details, requirements, and review criteria can be found in the solicitation itself. The NSF has also posted an overview of the Future Manufacturing awards made in 2020. Submit further questions to FutureManufacturing@nsf.gov.

BIO and COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

Updated 5 Mar 2021: A recording of the session is now available (Access Passcode: ++6ZM*=i).

From BioBuzz, the blog of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO): “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.”

A BIO-wide virtual office hour event covering how BIO is supporting those impacted will be held Tuesday, Mar. 2, 11 am – 12 pm EST. For more information on these efforts and to register for the office hour, read the full post, linked here.