Re-integrating Biology Town Halls

Learn about this exciting new initiative and register for town hall discussions from the Office of the Assistant Director’s blog here or below.

“Biology has the goal of understanding the processes that generate and sustain life.  Despite this unifying principle, the actual practice of modern biology has become increasingly fragmented into subdisciplines due, in part, to specialized approaches required for deep study of narrowly defined problems.  BIO aims to encourage a unification of biology. Our goal is to stimulate creative integration of diverse biological disciplines using innovative experimental, theoretical, and computational approaches to discover underlying principles operating across all hierarchical levels of life, from biomolecules to organisms, species, ecosystems, and biomes.

Earlier this year we asked you, as members of the biological sciences community, for high-level ideas on the research questions and topics that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment. The responses from across the country offered a broad range of fundamental biological questions spanning the scales of biological organization. BIO now wants to grow and enrich the conversation with a view to priming the formation of new NSF-supported research teams around these questions.

To that end, we invite you to register for one of several Virtual Town Hall discussions, which will take place the week of September 16, 2019. These events will help identify themes for more focused, in-person discussions that will take place later in the fall – fertile soil for germination of new, foundational cross-disciplinary ideas that will unify and advance the biological sciences.

More details can be found at https://reintegratingbiology.org/.”

Next Steps for NEON

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) became fully operational this year, and public sources of data are now freely available. Additionally, a recent Dear Colleague Letter announced an intent to compete management of future operation and maintenance of the network. Read more about it on Bio Buzz, BIO’s blog from the office of the Assistant Director.

TOP FIVE TIPS FOR PREPARING AN AWARD BUDGET

Whether you are a first-time investigator or a seasoned NSF-funded researcher, a correctly prepared award budget can help you prevent delays in starting your research. We asked MCB program directors to tell us their top tips on completing a proposal budget. While these tips are helpful, MCB reminds PIs to always refer to the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedure Guide (PAPPG) for guidance on proposal submission. In addition, follow any specific instructions or restrictions included in the program announcement or program solicitation to which you are applying.

Tip 1: JUSTIFY COSTS LINE BY LINE, NOTING THE LINE NUMBER OF THE BUDGET CATEGORY IN THE BUDGET JUSTIFICATION.
Tip 2: GRADUATE TUITION AND/OR HEALTH BENEFITS MUST BE PLACED IN (G.6. OTHER) RATHER THAN (F. PARTICIPANT SUPPORT).
Tip 3: WHEN SUBMITTING A SUPPLEMENTAL FUNDING REQUEST, THE INDIRECT COST RATE SHOULD BE THE SAME AS THE PARENT AWARD.
Tip 4: REQUESTS FOR MORE THAN 2 MONTHS OF SALARY SUPPORT FOR SENIOR PERSONNEL MUST BE CLEARLY JUSTIFIED. 
Tip 5: IF IT IS UNIVERSITY POLICY TO NOT CHARGE INDIRECT COST ON A SPECIFIC EXPENSE, THIS SHOULD BE STATED IN BUDGET JUSTIFICATION.

MCB Congratulates Three 2019 PECASE Recipients

Three MCB-funded researchers are among 314 recipients of the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The selections were recently announced by President Trump. The three are among 80 nominated by NSF. A total of nine recipients are from NSF’s Directorate of Biology.

The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology. The award was established in 1996 and is coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Congratulations to:

Dr. Lynette Cegelski, Stanford University (Award #1453247), “for her outstanding research in the field of solid-state NMR spectroscopy to develop novel strategies to examine bacterial amyloid fibers, and for providing unparalleled detail into the structure and function of native curli amyloid fibers and their interactions with amyloid dyes and their cognate biofilm polysaccharide partners at the atomic and molecular levels;”

Dr. Megan Thielges, Indiana University, Bloomington (Award #1552996), “for her leadership in the development and application of high-resolution infrared spectroscopy to protein dynamics and function, and for her commitment to reduce barriers for female participation in science;” and

Dr. Edward O’Brien, Pennsylvania State University (Award #1553291), “for his outstanding research in the field of computational molecular biophysics, for increasing the understanding of the influence of protein synthesis on nascent protein behavior, and for developing a creative outreach program to introduce high school students to cutting edge research opportunities.”

DATA MANAGEMENT PLANS: TIPS FROM DCL 19-069

Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) 19-069 was recently issued to highlight two key practices of effective data management and two tools to produce a data management plan (DMP) that meets NSF requirements.

Two key practices:

1. Persistent IDs for Data: Make your data discoverable, citable, and linkable by assigning a persistent identifier, often available through your home institution.

2. Machine-readable DMP: Ensure that the plan for managing, disseminating, and sharing your data and associated resources is in a format that can be read by a computer.  Using a standardized template is a good way to make the elements of the plan clear and easily modifiable as needs of the project evolve over time.

Two key tools:

DCL 19-069 cites two free tools for creating machine-readable DMPs. Neither is required to be used.

A graphic of a wrench against a background of a cog

1. ezDMP: This tool was developed to ensure that proposals submitted to NSF include clearly organized DMPs. Funded through an EAGER grant, (NSF award 1649703), ezDMP includes links to updates from the Directorate of Biology on DMPs as well as a list of biology-specific repositories.

2. DMPTool: This tool provides a click-through wizard for creating a well-organized DMP based on templates from over 250 institutions and nearly 40 funding agencies, including NSF.

Other sources of information about NSF’s data management policy include:

All proposals submitted to NSF must include a data management plan regardless of the amount of data the project is expected to produce. The DMP requirement supports NSF’s policy on data sharing, which in turn, complies with a memorandum issued in 2013 requiring public availability of federally funded research and digital scientific data.

(Image credits: “Tips”: Aha-Soft/Shutterstock.com. Other: smahok/Shutterstock.com)

Summer School at NIST and DCL for collaboration with NIST

This is a logo montage that includes the NSF logo and the logo for CHRNS (the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering)

The Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering (CHRNS) is holding a week-long course from July 22-26 at the Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) in Gaithersburg, MD. Registration for the class, titled, “CHRNS Summer School on Methods and Applications of Neutron Spectroscopy,” and other information about the course is available on line

To assist the research community in accessing NIST instrumentation for conducting fundamental research, NSF has created Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) 11-066. Titled “NSF-NIST Interaction in Basic and Applied Scientific Research in BIO, ENG & MPS,” the DCL provides supplemental funding to enable investigators holding active awards from NSF to conduct relevant portions of their work on-site at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Funding requests may include travel expenses and per diem as well as collaboration by principle investigators (PIs), co-PIs, post-doctoral scholars and both undergraduate and graduate students.

The DCL facilitates collaborative research and educational activities between NSF-funded investigators and science and engineering staff at NIST. In practical terms, this means that NIST provides not only access to its laboratories, but also instrument specialists. “This frees the biologist to focus on the research rather than on learning new technology,” notes Engin Serpersu, program director in the Molecular Biophysics cluster of MCB.

NIST’s half-dozen laboratories and user facilities included in the DCL align with MCB’s goal to support research that incorporates theories and concepts from physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering and computer science. For example, says Serpersu, “The opportunity to conduct research using neutron scattering technology is extremely useful for discerning the structural and dynamic properties of biological systems.”

Read the DCL for more information and contact your program director to discuss your request.

BROADER IMPACTS — IF IT WORKS, KEEP DOING IT

Broader Impacts are activities which advance societal goals through either the research itself or through complimentary efforts that advance the larger enterprise of science. Broader Impact activities don’t have to be original, one-of-a-kind ideas. However, they should clearly address a need, be well-planned and documented, and include both a thoughtful budget and a thorough assessment plan. Principle Investigator Allyson O’Donnell uses near-peer mentoring to pair high school students from under-represented minorities with undergraduates in the O’Donnell lab at the University of Pittsburgh, and assesses the outcomes to identify impact.

High school student Hanna Barsouk (Taylor Allderdice High School) and undergraduate student Ceara McAtee (University of Pittsburgh) work on a project in the O’Donnell Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Goals of the Broader Impact activity: “The near-peer program focuses on bringing underrepresented minority high school students into the lab and providing an opportunity for them to develop their passion for science. Undergraduates who serve as mentors have measurably stronger engagement with their work in the lab.”

Recruitment: “The high school students volunteer in the lab during the school year and then can apply to participate in more research-intensive activities during the summer. The summer internships are paid, and this is currently funded through an REU supplement as part of my CAREER award.” (NSF award 1902859)

How it works: “I pair the high school students with an undergraduate mentor so that there is a near-peer mentor connection with someone closer in age than a grad student or post doc. We have found that this gives the undergraduate a stronger sense of engagement and ownership in their research project. Plus, based on our assessments, this mentoring experience makes it more likely that the undergraduates will participate in outreach activities in the future. From the high school students’ perspectives, they have someone they are more comfortable asking questions of and who can help give them advice on navigating the application process for universities. Of course, this is in addition to having myself and other team members as mentors.”

How do you measure impact? “We have used the Grinnell College SURE survey [Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences] and other reflective assessments of this approach and find that both the undergraduate and high school students report significantly enhanced learning experiences. Specifically, the high school students show higher learning gains in understanding the research process and how to think like a scientist, while the undergraduate students gain more knowledge about science literacy and confidence in their ability to engage the community in science.”

High school students Sara Liang (left) and Hannah Barsouk proudly display a box of plasmids they created to support their research project at the O’Donnell lab. The two attend Taylor Allderdice High School.

Future plans? “We first used this system of pairing high school students with undergraduate mentors while the O’Donnell lab was located at Duquesne University. We worked with eight students in 2017 and six students in 2018 and we expanded to other labs in the Department of Biological Sciences. We hope to expand the program here at the University of Pittsburgh as well, where it will also be supported by our fantastic outreach team.”


CAREER DEADLINE REMINDER- July 17, 2019

doodles of bology images, books, a heart, an axon, cells, fungus, insects, chemical formulas, and leaves

NSF CAREER proposals submitted to BIO are due July 17, 2019 by 5PM submitter’s local time. The CAREER program (NSF 17-537) is an NSF-wide solicitation offering the agency’s most prestigious award for early career faculty. CAREER awards are intended to be the foundation of a lifetime of leadership, research, and education, and in MCB are awarded in any research area supported by MCB core programs. CAREER awardees are also eligible to receive the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

Applicants with questions can read these FAQs or contact the relevant division representative. All proposals should be submitted in accordance with the revised NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 19-1), which is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after February 25, 2019.

continued doodle of biology things, plant cells, sugar structures, DNA, a bird, root systems, cell structures

Photocredit: Drawlab19/Shutterstock.com

MCB Welcomes Summer Intern Jamie Helberg

Each year the National Science Foundation hosts summer interns from across the United States. This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences staff is excited to welcome Jamie Helberg. Read below to learn more about Jamie and the project she’s undertaking for MCB.

Welcome Jamie Helberg

I grew up in Los Angeles, California and am the proud daughter of Cuban and Colombian immigrants. This fall, I will be entering my senior year at Pitzer College. Pitzer is a member of the Claremont Colleges-a unique consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions. I am majoring in Environmental Analysis with a Spanish minor. Following my bachelor’s degree, I aspire to attend graduate school to study agriculture and food security. This summer, I will be focusing on whether resilience and productivity of applicants to MCB awards correlates with demographics by evaluating resubmission rates. Overall, I hope to consolidate this data in a manner that coherently recognizes how NSF funding can lead to groundbreaking research while simultaneously diversifying our nation’s scientific discoverers.