Author: nsfmcb

WHEN SHOULD I SUBMIT MY PROPOSAL?

Since MCB switched from one fixed deadline per year to no deadlines for accepting proposals to core programs*, Program Directors have received many questions from the community, chief among them being “when should I submit my proposal?”  Answers to the most common questions are provided below.

Q. When should I submit my proposal?

A. You should submit your proposal when you think it is ready.  There really isn’t a best time of year to submit a proposal to MCB core programs.

Q. How do I know when my proposal is ready?

A. We recommend that you ask colleagues within and outside of your immediate research area to read the proposal and provide critical feedback.  Do take their feedback seriously, because if they identify an issue, it is likely that reviewers will as well.  

Q. Are the funding rates different throughout the year?  Am I more likely to get funded if I submit early or later in the fiscal year?

A. The funding rates are the same throughout the year.  Program Directors plan their budgets based on proposal submission data from prior years such that proposals in every panel have the same chance of being funded.

Q. When are panels held?  I want to make sure my proposal gets reviewed promptly.

A. Panels are held throughout the year to ensure timely review no matter when a proposal is submitted.  Program Directors schedule a panel as soon as enough proposals are available to review as a group.  We also try to distribute the workload associated with panels on MCB staff and peer reviewers evenly through the year so that timing does not affect the quality of merit review.

Q. Does it take longer to get my reviews back now that MCB has switched to no-deadline?

A. Actually, MCB gets reviews back to PIs faster on average under no-deadline. Currently, the average time to decision is between 4.5 to 5 months. 

Q. Is there a time of year when it takes longer to get my proposal reviewed?

A. Reviews take a bit longer when a proposal is submitted in early summer.  NSF’s fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30.  In order to expend all of the funds appropriated by Congress for a given fiscal year, Program Directors have to submit their award recommendations to the Division Director in time for the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) to finalize all awards by September 30.  Therefore, during early summer Program Directors focus on finalizing award recommendations instead of setting up new panels.  Some proposals submitted during this period might take one or two extra months to complete review.   

Q. Is it true that there is a limit to the number of proposals that an investigator can submit in one year?

A. No.  When BIO first switched to no deadline, there was a cap on proposal submission.  However, that cap was lifted in 2018.  Investigators may submit more than one proposal a year.  But remember, a declined proposal can only be resubmitted after it has undergone substantial revision. 

* Certain special programs of interest to the MCB community have deadlines, which are noted in the summary available through NSF’s Funding Search.  Whether the program of interest to you has a deadline or not, be sure to read the solicitation carefully and reach out to a Program Director with any questions.  

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO STEVE CLOUSE

Steve Clouse has been a program director in MCB for six and a half years. He was hired as a full-time rotating program director (VSEE) in MCB in January of 2016, working on site at the previous NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA. Steve switched to part-time program director in August of 2017, working remotely from Oregon and traveling to Alexandria, VA for panels and retreats.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?

There have been many highlights. To work with my MCB and other NSF colleagues to fund the best possible science in cell and molecular biology and broaden my scientific perspective from a focus on my own individual research to interdisciplinary approaches, was definitely a high point. I also enjoyed working with a broad spectrum of principal investigators from the pre-submission stage of determining whether their work was appropriate for Cellular Dynamics and Function, through the review process, and finally the award or decline decision. Managing awards and following their progress was rewarding as were discussions with PIs about how to address reviewer comments for those proposals that were declined. The several large, interdisciplinary projects and research networks I was involved with, were particularly interesting.

What are you most looking forward to next?

After a career spanning more than 40 years in various aspects of scientific research, I am looking forward to more free time and more time spent outdoors. Living in Oregon definitely facilitates outdoor activities. I also look forward to more uninterrupted time to spend with family and traveling.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?

My research was funded by NSF continuously for 30 years, starting with an NSF postdoctoral fellowship in plant biology in the 1980s and concluding in 2016 with a final grant on plant proteomics before retiring as professor from North Carolina State University. I wanted to contribute something to NSF before fully retiring and also be exposed to the breadth of science that NSF funds. My six and a half years at NSF helped me achieve that goal and was a nice transition from retiring as an active faculty member, while still being involved in science and research from a different perspective.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF?

Being a Program Director is a very worthwhile endeavor, particularly if your research program is well established and can continue to function efficiently with periodic visits back to the home institution. MCB is a great place to work. I was impressed by the collegiality of the program directors and senior management and the helpfulness and skill of the outstanding administrative staff.

Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Dr. Clouse, “Steve has been a pleasure to work with for these past six years.  As a AAAS Fellow, Steve is a highly accomplished scientist who is deeply connected to the plant science community.  As such he has not only been a great program director but also a great mentor to scientists seeking funding from MCB.  While I am glad that Steve and his wife will now have more time to hike in Oregon and travel in retirement, I will miss his quiet humor, sound advice, and steadfast commitment to NSF and its mission.”

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO MARCIA NEWCOMER

Marcia Newcomer joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in July 2018 as a program director. She became a cluster leader in July 2020.

What was working at MCB like?

Working in MCB was a great experience, especially for someone who has spent so many years in academia. Seeing the funding process from this perspective provides a much fuller understanding of the government’s efforts and role in supporting basic research. The environment in MCB is highly cooperative, and there are many opportunities to coordinate with other divisions and directorates. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF?

I would highly recommend serving as a Program Director. It is a great opportunity to be introduced to research areas well outside of one’s sphere of expertise. In some sense, it is almost like being a graduate student again, when you are excited about the research possibilities before you. It is also inspiring, because you work with so many colleagues and reviewers and are constantly reminded that there are dedicated people in this line of work who have a sense of fairness and an appreciation for how basic research can have a tremendous impact on our quality of life. You also come to appreciate government investments in research facilities, and the role of these facilities in expanding our scientific reach and providing a highly skilled workforce. 

Theresa Good, MCB Division Director said of Dr. Newcomer, “It has been a delight to work with Marcia these past four years.  She jumped in head-first, pushed us to continue to push the boundaries of the research we fund, and hasn’t stopped making a difference.  She’s been involved in developing programs for postbaccalaureate scientists, expanding the role of AI in molecular biophysics, and leveraging convergent science to prevent future pandemics.  Just as importantly, she has shared her warmth, humor, and sense of excitement for science with all of us.  We wish her the best back at LSU.”

MCB ANNOUNCES A FUNDING OPPORTUNITY FOR BUILDING SYNTHETIC MICROBIAL COMMUNITIES FOR BIOLOGY

In recent years, researchers have assembled synthetic microbial communities that have novel compositions, genetics, and phenotypes, and they have used these communities to address both fundamental biological questions and a range of societal problems. To support such research efforts, NSF has released the Building Synthetic Microbial Communities for Biology, Mitigating Climate Change, Sustainability and Biotechnology (Synthetic Communities) solicitation (NSF 22-607).

The goal of this solicitation is to support research that addresses one or more of the three themes:

  1. Define the underlying mechanisms or rules that drive the formation, maintenance, or evolution of synthetic microbial communities
  2. Use synthetic microbial communities to address fundamental biological questions, including questions in molecular biology, cellular/organismal biology, ecology, and evolution
  3. Build synthetic communities with biotechnology, bioeconomy, or environmental engineering applications

Full Proposal Deadlines: October 03, 2022 (due by 5 p.m. submitter’s local time)

Anticipated Funding Amount: $9,500,000

To learn more, read the solicitation posted here and reach out to any of the cognizant Program Officers below.

Anthony Garzaaggarza@nsf.gov(703) 292-8440BIO/MCB
John McDowelljmcdowel@nsf.gov(703) 292-8008BIO/IOS
Andrea Porras-Alfaroaporrasa@nsf.gov(703) 292-2944BIO/DEB
Mamta Rawatmrawat@nsf.gov(703) 292-7265BIO/IOS

MCB ANNOUNCES COMPETITION FOR A NEW SYNTHESIS CENTER FOR MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR SCIENCES

In recent decades, the biological sciences have experienced an unprecedented growth in data as a result of new experimental technologies, advances in computational power, and big data approaches to research. There are, however, many barriers to making full use of available datasets.

Credit: Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation

To unlock the full potential of existing data, NSF seeks to establish a Synthesis Center for Molecular and Cellular Sciences (SCMCS) (NSF 22-608) that will create new knowledge through innovative synthesis and integration of available data and related information. The Center should advance our ability to explain and predict how biomolecular structures, interactions, organization, and functions lead to dynamic cellular phenotypes, by focusing on complex questions and using contemporary approaches that are data-intensive, team-based, and promote open science. The Center will not directly support generation of new data, nor fund an individual research group, but rather will be dedicated to facilitating synthesis of available data by multidisciplinary research teams.

The Center must:

  • Address a compelling set of scientific questions in molecular and cellular biosciences that require or are ripe for breakthroughs from synthesis of available data.
  • Enable synthesis research, i.e., integration of diverse theories, methods, and data, bringing together cross-disciplinary expertise to advance mechanistic and predictive understanding of molecular and cellular systems.
  • Develop or provide the necessary resources to enable data management and integration, advance open science strategies, enhance access to existing infrastructure, foster collaboration and team science, and promote standards and best practices for synthesis research.
  • Build an effective and evidence-based training enterprise for the next generation of scientists.
  • Integrate efforts to broaden participation across demographic, geographic, institutional, and disciplinary lines in all activities.

Program Timeline:

  • SCMCS Program Webinar: September 15, 2022
  • Preliminary proposals due: January 13, 2023
  • Results of preliminary proposal review communicated to proposers: March 2023
  • Full proposals due: July 07, 2023
  • Reverse Site Visit (RSV) notifications and scheduling: November 2023
  • Declined proposers informed, and recommended awards announced: January 2024
  • Anticipated start date of awards: February 15, 2024

Anticipated Funding Amount: $20,000,000

To learn more, read the solicitation posted here and reach out to an MCB program director.

NSF will hold an informational webinar on September 15, 2022. Registration information for this webinar is posted on the Program Web page. The SCMCS funding opportunity will also be discussed in upcoming MCB Virtual Office Hours.

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.