What is the most compelling question in the life sciences you would tackle by integrating disparate sub-disciplines of biology?
NSF wants your thoughts on the question—and you may wish to hear the thoughts of your peers. Join the conversation by registering for one of two Virtual Town Hall meetings to be held Sept. 17 and 18. Participants must register. Go to reintegratingbiology.org to register. Registration is limited.
For more information, read the post, “Integrating Biology” at BioBuzz, the blog of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, Office of the Assistant Director.
Tresa Proffitt is a program assistant in MCB.
What is your educational background?
After graduating from Lynchburg College with a B.A. in Music Education and a minor in Biology, I taught in the public schools for several years. I am especially interested in neuroscience-based educational practices and am currently pursuing a M.S. in Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience at George Mason University where I am researching adolescent brain development.
What is your position and what are you most looking forward to?
I began in July as a program assistant for MCB. I am most looking forward to learning more about the grant-review and panel administration process. It is fascinating to read about what researchers all over the country are studying and see some of the accomplishments that have been made possible through NSF support!
What was your first impression of the NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?
One of the things I have always admired about NSF is their commitment to funding not only exciting new research, but also proposals that will also have broader impacts in their community. I have only seen a little bit of one panel so far, but I can tell that the panelists and NSF staff work very hard to filter through all the proposals (and paperwork) to choose the very best ones to recommend for funding!
What have you learned so far from your position?
So far, I have learned a lot about the different checkpoints that proposals and awards undergo throughout the entire process. It’s a lot of small tasks, but I think it is necessary to ensure that proposals have all the required components and that awardees use the money how they promised.
A fun fact about me:
I enjoy playing fiddle in my free time and used to perform regularly in a traditional Irish/Appalachian music band!
Dr. Phoebe Lostroh is a rotating program officer through the Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator Program (VSEE); she comes to MCB from Colorado College.
What were you doing before you came to the NSF?
I am on scholarly leave from Colorado College, a private liberal arts college with about 2,000 undergraduates. I teach six courses a year there, ranging from Mentored Research in Molecular Biology and Introduction to Molecular & Cellular Biology to Microbiology: Genes, Molecules, and Infection and Virology. I just published my first book, titled The Molecular and Cellular Biology of Viruses. For fun, I’m learning to play the card game called duplicate contract bridge, and I sing. I also volunteer with Science Riot, an organization that teaches scientists to do stand-up comedy routines as an outreach activity.
What attracted you to work for NSF?
I jumped at the chance to be a rotating program director in the division of Molecular and Cellular Biology because I want to have an impact on science beyond that which I can have at my home institution, and because when I interviewed, it was obvious that the division is a stellar workplace.
What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at the NSF?
I am very excited to work on the funding process because I know from personal experience that NSF grants lead both to important scholarly discoveries and transforming people’s lives. I would like to meet people who are making policies related to undergraduate STEM education and research at primarily undergraduate institutions to talk to them about my students’ experiences. I would also like to talk to anyone who is interested in reaching outside science toward the humanities to encourage collaboration across those boundaries.
When friends or colleagues find out that you work at the NSF, what do they say or ask?
People are curious about how the funding process works; everyone also wants to know how much money basic research costs and how much of the federal budget goes to NSF. The only science questions anyone has asked me upon learning about my new position have been about climate change – I think people are hungry to hear about this topic from a scientist they can personally talk to. Everyone also wants to come visit, so they ask about the museums and other attractions in the DC area.
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/.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
- NSF FAQs for Public Access (NSF 10 041); and
- NSF plans for data management and sharing of the products of research (PAPPG – Chapter 2, Section 2 (j), “Special Information and Supplementary Documentation”).
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)
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.