Funding & Service

Need to Make a Change?

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to bring attention to the following two funding opportunities that are designed to support researchers who are seeking to enhance or change their research activity.   

The Mid-Career Advancement Program (MCA; NSF 22-603) is an NSF-wide program designed for PIs whose administrative and/or teaching duties have significantly hindered their research efforts. The program provides funds to release faculty from some of their non-research duties allowing them to pursue collaborations to gain new skills or resources and substantially enhance their research trajectory. The MCA Program is targeted primarily to Associate Professors; however, as part of a new pilot track, Full Professors at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) are eligible to apply when submitting to the Biological Sciences or Geological Sciences Directorates. Budget-wise, MCA provides a total of 6.5 months of the PI’s salary over the course of the award, plus one month of summer support for each collaborative partner and $100,000 to the PI for other direct costs. Whereas the primary focus of the program is to support training that allows a PI to pursue a new research direction, support may also include graduate student training. The application requires a description of the research plan, a two-page Impact statement, a statement from the collaborator, and a letter from the Department Chair.   

The Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research Program (Transitions; NSF 21-508) is an MCB program designed for PIs who have made productive contributions to a research area, but now would like to change or expand their research direction by acquiring new research or data analytic skills. The Transitions Program is tailored for Associate and Full Professors at any U.S. academic institution. The total maximum budget for a three-year Transitions Award is $750,000, which includes support for six months of the PI’s salary in the first, professional development (or sabbatical) year of the award and support for two subsequent years of research at the PI’s home institution.  Proposals for the Transitions Program must include a compelling professional development plan, as well as a letter of support from the Department Chair. PI’s have the option to include a letter of support from the host laboratory detailing the training plan for the PI.   

Attend the upcoming Virtual Office Hours, on October 12th from 2-3pm, to learn more about the MCA and Transitions Programs!   

Transitions to Excellence in  
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences  
Research (Transitions)
 
Mid-Career Advancement (MCA)
NSF 21-508 NSF 22-603 
MCB-specific solicitation Multiple participating programs across NSF 
Eligibility  Associate and Full Professors (or equivalent) Associate Professors (or equivalent) for at least 3 years and Full Professors at PUIs (BIO, GEO) 
Purpose Enables pursuit of new avenues of inquiry or expansion of research toward greater impact Enables increased research focus through protected time and collaborative partnerships 
Individuals SupportedSupports PI salary during sabbatical or similar leave plus 2 years research support Supports PI and collaborative partner salary with some support for research and training activities 
Notes for Successful Proposals Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong record of prior accomplishment and a compelling plan for moving the research in new (ideally cross-disciplinary) directions Successful applicants will demonstrate substantive benefit to their research and career trajectory, especially in cross-disciplinary directions 
Deadline Proposals are accepted at any time. Target Window: February 01 – March 01, 2023, and annually thereafter 
Maximum Budget $750,000 total over 3 years, including PI salary (6 mo.)  PI salary (6.5 mo.), collaborator salary (1 mo.), and $100,000 direct costs for research over 3 years 

UPCOMING WEBINAR ON THE COMPETITION FOR A NEW SYNTHESIS CENTER FOR MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOSCIENCES (SCMCS) 

On September 15, 2022, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM EST, NSF will hold an informational webinar on the SCMCS. The webinar will consist of a short presentation followed by an open Q&A session with cognizant Program Officers. Register for the webinar here

The aim of the SCMCS program (Solicitation NSF 22-608) is to establish a Synthesis Center for Molecular and Cellular Sciences that will create new knowledge through innovative synthesis and integration of available data. The deadline for preliminary proposals is January 13, 2023.  

You can read additional details about the SCMCS here and the upcoming webinar here.  

BIO UPDATES TOPICS IN COLLABORATION WITH UKRI/BBSRC

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) just announced updated topics for its collaboration with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for the coming year, described in Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) NSF 22-107.

Titled “UKRI/BBSRC-NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological Informatics, Systems Understanding of Host-Microbe Interactions, Synthetics Cells and Cellular Systems, and Synthetic Microbial Communities” the DCL describes updates on topical areas associated with the lead agency opportunity:

  • Biological informatics
  • Systems understanding of host-microbe interactions
  • Synthetic cells and cellular systems

It also outlines a new area of interest in synthetic microbial communities.

The lead agency scheme allows for reciprocal acceptance of peer review through unsolicited mechanisms and helps reduce some of the current barriers to international collaborations.

Proposal Information
There is a two-part application process:

  • A letter of Expression of Interest, due on September 21, 2022, will be reviewed for project eligibility.
  • Eligible proposals will then be invited to submit to the appropriate lead agency program. Full proposals submitted to NSF should be received by March 2023 to receive full consideration. Refer to the DCL for important details.

Projects must be a collaboration between at least one investigator in the US and one in the UK, must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and appropriate NSF/BIO division(s), and must address the topical areas identified in the DCL. Additionally, proposers must provide a clear rationale for the need for a US-UK collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating groups will bring to the project.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 22-107.

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 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.

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.

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).