The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences funded 23 proposals (as of June 22) submitted in response to the Dear Colleague Letter on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (NSF 20-052) released March 4, 2020 (and now archived). The awards, made through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism, support research focused on the characterization and modeling of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Read more about the RAPID funding mechanism in Chapter II.E.1 (Rapid Response Research) of the Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG).
The proposed research projects will contribute to viral tracking and prevention efforts, provide information on viral transmission and biology of infection, and aid drug development for infection treatment and prevention. Links to these RAPID awards can be found in the table below. More information on funding made by the National Science Foundation to support research on the coronavirus may be found here.
During Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) announced a year-round (no-deadline) proposal submission process for most programs. The change applied to solicitations for investigator-initiated research projects NSF 17-589 and NSF 18-585 in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), along with solicitations in other BIO Divisions.
Comparing proposal data* from FY 2018 to FY 2019, BIO has found that there was an increase in funding rates for all Divisions within BIO. For MCB, the rate increased from 16.7% to 27.4% (see graph below). There was also a decrease in the number of proposals submitted across the Directorate, from 3,226 in FY 2018 to 1,965 in FY 2019.
This change has been met with positive response from the research community and reviewers. MCB received many positive comments from panelists. For example, one wrote,
As a PI I strongly support the no deadline, no limit submission policy. I appreciate the flexibility to propose projects when they are ready, rather than at an arbitrary time of year. My sense as a panelist is that the quality of submitted proposals was better too. I had far fewer non-competitive proposals in my stack.
The BIO directorate will continue to monitor these metrics and others to measure the impact of the no-deadline policy over time; more details on the impact of the change in submission deadlines are available on the BIO Buzz blog.
*Data includes externally reviewed proposals in core and special programs across all BIO Divisions. It does not include internally reviewed proposals such as RAPIDs, EAGERs, RAISEs, supplements, or conferences, nor does it include human resource proposals such as Fellowships. The unit measured is proposals, which counts single and collaborative proposals as individual units.
On May 18, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) joined the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) to provide an informational Office Hour about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) (NSF 20-525). Attendees posted over 30 questions; a full transcript of those questions and responses, as well as a link to the presentation slides, are available on the DEB blog.
The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) has updated its guidelines for conference and workshop proposals to reflect changes in NSF’s latest Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG 20-1). Both the new PAPPG and these updates go into effect June 1, 2020. The new guidelines emphasize MCB-specific funding priorities and best practices for submitting proposals requesting funding to support conferences, workshops, and other meetings.
The infographic below summarizes key tips for submitting competitive conference and workshop proposals. Contact your MCB program director with questions or comments.
*Budget with Justification – Additional budget guidelines include the following:
Attendees whose primary purpose at the meeting is to learn and receive training are considered participants and their costs should be listed on Lines F. 1-4, “Participant Support Costs.”
Speakers and trainers generally are not considered participants; their costs should be listed on the appropriate line, e.g., “Other Direct Costs: Other” (Line G.6). [PAPPG Chapt II.C.2.v Participant Support]
Indirect costs do not apply to the “Participant Support Costs” category, but they do apply to all other categories at the organization’s federally negotiated rate. Absent this rate, the organization may request a de minimis indirect cost rate of 10% of the modified total direct costs without providing supporting documentation or may elect not to charge indirect costs. [PAPPG Chapt II.C.2.g.viii Indirect Costs]
Learn more about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) solicitation (NSF 20-525) in an upcoming webinar on May 13. The webinar will provide a briefing on the CAREER program and solicitation requirements along with a Q&A session. Read about significant changes to the solicitation in MCB’s previous blog post. Registration is required for the webinar, view details about registration here. Submit questions to email@example.com.
Letters of collaboration and letters of support are separate documents that may be either permitted or required attachments to a proposal submission. Details on the differences are identified in the Proposal and Award Policy & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Anyone submitting a proposal should carefully read the PAPPG. Below, you’ll find answers to commonly asked questions on this topic, along with links to relevant portions of the PAPPG.
What is a Letter of Collaboration? A letter of collaboration documents a collaboration between a principle investigator (PI) and other entities whose contributions are significant to a proposal. There are two types of collaborations:
An unfunded collaboration is “any substantial collaboration with individuals not included in the budget.” These contributions must be documented in a letter of collaboration from each collaborator. Each letter should contain only the statement of collaboration described below – letters that include additional information will be omitted from the proposal. Unfunded collaborations should also be described in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.
A funded collaboration is one where a collaborative activity is identified in the proposal budget. Refer to Chapter II.D.3 in the PAPPG for instructions on how to complete the budget.
What is the recommended wording for a letter of collaboration? “If the proposal submitted by Dr. [insert the full name of the Principal Investigator] entitled [insert the proposal title] is selected for funding by NSF, it is my intent to collaborate and/or commit resources as detailed in the Project Description or the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.”
What is a Letter of Support? A letter of support is a requirement of specific programs or solicitations and is not a standard component of an NSF proposal. The letter aims to increase enthusiasm for the project or to highlight the qualifications of the PI or co-PI. Letters of support typically come from key stakeholders such as a department chair or mentor and must be unique to the specific proposal. Programs such as Transitions (NSF 20-505) and CAREER (NSF 20-525) require a letter of support from the department chair. Unless specified by the solicitation, a letter of support is generally 1-2 pages in length.
Letters of support should not be submitted unless required by the solicitation. An unsolicited letter of support may cause a proposal to be returned without review.
The following table highlights key differences and similarities between a letter of collaboration and a letter of support:
Letter of Collaboration
Letter of Support
Optional or Required?
May be submitted with any proposal
May only be submitted if required by the program or solicitation
Impact on proposal processing?
Improper letters may be removed from the proposal; however, the proposal will still be accepted
Inclusion when not required may cause the proposal to be returned without review
Under select circumstances, NSF awardees may donate specific equipment, supplies, and services to entities serving the public in response to COVID-19 as authorized by Memorandum M-20-20, released by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Refer to guidance on NSF’s implementation of M-20-20 to address questions on what items and resources may be donated and for the process on submitting a request to donate.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO) recently held virtual office hours addressing the impact of the pandemic on solicitations and awards. Representatives from all four BIO divisions attended the event, which included information on NSF’s latest community guidance. Access the presentation slides and get further details by visiting the BIO Buzz Blog.
The Convergence Accelerator (C-Accel) has released DCL 20-061 – Dear Colleague Letter: Request for Information on Future Topics for the NSF Convergence Accelerator and Call for Future Topics Conference Proposals. The DCL seeks input on potential tracks for FY 2021, which can be related to Industries of the Future (IotF), NSF’s Big Ideas, or other topics with the potential for significant national impact. “Because of the connection to Industries of the Future, this is an intriguing opportunity for researchers in the field of synthetic biology, as well as other plant and microbial systems andother research related to biotechnology,” says Dr. David Rockcliffe, cluster lead in Systems and Synthetic Biology.
Note that this RFI does not invite research proposals; however, respondents are highly encouraged to submit conference proposals to develop and refine the ideas they submit to this DCL. Conference proposals should aim to better understand the scientific and community needs and challenges for the suggested topic over the next 2-5 years. Carefully read the DCL for submission details and complete the first step by April 30. For more information on the Convergence Accelerator program, visit the website.