Updated Guidelines for Conference and Workshop Proposals

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]
  • Supported participants should be members of the US scientific community (e.g., individuals working in US institutions). [PAPPG Chapt I.E. Who May Submit Proposals]
  • Federal funds must not be used to pay for alcoholic beverages or for entertainment. [Chapt II.2.xiii. Allowable and Unallowable Costs]


Photo collage congratulating six MCB awardees.
Top row: Karen Cone (left); Alias Smith; Ann Larrow.
Bottom row: Richard Cyr (left); Wilson Francisco; Manju Hingorani
Top row: Karen Cone (left); Alias Smith; Ann Larrow
Bottom row: Richard Cyr (left); Wilson Francisco; Manju Hingorani

The National Science Foundation (NSF) held its annual Director’s Awards ceremony on May 7, 2020. The event recognizes excellence in services and achievements of NSF employees. The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) is proud to have six recipients celebrated this year. Alias Smith (Science Associate) and Ann Larrow (Program Analyst) received the NSF Director’s Superior Accomplishment Award for their “extraordinary efforts in developing the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU-EiR) proposal webinar series which is contributing to the diversity efforts across the Foundation.” To learn about the HBCU-EiR webinar series and the upcoming interactive workshop in June, read more in this post.

Program directors Wilson Francisco, Karen Cone, Richard Cyr, and Manju Hingorani also received the Director’s Superior Accomplishment Award for “extraordinary intellectual leadership and vision in defining the biggest challenges in Biology through sustained community-wide engagement and integration across fields of science.”

MCB congratulates all awardees and thanks them for their exceptional work in fulfilling NSF’s mission of promoting the progress of science.

Demographic Information and You

Panel reviewers and anyone submitting a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) via FastLane, grants.gov, or research.gov, are familiar with the routine request to voluntarily supply demographic information. But the reason this information is collected and how it is used is less well understood. Perhaps as a reflection of this uncertainty, a significant number of reviewers and principal investigators (PIs) do not provide this information in their responses to the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). The editorial team of the MCB Blog interviewed Basil Nikolau, Division Director, MCB, to get a sense of why MCB encourages the community to provide demographic information.

Why is this demographic information collected?
We collect this information on a voluntary basis for two reasons. First, it can help us improve our processes for recruiting and selecting highly qualified reviewers and panelists who reflect the Nation’s diversity – this goal is cited in NSF’s Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022. Second, the information helps us to accurately report on trends in broadening participation, both internal to NSF, such as our Division and the National Science Board, and externally to Congress and other interested stakeholders.

How is demographic information used?
The information is aggregated to monitor demographic trends in proposal submissions, proposal awards, and review panels. By tracking demographics, we can develop outreach strategies. This information also is used to guide our efforts to broadly engage the entire research community in the proposal and review process.

As mentioned earlier, a significant number of participants choose not to provide demographic information. How big a problem is this, and why?
Recent analyses indicate that nearly 30% of reviewers and funding applicants do not self-identify their demographic information. This makes it difficult for MCB to assess the degree to which communities are or are not proportionately represented. Without this information it’s difficult to identify and address cultural or other barriers to participation in NSF programs. While MCB does engage in outreach projects aimed at broadening participation, diversity, and inclusion, we’d like to be able to take more focused actions and this data is key to that goal.

Any parting thoughts on this topic?
We would like reviewers and applicants to provide the demographic information at every opportunity. This would be very helpful in developing a realistic, quantitative assessment of the MCB community. This would enable the division to formulate actionable strategies for building a community of researchers reflecting the general population.

CAREER Webinar Scheduled in May

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 careerwebinarqs@nsf.gov.

HBCU-EiR Webinars: Video Recording and Slides Available

This month, MCB held informational webinars about the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU-EiR) solicitation. To watch the webinar recording, click here. To view the slides from the presentation, click here:

In June, MCB will also offer webinar-based, interactive workshops on proposal-writing and the merit review process to HBCU faculty and staff interested in submitting a proposal to the HBCU-EiR solicitation. MCB has provided these workshops to HBCU institutions for the past two years, and they are making a difference. If you work at an HBCU and are interested in participating in the June workshops, request a registration form via email MCBwebreg@nsf.gov. Registration deadline is this Thursday, May 7. Please share this information with appropriate faculty and staff.

Letters of Collaboration and Support: Know the Difference

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 CollaborationLetter of Support
Optional or Required?May be submitted with any proposalMay 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 acceptedInclusion when not required may cause the proposal to be returned without review
Impact on proposal length?Neither counts against the 15-page limit


This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Image credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM

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.

For more information and FAQs, visit nsf.gov/coronavirus. Address further questions via email to policy@nsf.gov

BIO-wide virtual office hours recap

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.

Convergence Accelerator DCL

Graphic of NSF Convergence Accelerator

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 and other 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.


This is an image of a swimming pool to advertise the STEM Diversity and Inclusion and Video Exhibition (STEM DIVE). The water in the pool contains the words innovation, exhibition, prizes, diversity, video, increase, and broadenting.

Re-posted from “IOS in Focus,” the weekly blog from the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems.

Have you been the recipient of NSF funding for a project that included partnerships for increasing diversity and inclusion in the STEM workforce?

Want to win one of (4) $2,500 Expert’s Choice Awards or one of (2) $1250 People’s Choice Awards AND be featured on various NSF platforms?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) invites you to submit a 1- to 3-minute video that showcases how your NSF-funded work has led to innovative, effective, and replicable approaches to building a diverse and inclusive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce through partnerships.

For more information on how to submit an entry, visit the competition website: www.nsf.gov/ehr/stemdive.jsp