DON’T MISS THE DEADLINE!

PREPROPOSALS DUE SOON FOR A NEW SYNTHESIS CENTER FOR MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOSCIENCES

Preproposals to establish a new Synthesis Center for Molecular and Cellular Sciences (SCMCS) are due January 13, 2023.

The center is envisioned to facilitate innovative synthesis and integration of available biological data and related scientific information to explain or predict complex molecular and cellular phenomena. The center will support synthesis of existing data by multi-disciplinary research teams with an overall goal to explain and predict how structural, functional and organizational knowledge of biomolecules in the cell relates to dynamic, phenotypic behavior. In pursuing this goal, the center is not expected to generate new primary data or replicate existing cyberinfrastructure.  Broadening participation and training of the next generation of scientists is expected to be central to these efforts.

For more information, refer to the solicitation and to the recording and slides associated with a recent webinar.  The webinar reviewed the elements of the center and answered questions on the preproposals, the role of the director, participation of foreign collaborators, review criteria for proposals and distribution of funding. 

In 2020, the NSF explored the idea of a synthesis center in a series of conferences.  Reports from those conferences can be found here.

Questions about the centers and the preproposal process can be directed to scmcs@nsf.gov or to the following cognizant program officers:

NSF BRC-BIO UPCOMING SUBMISSION DEADLINE

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to bring your attention to the upcoming deadline for an NSF program designed to support pre-tenure faculty, Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO). The next submission window opens on December 1 and closes on December 31, 2022.

BRC-BIO (current solicitation NSF 22-500) is a BIO wide program that supports early career faculty in the development of a sustainable research program. Eligibility is limited to faculty at the Assistant Professor rank within 3-years of employment at an institution that is not among the nation’s most research intensive, which includes minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs).

Proposed projects are expected to focus on research from any area of biology that is supported by the BIO directorate at NSF. MCB focused projects encompass content that falls within one of the four cluster areas: Cellular Dynamics and Function, Molecular Biophysics, Genetic Mechanisms, and Systems and Synthetic Biology.

Research applications require a six-page research plan, which includes both intellectual merit and broader impacts, a two-page Impact statement, and a letter from the Department Chair (or more senior organizational official). Projects should be presented in sufficient detail to enable evaluation based on the potential to: a) provide valuable new scientific insights that will enable future research, and b) integrate the research into an educational training environment that engages undergraduates in authentic research experiences. An additional expectation is that the broader impacts activities of these projects, including training, have a focus on inclusion and broadening participation in biological research.

Budget awards are for a maximum of 36 months and up to $450,000 plus $50,000 for equipment, for a total of $500,000 (including both direct and indirect funds). You are encouraged to reach out to program officers with any questions at BRC-BIO@nsf.gov.

Additional information, including past webinars and links to funded BRC-BIO awards, can be found here.

MCB WELCOMES LORETTA JACKSON-HAYES AND ISHITA MUKERJI 

Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I am a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. My research focuses on identifying and defining the roles of key proteins involved in fungal growth and cytokinesis using the model filamentous fungus, Aspergillus nidulans. Currently, the project centers on one of these proteins, the A. nidulans ortholog of the serine/threonine kinase Protein Kinase C (PkcA). The ongoing objectives of this project are to identify growth- and cytokinesis-related proteins, which are bound by PkcA in vivo and how the protein complexes work. We like to describe the work as defining a PkcA module that contributes to growth and cell division. My home institution is a primarily undergraduate college, so the bulk of the work is done by undergraduate students who perform experiments, help plan the next steps in the project, and even contribute to writing up the results.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’ve served as a panelist several times, and each time I’ve served, I found extreme satisfaction in reading grant proposals and writing reviews. I enjoyed the panel experience even more. Being involved in discussing proposals during panels allowed me to see how other scientists viewed the work, which gave me great insight into how projects are viewed from different perspectives. This has helped me critique my own work and research approaches, which I think has helped me develop as a scientist. My interactions with panelists and MCB staff were engaging, and MCB staff always made me feel welcomed. I’ve always found the MCB staff to be a supportive and fun group.

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

I would recommend to anyone who might be considering serving as a Program Director to reach out to Program Directors to express interest in serving as a panelist, especially if they haven’t previously served. Panel service allowed me to get to know NSF well, become comfortable with MCB staff, and build relationships with many of the staff with whom I now work. This has made my transition to the job much smoother than I think it would have been had I not formed these relationships beforehand. Serving as a panelist also gave me valuable insights on the role of the Program Director that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and this knowledge has given me a head start in adjusting to the job, now that I’m here.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

When I tell friends and family members that I work at NSF, they understandably imagine that I’m working in a state-of-the-art research lab, on the government’s most important and confidential projects. They seem to get extremely excited about that prospect. I, of course, let them know that the job doesn’t entail working in a research lab at all, and they typically respond with a slight tone of disappointment. However, their enthusiasm recovers when I say something like, “I’m helping to determine the science research agenda for the nation by identifying the most promising research that will advance society.” Family and friends agree with me that it’s really cool to have this amazing opportunity to do that work. Science colleagues are familiar with NSF’s mission, and they too are excited that I’ve been afforded this amazing opportunity to be an NSF Program Director.

Dr. Ishita Mukerji

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working at Wesleyan University in Middletown CT.  At Wesleyan, I am in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and I run our Molecular Biophysics program.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

NSF was very helpful to me early on in my career and I could see firsthand the impact that agency can have both on an individual and a field.  I am excited to learn more about the science that NSF funds and, of course, the new types of science NSF is hoping to catalyze through the various initiatives.  

What is your position and what are you most looking forward to?

I am a rotating program director (IPA) in the Molecular Biophysics cluster.  I am looking forward to giving back both to NSF and the Molecular Biophysics community.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?

The NSF as an organization has been very welcoming, and everyone I’ve met and worked with has been helpful and friendly.  This impression has only been re-affirmed over the past couple of weeks that I’ve worked here. It’s been a little challenging to be completely remote and starting a new position.  I’m looking forward to relocating to the area and being in person a couple days a week.  My husband and I are just generally excited about moving to the area, as we’ve heard that DC is a really fun place to live.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DAVID BARLEY AND WELCOMES MARIELLE ROBINSON  

David Barley joined NSF and MCB in 2008 as a student participant in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program. He advanced through the administrative ranks, serving in multiple capacities for MCB and other divisions in BIO. David is now a Program Support Manager in MPS/PHY.

What was the highlight of your time at BIO?

During my time in BIO, solving problems in panels was something I did on a regular basis.  I’d say a “highlight” of my time in BIO would be for a panel I supported in IOS.  On day one, the panel goes on as normal, the day concludes, we all go home.  Day two, I walked into the panel room to find that all the rental laptops we ordered had disappeared.  While Program Directors, panelists, and other staff were in shock, I immediately contacted the laptop rental company to determine what had happened.  Thankfully, the laptop company hadn’t wiped the computers yet, so all of the notes and panel summary templates were saved.  The company returned the laptops to NSF not too long after and set everything up again.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

I’d tell newly incoming staff to be ready to learn and be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arrive.  For PDs, this means reaching out across Clusters, Divisions (or Directorates) to find unique funding opportunities that may be relevant to their program’s needs.  For Administrative staff, I’d recommend joining a working group (especially NSF-wide working groups) as they give you a chance to meet staff outside of your direct team.  I learned a lot from working group discussions, especially when staff from other directorates explained how they accomplished the same goals as I did but used different tools and practices.

Marielle Robinson joined MCB as Program Assistant in August of 2022.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working as a federal contractor for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) located in Arlington, VA.  I previously worked for AFOSR as a budget analyst technician and program analyst over my five-year span as a federal civilian.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

The work-life balance, new learning opportunities, and the endless possibilities of career advancements within the organization. 

What have you learned so far from your position?

I was able to attend the MCB Admin Staff Meeting, which was a wonderful introduction to the projects that are currently being worked on inside the MCB division. Even though I have been doing a lot of the required training on LearnNSF for my onboarding, I was able to gain valuable insight into what was to come, which made me eager to contribute some of my strengths to the team.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?

The amenities offered within the building for employees.  This building is very different from my last job!  I also love how everyone is willing to assist with my onboarding process to make the transition go smoothly.  I’m very excited to meet more of the team within the BIO directorate and to work on my assigned duties.

France/US Lead Agency Funding Opportunity at Interface of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Physics

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division of Physics in the (NSF/BIO/MCB and NSF/MPS/PHY) recently released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) entitled “ANR – NSF/MCB/PHY Lead Agency Opportunity at the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences – Physics Interface” (NSF 22-129). This DCL announces the continued collaboration between the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) and NSF MCB and PHY divisions to support projects that use multidisciplinary approaches to examine mechanisms underlying essential life processes at the molecular, subcellular, and cellular scales. Proposals that use physics-based experimental and theoretical approaches are encouraged. Priority will be given to proposals that leverage unique resources and capabilities of partners in the U.S. and France.

For FY23, proposals should be submitted to ANR, and ANR will share proposal and review information with NSF.  To apply, a registration file (dossier) must be submitted by November 7, 2022. For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see NSF DCL NSF 22-129 and ANR’s AAPG Generic Call 2023.

NSF issues a new funding opportunity on Quantum Sensing 

Through a new solicitation entitled Quantum Sensing Challenges for Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems (QuSeC-TAQS; NSF 22-630), NSF seeks to support interdisciplinary teams of three or more investigators to explore highly innovative, original, and potentially transformative research on quantum sensing.  The QuSeC-TAQS program aligns with recommendations articulated in the strategic plan, Bringing Quantum Sensors to Fruition, that was produced by the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, under the auspices of the National Quantum Initiative

QuSeC-TAQS is a cross-cutting NSF funding opportunity for which the Biological Sciences Directorate is a key partner.  Research involving biological systems and/or participation of scientists from different fields of biology is encouraged. Research topics might include:  investigation of quantum phenomena in biological systems; use of quantum devices and approaches in the investigation of biological problems; or creation of new biocompatible quantum probes and sensing protocols to gain insights into complex biological systems that fundamentally cannot be accessed through classical measurements. Outcomes from such studies are expected to advance knowledge of biological functions and dynamics within cells and could potentially provide new platforms for biotechnology. 

Preliminary proposals are required and due December 16, 2022; and full proposals are due April 3, 2023. 

Additional questions should be directed to qusec@nsf.gov  

Agile BioFoundry Selects New Collaborations

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the selection of six projects to conduct research and development that will advance the U.S. bioeconomy.

The selectees were chosen from applicants for a direct funding opportunity titled  “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry,” which provides support for researchers from institutions of higher education and nonprofits to collaborate with the Agile BioFoundry (ABF). Selected projects leverage the rapid prototyping and advanced biotechnology resources available at the ABF to accelerate basic research projects to deployment.

BETO and NSF have selected the following projects:

Both the NSF and BETO recognize the critical roles that synthetic and engineering biology play in advancing the U.S. bioeconomy. The selected projects all directly contribute to the production of renewable biochemicals and biofuels and build foundational technologies critical for the decarbonization of the industrial and transportation sectors.

Funded by BETO, ABF aims to advance biomanufacturing by uniting and expanding the capabilities of the national laboratories to offer a robust, agile biomanufacturing platform accessible to researchers across the private and public sectors.

ABF partners include Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and more than a dozen university and industry partners.

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 

A New Strategic Plan

Every four years, NSF releases a new strategic plan that guides the development of the agency goals and actions.  In 2022, NSF introduced its newest strategic plan, which has two notable changes compared to previous plans: 

  • For the first time, a focus on broadening participation by empowering STEM talent is front and center, followed by the goal of creating new knowledge (which is typically listed first in the strategic plans). 
  • The plan includes a goal calling for translating knowledge into solutions that benefit society.

The 2022-2026 NSF strategic plan outlines the following four strategic goals:

  • Empower STEM talent to fully participate in science and engineering
  • Create new knowledge about our universe, world and ourselves
  • Benefit society by translating knowledge into solutions
  • Excel at NSF operations and management

By elevating empowering STEM talent to the first strategic goal, NSF is bringing an agency-wide focus to this issue. To empower STEM talent to fully participate, NSF has set specific objectives of increasing the involvement of communities underrepresented in STEM and growing a diverse STEM workforce to advance the progress of science and technology. By meeting these objectives through support for research and for formal and informal education, NSF will engage and empower the millions of talented individuals still missing from the STEM workforce.

The third goal of translating knowledge to solutions acknowledges the importance of application of science to solving the problems facing our nation and the world. This goal complements the second goal of creating new knowledge, which has been the bedrock of NSF’s mission to advance national health, prosperity, and welfare since the agency was created in 1950.

Together, these strategic goals ensure that NSF supports the diverse people who are part of the scientific enterprise and continues to be at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological advancements improving society for this generation and the next.   

In the Biological Sciences (BIO), there are many programs designed specifically to empower STEM talent. All Divisions in BIO support these programs—including , Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology, Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates in Biological Sciences, Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology, and others – which are hosted by the Division of Biological Infrastructure’s Human Resources Cluster.  In addition, every award funded by BIO (including in MCB) supports not just science, but the people who do the science.  Empowering STEM talent is built into the broader impacts review criterion against which all proposals are evaluated. 

To read more about NSF’s strategic goals and how the agency is pursuing these goals read the NSF Strategic Plan.

WELCOME OUR ACTING DIVISION DIRECTOR!

Dr. Karen Cone, Acting Division Director 

MCB is excited to announce the return of Dr. Karen Cone to MCB as Acting Division Director, starting in August 2022, while Dr. Theresa Good serves a detail as Acting Deputy Assistant Director in the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO). 

Most recently, Dr. Cone was a science advisor in the Office of the Assistant Director for BIO. There she led NSF’s activities in Understanding the Rules of Life, coordinated the cross-BIO funding opportunity Integrative Research in Biology, served as the executive secretary for the NSF-wide Bioeconomy Coordinating Committee, and managed the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee.  

Dr. Cone is not new to MCB. She previously served as a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster. During her service, she established herself as an extraordinary colleague and mentor to new PIs in the community and to new Program Directors in MCB. She has also served as the managing program director for the CyVerse cyberinfrastructure collaborative and Acting Deputy Division Director for both the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and MCB.  

Prior to joining NSF, Dr. Cone was a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Her research expertise is in plant genetics and genomics, with emphasis on epigenetics and chromatin-mediated regulation of gene expression. 

Per Dr. Cone, “I am excited to have the opportunity to be back in MCB.  I look forward to renewing old relationships and forging new ones.  MCB continues to stand out in BIO in its service to the research community, and I am happy to help support this important mission.” 

Per Dr. Good, “MCB will be in great hands with Karen at the helm.  She is well respected for her leadership and scholarship both inside and outside NSF and has a reputation of innovating in the ways she supports broader impacts.  She is the right person to lead MCB during this transition.  I’m thrilled that she was willing to take on this new responsibility.” 

We are excited to steal Dr. Cone back from the front office – even if only temporarily. We are also looking forward to hearing Dr. Good’s stories and new perspectives once she returns from her detail.  

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.