On February 15, 2022, program officers from the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) held a virtual office hour session introducing the Centers, Facilities, and Additional Research Infrastructure (CFARI) Cluster in DBI.
The staff provided a brief overview of the CFARI cluster and its various programs and were available for questions. Below are some of the questions asked. If you have project-specific questions, please reach out to a DBI program officer (and if you are an awardee, please contact your cognizant program officer).
The slides from this Office Hour are available here:
Will there be another Mid-Scale RI competition?
NSF has not yet announced whether there will be another Mid-scale RI competition. Please check the program page for any new information.
Does Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-1/2 (Mid-scale RI-1/2) allow costs on adding a building (brick and mortar) or should the walls be in-place and Mid-scale RI funds mainly used for equipping and carrying out the research?
The Mid-scale RI-1/2 programs are really set up mostly for implementation of the infrastructure itself not establishing general purpose facilities, and there are prohibitions in the solicitation against building general purpose building. However, if you needed to do some architectural modifications or anything with installation required, (for example, a taller roof to support some large piece of equipment), that we could figure out on a case by case basis. If you’re not sure, your best bet would be to reach out and contact a program officer in the program in advance to work through the specifics of what you’re after. Contact information for program officers in Mid-scale RI-1 is at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/mid-scale-research-infrastructure-1-mid-scale-ri-1 and for Mid-scale RI-2 at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/mid-scale-research-infrastructure-2-mid-scale-ri-2.
How would a PUI be competitive for a Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-1 award, if in a competition with research intensive universities?
We see a lot of stunningly strong proposals from PUIs, and so it really becomes about the plan you present, the need you identify, and how you justify the gaps you’ve identified and how you’ll fill them in, as well as your plan for establishing, maintaining, and sharing the resources that you seek support for and really going along with the solicitation guidelines. It’s in that sense that the playing field is leveled. There is no cost sharing allowed in the mid-scale program, so it puts people on an equal basis at that point, right from the very beginning and that’s intentional. We give the same guidance to all the reviewers in the mid-scale program that they get in every other program that implicit biases about institutional capacity are not appropriate and that they need to use criteria that are in our guideline to justify their determinations and findings about merit and qualifications. We try to manage bias, as much as possible, but there’s nothing a priori that says any of the larger schools are more competitive, for this infrastructure.
Is funding an international project site PI/Co-PI allowed for centers/BII and Mid-scale Research Infrastructure projects?
Who can be listed as a PI or co-PI is determined by the institutions submitting the proposal, and, at least for BII, there is a single proposals submitted, so there can only be one PI and up to four Co-PIs on the cover page. There are usually multiple senior personnel and other investigators added to the to the project so that’s most likely how someone at an international site would be added to the project, and we’ve certainly seen international collaboration as part of BII proposals. However, the international component would have to be very well justified, especially in terms of any budgets going overseas. You can also request assignable assets such as ship time to a BII, so that could contribute to an international component.
For Mid-scale RI projects, this would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, so it would be a good idea to contact a program officer.
Contact information for program officers in Mid-scale RI-1 is at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/mid-scale-research-infrastructure-1-mid-scale-ri-1 and for Mid-scale RI-2 at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/mid-scale-research-infrastructure-2-mid-scale-ri-2.
Does a Biology Integration Institute (BII) proposal need to involve multiple institutions?
No, a BII proposal can involve one or multiple institutions. Full information about BII eligibility is available at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21619/nsf21619.htm#elig.
Do Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO) and Biology Integration Institutes (BII) proposals need to be focused on particular research questions, or can they be focused on needed infrastructure that would address a number of foci of research questions?
IntBIO proposals should focus on the discovery of new principles underlying function or interaction of biological systems across different scales of organization that can only be solved by integrating across biological subdisciplines or by development of tools or technologies for integrative analysis and discovery. Projects focused on generating datasets, tools, technologies, or other infrastructure for biological integration are encouraged to submit proposals to Infrastructure Innovation for Biological Research or Infrastructure Capacity for Biological Research in the Division of Biological Infrastructure. More information about appropriate topics for IntBIO proposals is available at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21622/nsf21622.htm.
For BII, the requirements for the submitting proposals ask for a section on infrastructure that is leveraged, but it can also be infrastructure that’s generated by the project so it’s not entirely exclusive of creating needed infrastructure. However, the expectation is really there that you’re going to address an overarching research theme or set of questions and then have sub-questions
underneath that, and certainly there can be development of infrastructure as part of that activity, but you’re still going to need to focus on a compelling research challenge. More information about appropriate topics for BII proposals is available at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/biology-integration-institutes-bii.
The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) operates only within the USA, correct?
All NEON sites are located within U.S. states and Puerto Rico. However, NEON does partner with other U.S. and international networks, such as FluxNet LTERs, etc. to enable scaling of observations to help address global challenges, but also to discuss standardization and interoperability of the infrastructure, as well as sampling protocols and data science structures. We encourage you to reach out directly to NEON to discuss any opportunities to interact and collaborate with them. More information about NEON can be found at https://www.neonscience.org/about.
As always, while our VOH have a specific topic, attendees can ask any questions relating to DBI programs. The below questions do not relate to the CFARI cluster, but were asked during our Q&A session.
For infrastructure projects is there any new thinking on metrics or the general issue of how to evaluate the scientific return on investment? Not just reporting publication numbers but contextualizing them? Looking at impacts corrected for dollar investment?
DBI has to prioritize limited resources for investment in competing resources and it is a real challenge. We also suffer from limited data availability in terms of what we can access at scale, but that is getting better every day. For example, as more and more of our funding opportunities migrate from FastLane, which had flat static pdfs with suspect readability, into research.gov, which produces pdfs that have enhanced machine readability, and those are checked at submission for more consistent text analysis, the options for us internally to manage programs will improve. In addition, the Division of Biological Infrastructure actively engages on this topic by evaluating and leveraging available digital resources that are available through NSF internal systems as well as external systems to help guide not only our investments, but our evaluation and oversight of infrastructure programs and awards. As the landscape of available data and analytical tools continually evolves, so too should our approaches.
Is Infrastructure Capacity for Biological Research (Capacity) now a part of CFARI?
No, the Capacity program is part of the Research Resources Cluster.
Does the Sustaining program support equipment upgrades?
Generally not. However, modest upgrades for equipment to achieve some particular experimental goal can be added on Line D in a regular core proposal equipment budget, and programs are aware that those expenses are real and need to evaluate them on a case by case basis. This is true up to about $30,000 depending on the program, but if you start to push in the range of $70,000 to $100,000 or more, you will most often be directed to the MRI Program for equipment and pieces, including upgrades to instrumentation. Above that, we have the Mid-scale RI-1 and Mid-scale RI-2 programs.
Will there be another UKRI/BBSRC – NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological informatics in the future? Are there equivalent programs for collaborations with other European countries?
There is an opportunity for collaboration with UKRI/BBSRC through the Capacity solicitation cyberinfrastructure. Please email Peter McCartney (PMCCARTN@nsf.gov) for more information. Other than the UKRI/BBSRC opportunities there is also a partnership with the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) outlined at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20094/nsf20094.jsp.
Can I submit a proposal to Capacity and a different program in the CFARI cluster?
Although specific programs may have particular restrictions, NSF in general does not prohibit submitting different proposals to two different programs. However, a proposal that is a duplicate of, or substantially similar to, a proposal already under consideration by NSF from the same submitter will be returned without review.
Do community colleges qualify as primarily undergraduate institution (PUI)?
Yes, for the purposes of the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) and Research Opportunity Awards (ROA) funding opportunities, eligible PUIs are accredited colleges and universities (including two-year community colleges) that award Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees, and/or Master’s degrees in NSF-supported fields, but have awarded 20 or fewer Ph.D./D.Sci. degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years.
Is there a funding opportunity for new PhD students that happen to already have a Master’s degree? My understanding is that they are not eligible for the GRFP.
NSF does not have a fellowship for new PhD students who already have Master’s degrees. To be eligible for the GRFP program, a student with a Master’s degree would have to be returning to graduate study after an interruption of two (2) or more consecutive years immediately preceding the application deadline and not enrolled in a graduate degree program at the application deadline. However, support for a PhD student with a Master’s degree could be included in the budget for an NSF proposal in most programs. Full information about GRFP eligibility is available at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21602/nsf21602.htm.
For the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER), what is the eligibility in terms of years since graduation?
Eligibility for CAREER awards is not dependent on the number of years since graduation. CAREER applicants must hold a doctoral degree in a field supported by NSF; be engaged in research in an area of science, engineering, or education supported by NSF; hold at least a 50% tenure-track (or tenure-track-equivalent) position as an assistant professor (or equivalent title); be untenured; and have not previously received a CAREER award. Full information about CAREER eligibility is at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20525/nsf20525.htm#elig.
Are Mid-Career Advancement (MCA) awards open to non-tenure track professors?
Yes. To serve as a PI on an MCA proposal, an applicant must be a) at the Associate Professor rank (or equivalent), and b) at that rank for at least 3 years by the proposal submission date. For a position to be considered an Associate Professor equivalent position, it must meet all of the following requirements: (1) the employee has a continuing appointment that is expected to last for at least the duration of the grant; (2) the appointment has substantial research and educational and/or service responsibilities; and (3) the proposed project relates to the employee’s career goals and job responsibilities as well as to the mission of the department or organization. Full information about MCA eligibility is at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21516/nsf21516.htm#elig.
Will there be another solicitation for RaMP proposals? If so, when would be the submission deadline?
Pending availability of funds, yes. The new solicitation, if one is released, will give details on deadlines. More information about RaMP is at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/research-and-mentoring-postbaccalaureates-biological-sciences-ramp.