3/15/22 – Virtual Office Hours Recap: Crossing Divisions in Biology – Opportunities in Other NSF/BIO Programs (IOS, DEB, MCB)

On March 15, 2022, program officers from the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) were joined by program officers from other divisions within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), including the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), the Division of Integrative and Organismal Systems (IOS), and the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), and held a virtual office hour session.

The staff provided a brief overview of each division in BIO, how to figure out where your research may fit, and were available for questions. 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:

Across Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) Divisions Generally

If my colleague and I have a proposal that would cross divisions, how do we approach submission?

We suggest reaching out to a program officer in one of the programs you think could be a fit for the research you have in mind. If you include a one-page summary of the project you are thinking about, the program officer can assess whether a co-review with another program may be appropriate.

If your project involves innovative, integrative biological research addressing fundamental questions that cross different scales of organization and involves interdisciplinary training of early-career scientists, you might also consider the Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO) program.

Could you outline limits on the number of submissions allowed as a PI? Is the limit for BIO or per division?

Core programs in BIO have no deadlines and no limits on the number of proposals a PI can submit or serve as a co-PI. Some special programs do have deadlines and/or limits on the number of submissions, for example, the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) program and the Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) have a limit of one submission per PI or Co-PI. In those cases, that information will be contained in the relevant solicitation.

Working with IOS

Will the Organismal Systems and Infection Biology (OSIB) funding opportunity fund plant virus infection or evolution projects?

Yes, OSIB is interested in new, integrative approaches to understanding the spatial and temporal dynamics and the nature of host-infectious agent interactions in different contexts (e.g., across developmental, endocrine, physiological, social, or environmental contexts), across different scales (e.g., subcellular to organismal, ancient to present-day scales), with alternative outcomes (mutualistic, parasitic, pathogenic, etc.), and in non-model (or under-studied) systems, and that could include plant-virus infection or evolution projects.

For the Plant Biotic Interactions (PBI) program, what might make a proposal be a better fit here or in Population and Community Ecology (PCE)?

The PBI program is primarily focused at the mechanistic level on the processes that mediate beneficial and antagonistic interactions between plants and their viral, bacterial, oomycete, fungal, plant, and invertebrate symbionts, pathogens and pests. The collaboration of that program with USDA-NIFA extends that to agriculturally-relevant systems and translational work.

PCE is more focused on organismal and species interactions, including population dynamics of individual species, demography, and fundamental ecological interactions affecting populations, communities, and their environments.

If you are not sure which program is a better fit to your project, we recommend contacting a program officer.

Working with MCB

For the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) core programs, are proposals joint reviewed with DBI or transferred if it fits DBI more?

Depending on the content of the proposal, it could be reviewed in either division or both. We recommend contacting a program officer to discuss the best fit for your research.

Is the opportunity for Associate/Full professors mentioned in the Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) presentation specific to that division or is it across the BIO directorate?

The Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research (Transitions) program is run through MCB and enables researchers with a strong track record of prior accomplishment to pursue a new avenue of research or inquiry.

The Mid-Career Advancement program is a cross-directorate program that offers an opportunity for scientists and engineers at the mid-career stage to substantively enhance and advance their research program and career trajectory. All four divisions in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) participate, as well as some or all divisions in Geosciences (GEO), Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), Education and Human Resources (EHR), and Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP). A full list of participating programs is at https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/mid-career-advancement-mca.

If you are not sure which program is a better fit to your project, we recommend contacting a program officer.

Across Directorates/Other NSF Programs

You talked about cross-division funding opportunities within DBI. What about among divisions and directorates across NSF? For instance, if we are a team of biologists, agronomists, and engineers, can we put together an EArly-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) and send it to program officers within both Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) and Chemical, Bioengineering and Transport Systems (CBET) program in the Engineering Directorate to request a cross-division funding? Is this a good strategy to increase chances of funding or is it better to follow a different path?

An EAGER proposal that crosses disciplinary boundaries could potentially be considered by more than one division, but please bear in mind that PI(s) must contact the NSF program officer(s) whose expertise is most germane to the proposal topic prior to submission of an EAGER proposal. The relevant program officers can advise you whether the project is appropriate for an EAGER and, if so, which program(s) would be most appropriate.

Can one have more than one Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) grant at the same time?

As long as the projects are not substantially overlapping, there is no restriction preventing a PI from having more than one RUI grant at the same time.

Regarding the RUI, is it a separate solicitation, or do you specify this during submission for all NSF solicitations?

The RUI funding opportunity is a separate solicitation. All NSF directorates may support RUI funding activities. Funding for these awards is contained within research and education program allocations and not held as a separate allocation. RUI proposals are evaluated and funded by NSF programs in the disciplinary areas of the proposed research and are funded at their discretion. 

Prospective PIs should contact disciplinary program officers to identify specific NSF programs and to determine the feasibility and timing of RUI/ROA requests.

For the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), can graduate students apply at the start of their second year?

Graduate students enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program are limited to only one application to the GRFP, submitted in the first year or beginning of the second year of their degree program.

Individuals who have (i) completed more than one academic year in a degree-granting program, (ii) earned a previous master’s degree of any kind (including bachelor’s-master’s degree), or (iii) earned a professional degree are eligible only if:

  • they have had a continuous interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years immediately prior to the application deadline; and
  • are not enrolled in a degree-granting graduate program at the application deadline.

Other DBI Programs
Can a
Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) submission be submitted as an RUI? If so, are there any unique considerations?

No. BRC-BIO proposals are limited to new faculty in biology who are pre-tenure (or the equivalent) and who are at Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs), Minority-serving Institutions (MSIs) that are not among the nation’s most research-intensive institutions, and other institutions that are classified as R2, D/PU, or M1-3 (see Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education http://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/).

 If PIs are unclear about the status of their institution, they are encouraged to reach out to the program officers in advance. BRC-BIO is not an RUI participating program, and proposals are therefore not eligible for the RUI designation.

For the Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) program, is the three-year mark by the time you make your submission?

Yes, lead PIs must be at the Assistant Professor rank (or equivalent), with service at that rank for no more than 3 years by the proposal submission date.

There was some mention of post-doctoral fellowship. Can you elaborate? Is this program specific or across the BIO directorate?

The Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) program is administered by the Human Resources Cluster in the Division of Biological Infrastructure. The PRFB program awards fellowships to recent recipients of the doctoral degree for research and training in selected areas supported by BIO and with special goals for human resource development in biology. For applications under this solicitation, these areas are(1) Broadening Participation of Groups Underrepresented in Biology, (2) Integrative Research Investigating the Rules of Life Governing Interactions Between Genomes, Environment and Phenotypes, and (3) Plant Genome Postdoctoral Research Fellowships.

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