9/20/22 – Virtual Office Hours Recap: Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biolgy (PRFB)

On September 20, 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 discussing the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology Program (PRFB).

The staff provided a brief overview of the PRFB program and were available for questions. The slides from this Office Hour are available here:

Cross-Divisional Blog Resources for PRFB:

MCB: PRFB recording. https://mcbblog.nsfbio.com/office-hours/2/

DEB: Blog VOH Q&A: https://debblog.nsfbio.com/office-hours/

IOS: Blog VOH Q&A: https://iosblog.nsfbio.com/virtual-office-hours/

NOTE: For a number of questions, participants were encouraged to contact relevant Program Officers in order to have a more in depth discussion.


If the applicant performed a short postdoc in their PhD lab prior to starting a postdoc in their sponsoring scientist lab, would that time count against the 15 months eligibility requirement?

Yes. If you are in any position that requires a PhD, that time counts against your eligibility for the application.

If I took the summer off, does that count against my 15 month eligibility for the PRFB?

The 15 month eligibility has to do with the time you have been in a position that requires a PhD.  If you were not in a position that required a PhD, then that time does not count towards your eligibility.


Does applying to this program prevent you from applying to other postdoctoral programs?

No. Applying to this program only prevents you from applying to another NSF postdoctoral program with the same proposal.

In the biographical sketch, can we list papers in progress?

Yes, however, it is ideal if you can list something that can be found on the web. For example, BioRxiv. You can also have your PhD advisor mention your future publications in their letter of recommendation and/or have your sponsoring scientist discuss this in their statement.

Can we identify multiple Competitive Areas for the PFRB or will you only be considered in one area?

Your application will only be considered in one Competitive Area. There are different criteria of review for each of the competitive areas. So if you write it for one area you may not have a required section for another area. Please contact a program officer to discuss which competitive area may be best for your application.

If this is our second time submitting the proposal, it is appropriate to respond to reviews from an earlier submission, and if so, where would you put this in the proposal?

Yes, you can. You can note this information within the appropriate section (Intellectual Merit or Broader Impacts). Note, however, that you are not allowed additional space for this information.

Are letters of collaboration allowed for PRFB applications?

No, they are not.

Can applicants submit two completely different proposals to two different NSF postdoctoral programs (Ex. One to BIO and one to GEO)?

The answer is technically yes, but please contact a program officer to let them know you would be doing this, and to get further instruction as to how to move forward.

Are there programs like the K99/R00 at the NSF?

Not at this time.

What are some of the most common weaknesses or flaws in PRFB applications?

Make sure your application adheres to the solicitation specific criteria. Make sure you have strong broader impact activities. Reviewers are going to look at training potential, so make sure that you demonstrate how this fellowship will advance your training. Make sure you work closely with your sponsoring scientist to develop a mentoring plan that is customized to you and is robust. Be careful about including too much jargon, or disciplinary specific language in the application. If you are staying at your same institution where you obtained your PhD, you need to justify how your training and professional development will be advanced by this fellowship.

Can a sponsoring scientist sponsor more than one applicant?


Does the PRFB require a Conflict of Interest form?

The PRFB program does not require a CoI document.

Do we need a conflict of interest form for the sponsoring scientist(s)?


Can we request proposal reviewers like other NSF proposals?

These proposals are only reviewed in panel, not by ad hoc reviewers. So suggesting reviewers is not advisable.

Can we apply to both the PRFB and also a full NSF grant? If we receive both, can we do one while completing the other?

Note that multiple proposals submitted to the NSF can not have significant overlap with each other. If a full NSF grant has you listed to perform the same research as that proposed in your PRFB, that would not be allowable. Also note that there are many U.S. institutions that do not allow a postdoctoral fellow to be a PI on a proposal. So check with your institution if this is allowable. However, if your institution allows you, and the proposal is on a different topic than the one you are applying for in the PRFB this may be allowable. Please reach out to a program officer to discuss these instances further.

What types of materials are appropriate for the biosketch?

The biosketch is a fillable PDF, with different sections. It will depend upon which section in the biosketch you are filling out. Examples include journal articles under products, R packages under products, etc.

If we are doing fieldwork to collect live animals, do we need to submit permits before applying to the PRFB?

You should indicate on the cover page whether an IRB/IACUC approval would be required for the research. However, NSF does not require these approval documents to be submitted with the application. NSF would contact you for these if an award is recommended. If you require special permits, it is a good idea to mention the need for these in your proposal or note that they are in place in your sponsor’s group. This ensures that reviewers can see that you know how the work is regulated. Again, copies of these are not submitted with the application.

Can we propose to live abroad?

Yes, you can spend all or part of the fellowship period abroad. You must affiliate with an appropriate U.S. or international host institution, e.g., colleges and universities, and privately-sponsored nonprofit institutes and museums, government agencies and laboratories, and, under special conditions, for-profit organizations.

Is there is a limit to how long we can spend working in an institution other than the primary host institution, such as the lab or co-adviser?

This should be addressed in your sponsoring scientist statement. However, you still need to have a primary advisor, and a primary sponsoring institution. There is no limit per se to the number of co-advisors you may have. But it is important to discuss where you are getting your primary training and professional development from.

Is it a problem if the work I propose is related to (though not a duplicate of) work that is currently funded in my sponsoring scientist’s lab?

It is expected that postdoctoral fellows will do work related to the work in the sponsor’s lab, as that is the lab the fellow is getting their training and professional development in. However, we expect that the primary driver of the postdoctoral research question is the postdoctoral fellow, and not the sponsoring scientist. Remember, duplicate work can not be submitted. If you have a question about this, please reach out to a program officer for further clarification.

If you are co-advised, should each sponsoring scientist submit a biosketch?

Yes. And both advisors would describe their contributions to the training and professional development in the sponsoring scientists statement.

Competitive Area 2 (Integrative Research Investigating the Rules of Life Governing Interactions Between Genomes, Environment and Phenotypes)

For Competitive Area 2, do we need to span the full levels from molecules to ecosystems?

No, you do not need to span the full level of this scale, but you do need to span scales of biology. When writing your proposal, please be explicit about the scales you are spanning and about how your proposal is predictive.

In Competitive Area 2, should our broader impacts specifically address impacts at the postdoctoral level, as in Competitive Area 1?

No. They do not have to specifically address postdocs.

Award Conditions

What is the timeline for the start date if you are awarded the PRFB Fellowship?

The earliest you could start would be June 1 of the subsequent year (e.g. June 2023 for the 2022 application), all the way to August 1 of the following year (e.g. August 2024).

Are PRFB awards eligible to apply to REU funding?

No, we are not allowed to supplement the PRFB awards.

How is family leave handled?

You are allowed 1 month of paid leave per year of the award (3 months of leave) per PRFB award. You are also allowed unpaid leave which you can request in addition to the paid leave. Please refer to the Administrative Guide for guidance on family leave.

Does Maternity Leave count against your time for the 15 month eligibility requirement?

No, maternity leave does not count against the 15 month requirement.

Is there a cap at how many proposals get funded under each area?

There is no cap per se. The budget as listed in the solicitation is $15,000,000 with 60 estimated awards that will be made. Approximately $12 million for competitive areas 1 and 2, and $3 million for competitive area 3. The success rate is generally similar to those of other programs in BIO.

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