In case you missed our recent virtual office hours (VOH) on our broadening participation programs, here are a few of the questions that were asked with answers from NSF program directors.
The slides from this Office Hour are available here:
Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates in Biological Sciences (RaMP)
Q. What has changed in the new RaMP solicitation (NSF 23-514)?
A. These changes are highlighted at the beginning of the solicitation (see below); please note that the solicitation has been edited and its organizational structure has also been changed in places to enhance clarity.
New recruitment, selection, and retention and dissemination plans sections are required. BIO RaMP PIs must use the NSF Education and Training Application (ETAP) to manage postbaccalaureate applications and to collect participant demographic information.
Q. How should the Education and Training Application (ETAP) be integrated with the evaluation team to manage post-bacc applications and collect demographic information?
A. To understand the role of ETAP in RaMP projects, you are encouraged to visit the NSF ETAP link in order to see how existing grantees have utilized this new resource: https://etap.nsf.gov/. Language from the current solicitation (23-514) is provided, below (note the correct link is provided in the previous sentence):
All RaMP projects must use the NSF Education and Training Application system (ETAP – https://www.nsfetap.org) to manage postbaccalaureate applications and collect participant demographic information. The recruitment plan must outline specific efforts for the recruitment of participants from diverse social categories and/or identities including but not limited to: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, socio-economic status, disability status, veteran status, or geography. This section should also describe strategies for the recruitment and selection of mentors and other network participants.
Q. When the RaMP solicitation says that mentorship programs should be evidence-based, are you asking us to provide evidence that our mentoring works, that our mentoring for the mentors is validated, or both?
A. Both. The solicitation indicates “evidence-based practices”. This means you will leverage evaluated practices to recruit a diverse pool of participants that can contribute to STEM careers in the biological sciences. This applies to both the mentors and mentees in the program. The solicitation provides extensive consideration of this point, including the following statements.
It is expected that the networks develop an evidence-based mentoring strategy that is grounded in established practices that will help meet the network goals. RaMP networks are encouraged to leverage established programs such as NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) or other broadening participation programs (https://www.nsf.gov/od/broadeningparticipation/bp.jsp). Networks are strongly encouraged to leverage available resources to facilitate training of participants, mentors and co-mentors (e.g., faculty teams, postdoctoral associates, and advanced Ph.D. students).
Q. For the RaMP network, are you looking for new networks to be developed as part of the proposal, or is it okay to utilize an established network already in place for mentoring and professional development?
A. Both approaches may be used as the basis for meeting the expectations of the RaMP program. However, several components should be considered in constructing the kind of collaborative framework you will use and the solicitation outlines with the following statements from the solicitation.
In addition to the PAPPG required section labeled Broader Impacts, the Project Description must include the following sections: (1) A Science Theme that provides a compelling basis for investigating a biological phenomenon and provides opportunities to mentees at this early career stage to develop a science community with their peers and mentors with common scientific interests; (2) A Network Structure and Collaborative Framework that encourages an understanding of the value of team-based and network-based research practices; (3) A Recruitment, Selection and Retention Plan with clear goals to broaden participation in biology; (4) A Mentoring Program Plan that emphasizes culturally-aware and inclusive mentoring of diverse researchers and values the role of intentional mentoring in influencing career-paths of early professionals; (5) An Evaluation and Assessment Plan; and (6) A Project Outcomes and Dissemination Plan. The organization of the network must include PI/co-PI(s), coordinator(s), mentors and co-mentors, postbaccalaureate participants, and an assessor. Proposals are expected to include investigators from diverse organizations and partner institutions. Letters of collaboration with partners or other entities should be included as supplementary documents. See Section V below for details on how to prepare these areas of consideration for review.
Q. If a mentor is a university employee and we need to include fringe benefits at that institution, do we only budget the stipend but allow for the fringe benefits in the total?
A. The RaMP solicitation offers the following statement:
Mentors and their co-mentors may be provided up to a total of $10,000 dollars per year in order to support their time commitment to mentoring, training and professional development activities.
The $10,000 amount can include fringe benefits. We encourage you to work with your sponsored programs office (or equivalent organization) to help you craft your budgets according to institutional guidelines.
Q. Should mentors from outside of the PI’s institution be included in the contractor line of the budget and paid the full $10,000 since they are not employees of that institution and therefore not required to pay for these benefits?
A. The solicitation makes the following statements about external institutions which may impact how you develop your budget:
Although RaMP networks are expected to involve mentors from multiple sites and organizations, a single organization must serve as the submitting organization for each proposal. Of the two types of collaborative proposal formats described in the PAPPG, this solicitation allows only a single proposal submission with subawards administered by the lead organization if needed.
Since policies may vary by institution, you should consult with your sponsored programs office (or equivalent) in order to determine how to provide guidance in answering this question; this includes the possibility of subawards to partnering institutions.
Q. Is there an opportunity to renew a RaMP proposal?
A. RaMP proposals are four-year awards. The first year is for planning and recruitment of mentees, and the other three years are to engage the mentors with the mentees according to the project design. The RaMP solicitation does not currently address renewals. Of course, if required, no-cost extensions apply to these proposals.
Q. Can postbaccalaureates submit NSF GRFP proposals?
A. Yes they can, but they need to meet the other eligibility requirements. If you have a bachelor’s degree but have not yet started your graduate work, you compete for the award against other applicants at the undergraduate level.
Q. What is the definition of a postbaccalaureate? Is there a restriction on how many years after you receive your bachelor’s degree that you can apply?
A. The following statements from the program solicitation pertain to postbaccalaureate eligibility:
Postbaccalaureate participants supported with NSF funds must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States. Participants must have a baccalaureate college degree before participating in the program (applicants must apply to the program before or within four years of graduation, with extensions allowed for family, medical leave, or military service). Individuals currently enrolled or accepted into a graduate program are not eligible.
Q. Who should RaMP project outcomes be disseminated to?
A. The program solicitation offers the following suggestions:
Projects are encouraged to document and describe the outcomes of their program strategies in achieving its goals for broad dissemination for other interested community members through appropriate venues such as social media, traditional media, peer-reviewed publications, professional society communications, websites, presentations, workshops, and other appropriate strategies to extend the reach of the program.
There is enough room available to you to create a dissemination plan that fits your project design; this frees you to relate the plan to different outcomes that may pertain to mentoring practices, the recruitment process, the design of the network, or the research itself. It is up to each proposal to make the best case for the dissemination of results.
Q. Given regional cost of living differences, should mentee stipends cover housing or is there a separate housing allocation to accommodate these differences?
A. The program solicitation makes the following statements about this point:
Networks should be structured to support 8-12 postbaccalaureate mentees per year (mentees may only be supported with a stipend for 1 year) with annual stipends of a minimum of $32,500 per participant. Programs in areas with higher costs of living may adjust stipends to salary commensurate with host institutions relevant payroll schedule.
Therefore, please note that RaMP projects are allowed to balance the high cost of living with stipend adjustments, but that there are no separate allocations for housing.
Q. When is the typical start date for RaMP awards and then the mentee cohorts?
A. Please note the following statement from the program solicitation with respect to the overall design of the program vis-à-vis the budget.
Although support will be provided for 3 annual cohorts of mentees over 36 months, awards of up to 48 months are allowed to facilitate upfront work prior to the first cohort for network establishment, mentor training, mentee recruitment and selection, and plans for network assessment and evaluation.
In addition, please note that we will do our best to notify you of an award within six months after the proposal submission deadline. Since you are given the opportunity to use the first year of the award as a planning and recruitment phase (see above solicitation statement), the first cohort typically arrives one year after the start date of the award that you select.
Q. Is there a requirement for including a section entitled “Results from Prior NSF Support”?
A. Yes, and this requirement is widespread across NSF programs. Please consult the NSF PAPPG (Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide) documentation for the details of how to present this information, but the following statements (based on the current PAPPG Section Chapter II.D.2) express the rationale of this section of the proposal.
The purpose of this section is to assist reviewers in assessing the quality of prior work conducted with prior or current NSF funding. If any PI or co-PI identified on the proposal has received prior NSF support, including an award with an end date in the past five years, or any current funding, including any no cost extensions, information on the award is required for each PI and co-PI, regardless of whether the support was directly related to the proposal or not. In cases where the PI or any co-PI has received more than one award (excluding amendments to existing awards), they need only report on the one award that is most closely related to the proposal. Support means salary support, as well as any other funding awarded by NSF, including research, Graduate Research Fellowship, Major Research Instrumentation, conference, equipment, travel, and center awards, etc.
Q. Are fringe benefits mandatory in the participant stipend?
A. The program solicitation does not indicate that benefits are mandatory, but it does provide information about the ability to make them as indicated in the following statements:
Postbaccalaureate participant stipends should be a minimum of $32,500 per year for each of the postbaccalaureate participants. Programs in areas with higher costs of living may adjust stipends to salary commensurate with the host institution’s relevant payroll schedule. Stipend cost may include fringe benefits to cover individual or family health insurance. New participants supported with stipends will be recruited during each year of the project. Individual participants can only be supported for one year.
We recommend that you work closely with your office of sponsored programs to define how your institution guides these aspects of compensation.
Q. Would an individual who completed an REU program, or even with moderate research during the academic year, be ineligible for the RaMP?
A. The solicitation provides guidance on this topic with the following statement:
The program goal is to offer opportunities to those who had little or no research experiences during college to facilitate entry into the STEM workforce.
Students with research experience (including through the REU program) are therefore not disqualified from participation. However, it is important to articulate how the postbaccalaureates you recruit will benefit from the experience you give them in ways that they might not otherwise have benefited without this opportunity.
Q. Can RaMP share funding with other grants in order to expand the program to include more students?
A. The program solicitation states: “Inclusion of voluntary committed cost sharing is prohibited.” Thus, while shared funding is not allowed, you can still leverage resources from other programs while collaborating together in order to reduce costs. Since this topic is an important one to NSF, please feel free to email us with any questions you might have for us: email@example.com.
Leading Culture Change Through Professional Societies of Biology (BIO-LEAPS)
Q. Are scientific societies eligible to apply to the BIO-LEAPS program?
A. Proposals to BIO-LEAPS may be submitted by professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.
Research Coordination Networks in Undergraduate Biology Education (RCN-UBE)
Q. For the RCN-UBE, can you request $500,000 for less than five years?
A. Yes, if you can complete the scope of the project in less time. You’ll need to make the case for the timeline in the proposal.
Q. Can an RCN-UBE award be used to support a postdoc?
A. Yes, a postdoc can be supported if they are an integral part of your network. If a postdoc is involved, you will need to include a postdoctoral mentoring plan as a supplemental document.
Q. If RCN-UBE funds can’t be spent on collaborative research supplies, how will these funds support the development and demonstration of scalability of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) across institutions? Would these CUREs need supplies to run and trial their developing programs?
A. You can compensate participants for meetings to develop a CURE, use funds to set up kits, test the CURE, and other costs. What is not permitted is stipends for research for undergraduates.
Q. For RCN-UBE, is there a minimum or maximum on the number of participants you could have, not including senior personnel?
A. It should be the number that makes sense for the project that you propose, and there would be an expectation that the network will grow. This applies to both full and incubator proposals; however, an incubator would likely start with a smaller network as these awards are to support the development of a bigger network and submission of a full network proposal.
Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO)
Q. Are faculty at R2 institutions eligible to apply for the BRC-BIO program?
A. Yes, the BRC-BIO program is open to new faculty 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.
Q. Would a PI be eligible to apply to BRC-BIO if they will be tenured after the grant starts but before it ends?
A. Eligibility is evaluated at the date of submission. 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.
Q. Can you elaborate on the impact statement and broader impacts for BRC-BIO and what type of information belongs in each?
A. BRC-BIO Impact Statement: These two pages are to highlight how the award would increase your research and training capacity in the context of your institution. It includes how the project is expected to build your research capacity for a sustained research program that will be competitive for subsequent funding; how the project would impact your students through the training they receive (training the STEM workforce and increasing diversity); and the benefits to your department/institution from the award—for example, shared infrastructure (equipment) and collaborations with colleagues.
Broader Impacts: This section is part of every NSF proposal. It should describe societal benefits that would result from the project. Examples are health benefits of the research, broadening participation, public understanding of science and more. There will be some overlap between the two sections and this is fine—just use the space judiciously!
Q. For BRC-BIO, can collaborators be listed as co-PIs or senior personnel, or should there just be one PI on the proposal?
A. Yes, you can have co-PIs. You can also list your collaborators as senior personnel. Choose whatever reflects their role on the project. For example, if a collaborator is doing a discreet but critical part, listing as senior personnel may be more appropriate. Whereas, if a collaborator is involved a large fraction of the work and this is integrated into the project, a Co-PI designation may be more appropriate. As in any collaboration, determining the appropriate role would be part of the process and require a team discussion.
Q. For BRC-BIO should the broader impacts be aimed at introducing research experiences for undergraduates or high school teachers?
A. Most BRC-BIO research experiences are for undergraduates; however, trainees/staff at other career stages can be included, as these may be critical to build your research capacity and help train and mentor undergraduates. If you are training high school teachers, this would likely be a broader impact. Describing how undergrads will be involved in the research is part of the program goal to enhance STEM workforce development and diversity.
Q. For BRC-BIO, can you use funds to pay for in-country field assistance for international field work if those field assistants are not U.S. citizens?
A. That could be allowable. Such funding would have to be well justified. We recommend discussing this with a program officer before submitting your proposal.