The newest National Science Foundation (NSF) Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) takes effect June 1, 2020. The most significant changes involve NSF-approved formats for the Biographical Sketch and Current and Pending Support sections, both of which will now have to be in NSF-approved file formats: either SciENcv or NSF fillable-form PDF.
SciENcv integrates with ORCID so that biographical sketch information can be imported directly from ORCID, eliminating some manual entry of information in multiple places. The NSF fillable forms do not integrate with ORCID.
NSF requests that principal investigators start using the new formats now (even for proposals that will be submitted before June 1), so that they can identify potential issues. Feedback about the process should be emailed to email@example.com.
Jean Feldman, head of NSF’s policy office, gave a COVID-19 update as part of a panel discussion hosted by the National Council of Research Administrators (NCURA) on March 25. As described below, she addressed several of the questions most frequently being fielded by her office. For detailed responses on these and other FAQs, visit the NSF COVID-19 webpage. A new set of questions and answers was posted on March 26, with a specific section on Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grants.
Can we continue to charge salary costs to our grants while non-essential research has been curtailed?
Grant recipients can continue charging salaries, stipends and benefits as long as these payments are consistent with their home institution’s policies. However, you should not assume that supplemental funding will be available to continue salaries when research activities can be restarted. In other words, you might end up with a budget shortfall down the road. If you anticipate this happening, you should contact your program officer.
Can universities donate personal protective equipment that was purchased with grant funding?
This is typically an unallowable expense, but funding agencies have discretion to approve such donations. Contact your program officer to see if it will be allowed. If you plan to donate now and then use university funds later to replenish your supply, work with your Grants & Contracts accountant to very carefully document the donation and replacement process.
How are award decision timelines being impacted?
The award process is currently continuing as normal; panels that were scheduled have gone ahead (virtually). Over time, delays may occur, but it’s too soon to predict those now.
National Science Foundation’s latest Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) has been released and takes effect for proposals submitted on or after June 1. One of the more notable changes in the new guide is a requirement for information about current and pending support (CPS). CPS information is used by reviewers to assess the “capacity of the individual to carry out the research as well as to help assess any potential overlap/duplication with the project being proposed.”
The new PAPPG includes a requirement that CPS information be submitted in an NSF-approved format. The two approved methods for generating CPS information in an approved format are through SciENcv and through a fillable-form PDF. Both of these options are still in development, with no definite word on when we’ll be able to take a look.
NSF has released an FAQ document on the topic, which explains that CPS information formatted in ways other than the two approved methods will not be accepted. In fact, submitting a CPS PDF prepared in any other way will generate an error message.
Most of the remaining FAQs focus on the content of the current and pending information, rather than the format. I’ve summarized some of the most relevant information here:
Gifts should not be reported in CPS. However, an item or service given with an expectation of a time commitment from a researcher is not considered a gift; it’s an in-kind contribution. Ask your Research & Sponsored Programs representative if you need help determining whether something is a gift or an in-kind contribution.
In-kind contributions with an associated time commitment should be included in CPS (even if the contribution is not to be used on the proposed project).
Start-up packages should not be included in CPS.
Federal funders are increasingly concerned with accurate reporting of CPS information. Falsely reported information can be a serious matter. If you have any questions on what should be reported, please contact your Research & Sponsored Programs representative.
Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Associate Director of Proposal Development, Office of Research & Innovation, Miami University.
We’re pleased to reblog this recent Grants.Gov Community Blog post. We are sharing the information so our community is aware of system changes they may notice in the coming months, but there is no action required by Miami University PIs at this time. Once Miami has obtained a UEI from SAM.gov, we will update the […]
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will require applicants to use a new set of forms and instructions for proposals due on or after May 25, 2020. The changes appear to be very minor. The most substantive change, in PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information, involves the separation of the current “Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Children” attachment into two attachments: “Inclusion of Individuals Across the Lifespan” and “Inclusion of Women and Minorities.” Miami’s grants.gov interface, Cayuse 424, will automatically update to the new forms for applications with due dates after May 25, 2020. While we expect that many applicants won’t even notice the changes, Research & Sponsored Programs staff will be available to answer any questions that arise.
Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Research & Sponsored Programs, Miami University.
Paper stack image by Egle_pe via Needpix.com. “Coming soon” image by Mian Shahzad Raza via Pixabay. Both used under Creative Commons license.
Earlier this fall, there was a glitch in NIH’s electronic submission system electronic submission system, eRA Commons, that caused blank pages to appear in place of content in some grant application submissions. NIH attributed the error to PDF attachments that were generated from scanned documents, rather than text files.
Although the eRA Commons issue has now been resolved and our proposal facilitators, Anne Schauer and Amy Cooper, did not notice this error happening with any Miami proposals, we thought this was a good opportunity to issue a few reminders about submitting proposals, whether using Miami’s Cayuse system any other submission system.
It’s always best to generate PDFs from text files created in Word or another word processing program. Using scanned images to create PDFs should be avoided whenever possible.
It is the PI’s responsibility to ensure that the submission is complete and accurate. Your proposal facilitator reviews your application prior to submission, but because they don’t have expertise in your field, they won’t always recognize when something — a technical figure, for instance — has not rendered properly. You should always check your proposal in the sponsor’s system (e.g., NIH’s eRA Commons) following submission to verify that everything appears the way it should.
Many sponsors allow a period of time during which a PI may review and “fix” a submitted proposal. For example, NIH allows submissions to be reviewed, withdrawn, and resubmitted in eRA Commons for two days following submission. However, with many sponsors — including NIH — once the submission deadline has passed, no changes may be made to a proposal, even if the allotted review window has not yet passed. This is one of many good reasons not to wait until the last minute to submit a proposal. If you submit at the last minute, there may not be enough time for you to review the submitted proposal, let alone withdraw it, fix it, and resubmit it.
Digital screen glitch image by Rosa Menkman via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license. Check and double check image from the National Archives at College Park, public domain.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued a notification that FastLane and Research.gov will be unavailable beginning at 8:00pm ET on Friday, November 8 through 6:00am ET on Tuesday, November 12.
During this time, NSF will be migrating its business applications to a “modern and flexible” platform. The work will include an upgrade of the alpha-numeric character set used by FastLane and Research.gov to correct text errors — particularly those associated with special characters — that may appear in proposals and project reports.
As a federal agency, NSF is closed on Veterans Day, and the migration was scheduled for the Veterans Day weekend to minimize the impact of the unavailability of the two systems for PIs, research administrators, and NSF staff.
NSF advises that there will be no access to FastLane or Research.gov during the maintenance window. No proposals can be prepared or submitted, nor can project reports or cash requests be submitted. Information and documents that are entered into either system prior to the migration will be accessible following the migration. This includes in-progress proposals and project reports.
At the invitation of Dean Michael Dantley, Spencer Foundation’s Associate Program Officer, Roey Ahram, spent October 3 with Miami’s College of Education, Health, and Society. Ahram gave a detailed presentation in the morning and met with individual faculty members to discuss their research throughout the afternoon.
Ahram explained that Spencer is interested in education broadly defined and wherever learning occurs from birth through adulthood. They are responsive to education researchers’ needs, and as Ahram explained it they, “fund whatever the field thinks we should fund.”
Ahram described the Foundation’s areas of interest, including creating and sustaining equitable education spaces, emphasizing the foundation’s view that “learning is a social justice process.” Another area of interest is innovative research approaches. Ahram explained that Spencer funds across the full range of educational research approaches and that the Foundation believes more research on the methods themselves is needed. Other areas of interest include learning and flourishing and high-quality teaching and leaders.
The Spencer Foundation funds three types of grants:
Field-building activities (including conferences and mentoring)
Training fellowships for dissertations and post-doctoral work
Tenure-track faculty, and field-initiated research
A great deal of Ahram’s presentation focused on field-initiated research, which would likely be of most interest to Miami faculty. Please refer to the Spencer website for more details.
As Ahram explained, the Spencer Foundation is deeply interested in reflecting the diversity of educational researchers, as well as learners and educators, in the proposals they fund. He indicated that, historically, Spencer has supported primarily West Coast, Northeast, and large R1 Midwestern universities and colleges. They specifically want to diversify their geographic reach, which may make this an ideal time for Miami faculty to consider applying. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to the Spencer Foundation, contact Amy Cooper to get started. Staff from University Advancement are available to help with relationship building and even writing and editing.
Ahram offered the following four tips for grant-seekers:
Start with a question.
Know your audience. Reviewers for Spencer research grant proposals include, at minimum, a subject expert, a research method expert, and a generalist.
Align the sections of your proposal. Ahram suggests specifically stating in the research methods section, “I’m answering my research question by . . .”
Learn from feedback. For full proposals, Spencer provides detailed reviewer comments. While Spencer grants are becoming ever more competitive — with some having as low as a 5% funding rate — resubmissions are faring better and better.
What makes a Spencer application stand out? Ahram says well-done literature review and methodology sections are critical, with a research question clearly driving the research. He emphasized that the methodology should include a well-articulated analysis plan, joking that “you’ll need more than T-tests!” Applicants should also justify their choice of analysis method with citations. See the “Resources and Tools for Applicants” section of the Spencer website for details.
Spencer program officers are also education researchers themselves and Ahram’s area of interest is special education. He stated that program officers are happy to discuss project ideas with applicants, but aren’t permitted to review proposal drafts. Finally, Spencer is looking for diversity in proposal reviewers; contact a program officer to volunteer.
Written by Amy Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Research and Innovation; Brian Furnish, Assistant Vice President, Corporate and Foundation Relations; and Carrie Powell, Director of Development for the College of Education, Health, and Society, Miami University.
Photo of Roey Ahram by the Spencer Foundation. Photo of Urban Leadership Intern Madison Cook with students by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.
The Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program offered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) “provides organizations with opportunities to acquire major instrumentation that supports the research and research training goals of the organization that may be used by other researchers regionally or nationally.”
MRI is a limited submission opportunity, meaning that the number of proposals submitted from a given institution is limited by the NSF. To determine which proposals Miami University will submit each year, OARS conducts a review of preliminary proposals. For the 2020 MRI competition, the window to submit to the NSF is January 1-21, 2020, but the deadline to submit preliminary proposals to OARS is October 28, 2019. With that date coming up, we thought we would re-run a post from 2017 that shares some insights about applying to the program.
INSIGHT 1: Get the basics right.
Be sure to read the solicitation carefully, even if you’ve applied in (multiple) previous years. Solicitations for longstanding programs do change from time to time, so it’s important to read each new solicitation. In fact, the institutional submission limits changed with the 2018 solicitation. Rather than submission limits being based on acquisition or development, they are now based on amount of funding requested. Institutions may submit up to two proposals with funding requests between $100,000 and $999,999 and one proposal with a funding request between $1 million and $4 million, inclusive.
At the NSF Spring Grants Conference held Louisville in June 2017, Randy Phelps, the NSF staff associate who coordinates the MRI program, suggested the following points are especially important to note:
The program funds equipment for shared use, so the proposal must demonstrate use by at least two personnel. There can be up to four co-PIs on the project, but there can be more users than PIs.
The project period can be up to three years because the program will fund operation and maintenance of the instrument for that length of time.
Make sure that what you’re requesting is eligible for funding under the MRI program. In general, the program will not fund anything that can be re-purposed for non-scientific use after the end of the project period. Specific details about what can and cannot be requested can be found in the NSF MRI FAQs.
Remember that voluntary committed cost share is prohibited. While MRI requires that institutions share 30% of the total project costs, NSF does not allow institutions to volunteer to share costs over and above that mark. This prohibition extends to reduced indirect cost rates.
Mike Robinson and Paul James, members of Miami University’s Department of Biology, attribute much of their success in securing an award in the 2017 MRI competition to their recognition of Phelps’ first point.
“What was key for us was that we hit a broad swath of people and types of research,” Robinson says. “We included faculty working in developmental biology, physiology, ecology, physics, and engineering.”
Their proposal included Robinson as PI, four co-PIs (including James), and seven additional equipment users as senior personnel.
INSIGHT 2: Tell a story that resonates with reviewers.
“Get the instrument and they will come” is not a compelling story, Phelps said. Instead, he urged proposers to demonstrate that the science is driving the request for the instrument. There’s lots of advice out there (here, here, and here, for instance) for scientists who want to become more persuasive storytellers. In addition, Phelps offered this specific advice for MRI proposals:
Make sure that the format of your proposal emphasizes the science, rather than the instrument.
Consider grouping users into categories by type of use and organizing the proposal around these categories. Break down the use of the instrument by group, identifying the percentage of total use each group will account for. Demonstrate, for example, that Group A’s use will account for 60% of total use; Group B’s use will account for 20% of total use, Group C’s use will account for 15%, and Group D’s will account for 5%. Then explain how each group’s use correlates to a corresponding percentage of the instrument costs. In this example, that means that since Group A will account for 60% of the instrument’s total, the proposal should show that 60% of the instrument costs derive from the capabilities Group A users require.
Show that the instrument will be used — a lot. The less downtime you can project, the better your proposal will fare in review.
Robinson recalls that when he and James first decided to write the MRI proposal, conversations with colleagues were less than encouraging.
“I can’t tell you the number of people that told me there was no way we were going to get this award,” Robinson says. “We had all of these things going against us: We were going to have to work on the proposal over the holidays; neither Paul nor I had used the equipment; we were told we were going to have to have preliminary data on that very piece of equipment, which we certainly didn’t have; and they kept talking about broader impacts and how there was no way we could satisfy the NSF with that.”
But Robinson and James forged ahead, with the help of an external consultant provided by OARS. Consistent with Phelps’ second recommendation, they organized their proposal around three types of use, or “themes.” Each of these themes incorporated the work of at least two of the proposal’s co-PIs or senior personnel, and Robinson and James worked hard to weave each researcher’s individual descriptions of their work into a coherent overall narrative. The end result was a story that clearly resonated with the program’s reviewers.
INSIGHT 3: Research training is a critical component of an MRI proposal.
Give a someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime. That old adage encapsulates NSF’s perspective on research instrumentation. Not only do they want to get instruments in labs to facilitate research today, but they also want to help create the next generation of instrument users and/or instrument developers.
“If a proposal does not describe research training — particularly for underrepresented groups — it will fail during review,” Phelps said.
The research training plan must be concrete, feasible, and able to be evaluated. Outreach — especially to K-12 students — is not fundable through MRI, and simply providing undergraduate training is not enough.
“All proposals will include [undergraduate training],” Phelps said. “What makes your institution stand out?”
Robinson and James’ proposal made clear that all of the undergraduate and graduate students work in the labs of the project’s PI, co-PIs, and key personnel will receive training to use the fluorescence activated cell sorter (FACS) system that will be acquired with the NSF grant funds. Professional technicians working in the labs and in Miami’s Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics (CBFG), where the FACS system will be housed, will also receive training. In addition, Robinson says his team “took the broader impact stuff very, very seriously.” So while there are no funds in the grant to support outreach activities, they will nevertheless incorporate FACS-related material into a range of activities that will be shared with K-12 students through STEM outreach initiatives of Miami’s Hefner Museum of Natural History.
INSIGHT 4: Treat the required Management Plan with as much care as you do the rest of the proposal.
Phelps pointed out that good scientists are not always good managers. So, he said, it’s important to reassure the reviewers that the project team is capable of competently managing the acquisition of the instrument, the operations of the instrument, the scheduling of user time, and the strategic use of downtime. For Robinson and James, these issues were resolved by involving the CBFG, whose staff has an extensive track record of managing instruments and coordinating user time.
INSIGHT 5: You probably need a Data Management Plan, even if you think you don’t.
It may not seem intuitive, but Phelps said he considers a Data Management Plan crucial for most MRI proposals. Acquisition is the perfect time to think about how to enable metadata and manage storage of the data generated by use of the instrument. If you can demonstrate a plan for facilitating the dissemination and sharing the results of all the research that will eventually be conducted using the instrument, you give the reviewers one more reason to fund your proposal.
Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.
Photos by Kemberly Groue, U.S. Air Force, public domain.
A hot topic at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) in August was the Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae (SciENcv), a new electronic system that helps researchers create and maintain their biosketches. SciENcv was conceptualized by an interagency working group that included the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF), along with several other federal funding agencies.
SciENcv reduces the administrative burden of submitting a proposal by serving as a repository of information on expertise, employment, education, and professional accomplishments. It will be linked with ORCID identifiers and databases, such as PubMed. A biosketch created with SciENcv can be tailored to meet the requirements of various funding agencies without the researcher having to worry about formatting.
According to Jean Feldman, head of NSF’s Policy Office, NSF is working with NIH to use SciENcv as a format for creating an approved biosketch. The next version of NSF’s Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) will require researchers to use an NSF-provided template or SciENcv, both of which include mandatory tags that are recognized by NSF’s online submission system, research.gov. A PDF must be generated from one of these two sources or the biosketch will be rejected by research.gov. (Note that while Miami currently uses Fastlane to submit proposals to NSF, we will eventually be switching to research.gov.)
Actual development of the SciENcv system has been led by NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which has many SciENcv resources, including a tutorial, available on their website. As Miami moves to research.gov for NSF submissions and SciENcv becomes more prevalent, OARS will offer training as needed.
Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.