NSF gives more researchers a reason to use SciENcv

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.

Photo of Jean Feldman by NSF.


Doors chained with a padlock

Government shutdown affects awardees, proposers, and review panelists at some government agencies

Image of the Capitol Building with the words "Government Shutdown" overprinted.

We’re pleased to reblog this RAM Research News post by Tricia Callahan, Senior Research Education and Information Officer, Office of Sponsored Programs, Colorado State University.

The Antideficiency Act prohibits agencies from incurring obligations beyond their current appropriation. Therefore, Federal agencies that are not covered by appropriation bills signed into law are most heavily impacted by a partial government shutdown. Below is a list of federal agencies currently affected:

  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Treasury
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Homeland Security (DHS)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NSF)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

See guidance for Federal agencies subject to the partial shutdown (courtesy of the University of Minnesota).

PIs with current awards

Funds already distributed (obligated) can continue to be used; however only in extremely limited circumstances (i.e., emergencies) will new funds be awarded during the shutdown. This means no new awards and no incremental funding. Additionally, contracts based on milestones may have to renegotiate timelines once the government reopens. And while funding for work may not be available, PIs are still required to provide technical reports on time during the shutdown.

See agency contingency plans (courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget – OMB).

Those developing/submitting proposals

Many e-systems that receive proposals will still be operational (e.g., Grants.gov, Research.gov, NSF FastLane, ezFedGrants). Many agencies affected by the shutdown are currently accepting proposals in accordance with published deadlines and their helpdesks are still operational. However, agency representatives will not be able to answer programmatic questions via phone or e-mail during the shutdown. Additionally, proposals will not be reviewed during the shutdown.

Check with individual agencies on proposal acceptance policies during the shutdown by going to the agency’s e-submission site.

Those serving on peer review panels

Individuals scheduled to serve on a review panel for an agency affected by the shutdown may have to cancel travel plans without reimbursement for airfare or lost deposits on hotel rooms. Again, check with individual agencies as possible.

If you are uncertain whether a proposal/award/service is affected by the shutdown, first check your sponsoring agency’s website (assuming it is up and operational), then contact [your OARS proposal facilitator].

Source: Government Shutdown and What It Means For . . .

Lock photo via Max Pixel, public domain/CC0 license. “Government Shutdown” photo by 2nd Lt. Jake Bailey for U.S. Air Force, public domain.

Samples from a lab experiment sit on a lab bench.

NIH revamps their Rigor and Reproducibility webpage

NIH has added new resources to their Rigor and Reproducibility webpage. According to NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Mike Lauer, “the webpage now reflects policy updates and explores new resources, all in a simple and easy to read manner. And, better yet, these changes do not reflect any additional requirements or forms!”

Lauer shared news of the redesign in a December 13 Open Mike blog post. The main focus of the redesigned page is clarifying what is meant by “scientific premise” of grant applications. Lauer points out that the original NIH definition of the term referred to the rigor of the prior research used to support the proposal, rather than just referring to the hypothesis or rationale for the proposed study.

The Rigor and Reproducibility page links to four subpages, including relevant guidance, application preparation resources, training materials, and links to notices, blogs, and other resources. The application preparation resources may be of most interest to Miami faculty, as they include examples of the rigor of some funded proposals, tools for enhancing or clarifying the rigor of your application, and examples of plans for authenticating chemicals, plasmid DNA, antibodies, and cell lines.

Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Miami University Photo Services.

Guest post: Recent changes to NIH R15 mechanism mean Miami faculty are more competitive than ever

Students presenters discuss their poster with an Undergraduate Research Forum attendee.
Highlighting their students’ participation in the Undergraduate Research Forum is one way PIs can demonstrate the excellence of the research environment for undergraduate students at Miami University.

The following guest post was written by Dr. Gary Lorigan, a professor in Miami University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Since 2010, he has served on 18 NIH study panels. During that time he was a member of the Biochemistry and Biophysics of Membranes (BBM) NIH Study Section and served on several NIH and NSF instrumentation panels. Below, Lorigan shares insights about changes to the NIH R15 mechanism, suggests some tips for writing NIH  grant applications — especially R15s — and offers encouragement for Miami researchers based on his experience.

The major goals of the NIH R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) program are to support meritorious research at predominantly undergraduate institutions, strengthen the overall research environment, and provide valuable research experience for undergraduate students. The R15 application is a 3-year award with a maximum of $300,000 in direct costs for the entire project. The R15 guidelines have changed significantly, as described in a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), PAR-18-714: Academic Research Enhancement Award for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions (R15 Clinical Trial Not Allowed).

Additional changes to the R15 program, including the addition of the REAP program, are coming next year as well.

This fall I was on an NIH study panel that reviewed both R01 and R15 applications. I wanted to share with you some of my experiences from that panel, offer some helpful hints, and encourage more researchers at Miami to apply for R15 funding. First of all, NIH has placed a much greater emphasis on training undergraduate students for R15 applications. This change should have a major impact at Miami University. Researchers at Miami should have a significant advantage with the R15 proposals, since we strongly emphasize and encourage undergraduate research.

The FOA Research Strategy states the following:

Research Strategy: Describe how the proposed plan can achieve the specific aims using a research team composed primarily of undergraduate students. Describe how undergraduate students will be exposed to and supervised in conducting hands-on, rigorous research. Describe how undergraduate students will participate in research activities such as planning, execution and/or analysis of research. Formal training plans (e.g., non-research activities, didactic training, seminars) should not be provided, although a brief description of activities related to enhancing students’ research capabilities and progress (e.g., the use of individual development plans, etc.)  is permitted.

Here are some tips to make your proposal stronger:

  • Make sure that you discuss everything that is listed in the FOA Research Strategy in your proposal. The reviewers of the application are asked to comment on these issues directly.
  • The research team described in your application must be primarily composed of undergraduate students. I would include in your budget salary for undergraduate students during the school year and the summer, as well as salary for a graduate student to train and work with the undergraduate students.
  • In your biosketch and in the proposal, make it crystal clear that you work with undergraduate students in your lab. Dedicate at least half a page in the application to showing that you are training undergraduate students in your lab. In your proposal, I would include the following: “I have been at Miami University for ZZ years and I have mentored XX undergraduate students. These students have published XX papers as co-authors and YY as first authors. I currently have XX undergraduate students working in my lab.”  In the application, you need to explain how students are trained.  Briefly discuss papers that undergraduates have co-authored in your lab and mention what graduate or professional schools your students have attended. This will provide clear evidence to the reviewers that you have a proven track record in training undergraduate students and helping them pursue careers in biomedical sciences.
  • In your biosketch, underline the names of the undergraduate co-authors. Make it easy for the reviewers to clearly see that you are dedicated to conducting research with undergraduate students and that you have plenty of experience in that area.
  • Describe innovative approaches that you are using to engage undergraduate students in your lab. Describe how you will stimulate the interests of the students. Discuss how you will recruit a diverse and inclusive group of undergraduate students to the lab.
  • Make sure you mention that Miami University has a dedicated Office of Research for Undergraduates that provides valuable resources for students interested in research. Discuss all of the outstanding programs that Miami offers undergraduate students who are interested in conducting research, including Undergraduate Research Awards (URA), Undergraduate Summer Scholars (USS), First Year Research Experience (FYRE), and Doctoral Undergraduate Opportunity Scholarships (DUOS). Mention that workshops that discuss all aspects of scientific research are available to students. Finally, have your students present a poster at Miami’s annual Undergraduate Research Forum, held in April. These components of the proposal really emphasize the strength of Miami University and enhance your application.

One of your overall goals in writing the R15 proposal should be for the reviewer to want their son or daughter to conduct research in your lab as an undergraduate student. This is very important. You want the quality of the research work and the training experience to be outstanding in the application.

In addition, here are a few general tips for NIH proposals that are not specific to the new R15:

  • The proposal needs to be strong scientifically; it is not just about undergraduate training. Try to have good preliminary data for each specific aim in the proposal. This will clearly show that you can conduct the experiments proposed in the application.
  • At the very end of each specific aim, discuss outcomes, potential problems, and alternative strategies.
  • Make sure you include a resource sharing plan in the application. Several applications forget to include this.

I strongly encourage faculty at Miami to apply for NIH R15 grants. If any researchers have any questions about this program or other grant applications, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Finally, although NIH funding is still highly competitive, I think it is getting a bit better for researchers. Good luck with your submissions!

Written by Gary Lorigan, John W. Steube Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Miami University.

Photos by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.


A background pattern consisting of different colored equilateral triangles.

NIH issues notice of changes to AREA/R15 program

Gary Lorigan works with a piece of equipment in his lab.
Changes to the AREA/R15 program recently announced by NIH will have very few practical implications for Miami University researchers, including past AREA recipient Gary Lorigan a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

NIH issued a long-anticipated notice about changes to its Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA)/R15 program last week. The changes are being made to “focus AREA support on grants to undergraduate-focused institutions that do not receive substantial funding from NIH, rather than all institutions with less than $6 million of NIH support.” Since Miami University meets both these criteria — it is undergraduate-focused and receives relatively little NIH funding — the impact of these changes on our researchers will be fairly limited, as described below.

CHANGE: The current AREA Parent Announcement will expire after January 7, 2019
EFFECT: Miami PIs will need to look for (and apply under) new FOAs, to be issued soon.

CHANGE: Eligibility requirements are as follows: 1) Applicant institution must be accredited and grant baccalaureate degrees in biomedical sciences. 2) Applicant institution may not have received $6 million or more per year in total NIH awards (direct and indirect costs combined) in 4 of the last 7 years. 3) The qualifying academic component (school, college, center, or institute) within an institution has an undergraduate student enrollment greater than its graduate student enrollment.
EFFECT: 1) Not a change; Miami meets this requirement with accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. 2) Not a change; Miami meets this requirement, having received no more than $3.9 million (in FY2011) in annual funding from NIH in the last 7 years. 3) A significant change for some institutions, but not for Miami; none of our divisions enrolls more graduate students than undergraduate students.

CHANGE: NIH will no longer maintain a list of R15-ineligible institutions and all applications due on or after February 25, 2019 will need to include a letter verifying institutional eligibility.
EFFECT: OARS will provide the required letter to be included in applications. Anne Schauer, Director of Research and Sponsored Programs, is authorized to sign such letters on behalf of the university, and PIs should not request them from the president or the provost.

CHANGE: NIH will issue separate FOAs for R15 opportunities to support health professional schools and graduate schools.
EFFECT: Anticipated to be minimal.

A description of the R15 Activity Code, which reflects the changes, is available on the NIH website.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Triangle image by DavidRockDesign via Pixabay, public domain/Creative Commons CC0 license. Photo of Gary Lorigan by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

Students examine and take notes on samples from pools at Miami University's Ecology Research Center.

NSF BIO Directorate moves to no deadline, full proposal process

Yoshi Tomoyasu and Courtney Clark-Hachtel look at an image of a beetle on a computer monitor in Tomoyasu's lab.
Biology researchers like Associate Professor Yoshi Tomoyasu (left) and graduate student Courtney Clark-Hachtel will no longer have to submit pre-proposals or meet deadlines to apply for funding from key NSF programs.

On October 5, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing two important changes in submission procedures for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). Both changes take effect starting in January.

Change 1: No deadlines

The first change is that there will no longer be any deadlines for proposals submitted to core programs in the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), or submitted to programs in the Research Resources Cluster of the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI). This change does not special programs in BIO, such as Dimensions of Biodiversity, nor does it affect proposal submitted to BIO for NSF-wide programs, such as the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) programs. These programs will continue to have deadlines as specified in their respective program solicitations.

Change 2: No pre-proposals for DEB and IOS

The second change is that pre-proposals for submissions to DEB and IOS core programs will no longer be required.

NSF’s rationale

NSF says it made the changes to increase flexibility for investigators and to reduce institutional burden. In particular, according to a post on DEB’s blog, DEBrief, BIO senior staff felt the pre-proposal process effectively discouraged interdisciplinary research because preliminary proposals could not be co-reviewed across programs. Eliminating pre-proposals for DEB and IOS core programs eliminates that problem and opens up possibilities for more creative, complex projects that cross BIO divisions.

In addition, eliminating deadlines allows researchers to plan proposal preparation around teaching loads, professional meetings, field work, and personal life events. Since investigators should no longer feel rushed to complete a proposal to meet a deadline, NSF hopes to see more well-developed, competitive proposals.

Regardless of improved proposal quality, overall workloads for NSF staff should be better distributed throughout the year, with no annual “crunch time” resulting from deadline cycles. NSF also hopes human nature will effectively reduce the number of applications to these popular programs, thereby reducing workload. Without a firm deadline to impose a sense of urgency, it’s likely fewer investigators will ever get around to submitting a proposal in a given year.

Community reaction

NSF is touting the changes as good news for investigators, but some in the research community have concerns. “There is still a lot of uncertainty about how often panel reviews will occur,” says Maria Gonzalez, a professor in Miami’s Department of Biology and a former program officer in NSF’s BIO directorate. It could be that panels will be assembled every few months or after a set number of proposals has been submitted.

Mike Vanni, also a professor in Miami’s Department of Biology and a former program officer in NSF’s BIO directorate, says whatever “triggers” NSF establishes for assembling review panels will “need to be balanced against the goal of giving the majority of PIs a decision within six months of submission.”

Many investigators worry that these practical considerations will cause BIO to establish unspoken, internal deadlines that they will have to guess at to be competitive for funding. Gonzalez, Vanni, and Joyce Fernandes, another Miami biology professor who is a former program officer in NSF’s BIO directorate, recommend their colleagues take a wait and see approach. They say it’s likely NSF staff are still ironing out some of the details themselves. While staff may be able to guess at some effects of the changes, they won’t know specifically what to expect for at least a year after the new solicitations are released.

We will post updates as more becomes known. In the meantime, learn more by reading NSF’s answers to frequently asked questions about these changes.


November 20, 2017: MCB core program submission deadline remains in effect

December 8, 2017: DBI Research Resources Cluster’s Improvements in Facilities, Communications, and Equipment at Biological Field Stations and Marine Laboratories (FSML) deadline remains in effect

FY2018 (ends September 30, 2018): Full proposals invited from January 2017 DEB and IOS pre-proposal competitions and submitted for the August 2017 deadlines will be reviewed and awards will be made with FY2018 funds. CAREER proposals submitted to BIO divisions for the July 2017 deadline will be reviewed and awards till be made with FY2018 funds.

January 2018: No call for DEB and IOS preliminary proposals will be issued.

Spring/summer 2018: DEB, IOS, MCB, and DBI  will release new solicitations with guidelines for submitting full proposals at any time. An announcement about the BIO initiative “Understanding the Rules of Life” will be made and guidelines issued. Once the solicitations are released (but not before), proposals may be submitted at any time.

FY2019 (begins October 1, 2018): The first awards from proposals submitted under the new solicitations will be made.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Miami University Photo Services.