IOS Virtual Office Hours July 2020 edition: Proposal preparation tips

The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) held a Virtual Office Hour on July 16th, 2020 focused on proposal preparation. Program directors spoke about general framing of proposals, NSF’s merit review criteria (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts), collaborations, the importance of Broader Impacts, and budget considerations.  Attendees had several questions on many topics:

With no deadlines for most programs in the Biological Sciences Directorate, and given the upheaval of COVID-19, are proposal review panels still occurring and will review take longer? – Due to COVID-19, NSF has moved all review panels to the virtual environment. The use of virtual panels, or a mix of in-person and virtual panelists, is long-standing at NSF, and the transition was fairly seamless.  The use of virtual panels is essential for the safety of all participants and expands participation. The review process has not slowed during COVID-19 or due to no deadline submissions:  NSF still aims to provide information about funding recommendations within about 6 months of proposal submission.  With no-deadline submissions, there is also increased flexibility in the timing, size, and duration of panels.

How is “co-review” handled and should investigators write the proposal to accommodate co-review? – You should focus on presenting your work so that any scientific reader can understand the importance of the questions being addressed. It is not necessary to prepare a proposal with co-review in mind. Instead, investigators should propose the research activities and plans needed for the investigation. If a proposal spans programs, the managing program directors arrange co-review together, attend each other’s panel and make decisions together about jointly reviewed proposals.

If you’ve had prior funding can you apply for a CAREER grant, and what is happening with CAREER right now? – The eligibility requirement for submission to the CAREER solicitation (20-525) is that the applicant must be pre-tenure (or the equivalent). It is not required that applicants should be previously unfunded. The deadline for CAREER submissions was moved to August 11, 2020 this year to accommodate changes in university activities due to COVID-19. When preparing a CAREER proposal, keep in mind that you must address the development of both your research and your teaching programs, and do not forget the Broader Impacts component of the project.

How novel should Broader Impacts be, and what if they aren’t novel, but more ‘tried-and-true’? – Broader Impacts efforts should be sincere, manageable and integrated with the research.  If you, or your university, have ongoing successful programs or activity, it is fine to leverage the activities already established. It is also acceptable to develop new and different activities appropriate to your capabilities and research. Propose what you can do, be sure to include a mechanism to track the success of your activities and include budget to help you achieve your Broader Impacts.

With COVID-19 interruptions to research, are we allowed to make budget rearrangements on existing awards? – NSF continues to allow institutions to rebudget in all categories except for moving funds from the Participant Support Costs category. To make a change to this category NSF approval is needed by first contacting your Program Director, then submitting the request via

Join us at our next IOS Office Hour that will be held on Thursday, August 20, 2020 at 1 pm EDT, when IOS program directors will be available to answer questions from the community and pass on information to investigators interested in IOS.  We will talk about the Enabling Discovery through Genomic Tools (EDGE) program in IOS (NSF 20-532).