IOS Virtual Office Hours November 2020 Edition: Mid-Career Advancement and the migration.

The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) held our November Virtual Office Hour (VOH) on November 19, 2020 and focused on two topics: the recently released solicitation for the Mid-Career Advancement program (MCA; NSF 21-516) and the change in how proposals are submitted to the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO).    

MCA is a new opportunity for faculty who have been at the Associate Professor rank (or equivalent) for at least 3 years to pursue synergistic partnerships to enhance and advance their research programs. The MCA program provides time and resources to enable advancements in creativity and productivity of faculty at a critical career stage.  Leslie Rissler ( attended the VOH as a guest to talk about the MCA opportunity. 

Steve Ellis ( then discussed how BIO is migrating proposal submissions from FastLane to or, as outlined in a recent Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-129). The first phase of this migration is for proposals submitted in response to BIO solicitations that have no deadline. Beginning in January 2021, FastLane will no longer have an option for researchers to submit no deadline proposals to BIO for review.

Questions about the MCA program: 

  • Role of the Partner identified as part of the MCA application process: Is more than one Partner permitted?  Can the Partner be from the same institution as the PI?  Must the Partner be in a different discipline from the PI and must the Partner be in the U.S.? – The partnership is an important component of the MCA, and, in all cases, the specific choice (and number) of Partners must be justified. The collaboration between the PI and the Partner(s) should be mutually beneficial and create “added value” beyond that which would occur through a typical collaboration. The Partner(s) will typically be at a different institution than the PI’s home institution, but this is not required. In addition, Partner(s) from outside the PI’s own subdiscipline or discipline are encouraged, but not required. Partner(s) can be internationally located (but see PAPPG chapter I, IE6 for details on funding for foreign individuals or organizations). Note that Partner(s) cannot be listed as a co-PI. 
  • Eligibility based on current and future rank of the MCA applicant: If one is in the promotion process (to full professor) can you still apply, do you have to stay as an associate for the whole MCA, and can you apply if you have a non-traditional academic position? – While you would be eligible to apply while being considered for promotion and still at the Associate Professor rank (or equivalent), your proposal and the required Departmental Letter must provide a compelling argument about how the MCA would help to advance your research program and academic career in a way not likely without such support. Any Associate Professor (or equivalent – defined in the solicitation) with at least three years at that rank by the submission date can apply. There is no requirement that you stay at that rank during the tenure of the award. 
  • Use of 6.5 months of salary available in the MCA award: Should the salary be used in small sub-sections or in one long set of months? The award duration is three years, and the total 6.5 months of salary can be used in whatever way makes the most sense for you and follows your institutional policies.  
  • Submission and review mechanisms for the MCA: When should proposals be submitted and how should one time the start of potential awards, how will NSF review these proposals, and, for how many years will this opportunity be available? – MCA proposals should be submitted by February 1, 2021. The review process and announcement of awards normally occurs within 6 months. Future iterations of this funding opportunity are expected, and target dates will likely remain as the first Monday in February. MCA proposals will be reviewed in panels, typically ones where the MCA is the only type of proposal under review, and ad hoc reviews will be obtained when additional expertise is desired.  
  • Details of the Project Description: Is there an expectation beyond the three sections described in the solicitation? For example, hypothesis-driven research objectives, broader impacts activities, etc. – Yes, see PAPPG Chapter II.C.2 for guidance on the required sections of any full research proposal submitted to the NSF. The MCA solicitation (NSF 21-516) provides additional information specific to this new program. For example, three sections are required:  Section 1. Candidate’s Past Research; Section 2. Candidate’s Proposed Research Advancement and Training Plan; and Section 3. Candidate’s Long-Term Career Plans. In addition, all MCA proposals must include both a Letter of Collaboration by the Partner(s) and a Departmental Letter. Note that the mid-career PI and Partner(s) should be engaged in a research project that addresses fundamental questions and challenges in the scientific discipline to which the proposal is submitted, and is likely to result in publications and a foundation for future competitive proposals.  Section 2 should also include a timeline for career enhancement activities and associated products. Please reach out to Leslie Rissler ( or write to if you have questions. 

Questions about the migration from FastLane to or submission : 

  • What solicitations are and are not on (e.g., RUI solicitation or Biology Integration Institute solicitation)? There is no current list identifying solicitations available only in because we are still in the grace period (90 days from the solicitation release). Proposers should check each solicitation carefully for submission instructions. Updates and changes related to the migration will be in the “IMPORTANT INFORMATION AND REVISIONS NOTES” section of each solicitation. 
  • If someone is currently preparing a proposal on Fastlane in December, can they still submit that in January? – Yes, proposals that have already been started in Fastlane can still be submitted. After the grace period expires new proposals for the migrated solicitations cannot be started in FastLane. NOTE, proposers are encouraged to complete any FastLane submissions expeditiously and to begin using now rather than delay. 

Join us at our next IOS Office Hour to be held on Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 1 p.m. EST, when IOS program directors will be available to answer questions from the community and pass on information about IOS.  In December, we will discuss the Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms (URoL:MIM; 21-534) solicitation as well as the Enabling Discovery through GEnomic Tools (EDGE; 20-532) solicitation.   

Don’t forget to navigate to the Virtual Office Hours page on the blog for registration information.