Changes afoot at NSF's MCB

May 10 2011 Published by under Careers

This should be interesting. NSF's Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences is moving from submission dates for investigator-initiated research projects* every six months to every eight months. And limiting the number of proposals as a PI or Co-PI to one per cycle. Read the details here. And here's the new Program Solicitation.

Apparently these changes are a trial and only apply to MCB. So far. The rationales are that a) the eight month cycle will give PI's whose proposals have been rejected more time to adequately respond, and b) the limit of one proposal as a PI or Co-PI (note the or) will reduce the load on reviewers.

I'm sure this will cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Personally, I think this will be good. The NSF typically takes six months - sometimes more, sometimes less - to get panel summaries and reviews back to PI's. With the six month cycle that means those PI's have little to no time to turn around and revise their proposals. Many simply can't and end up waiting until the next cycle, twelve months after initial submission, to send in their revised proposals. The eight month cycle should help alleviate this. Planing for submission of renewals, particularly over the next year or so, could get a little tricky - I know I'll have to think carefully about my own renewal - but every major change will have it's shaky transition period.

On the other hand, the longer cycle time (but shorter resubmission time) could lead to larger panel and reviewer loads. Limiting PI's to a single submission should help there. Although, in my experience as a MCB reviewer and panelist (and of course YMMV) it's uncommon for PI's to have more than one proposal submitted simultaneously. I'm not so sure about the "PI or Co-PI" clause though. I would have preferred that it be limited to just one as a PI, or perhaps one as PI and one as Co-PI.

Want more info? The NSF has prepared a FAQ. My favorite question and (non-)answer:

21. Question: What should I do if I was planning to apply in July but now I can't apply until September?
Answer: PIs have two additional months to develop their proposals further. The additional time should allow PIs to prepare fully compliant and competitive proposals.

Wail and gnash to your heart's content in the comments.

_________
* These are the typical (and majority of) proposals that are submitted. i.e. Not those submitted in response to a specific program.

15 responses so far

  • GMP says:

    The one proposal per PI or co-PI to a given division has been in effect with the ENGR directorate for longer than I've been faculty (7 yrs). And we've also had 2 annual submission windows (Sept/Oct and Jan/Feb) for 7+ yrs. The single proposal criterion sucks ass, but it is what it is; it requires strategizing. You simply stagger proposals (one in the fall, another in the spring). Plus you absolutely must keep your eyes open for special calls and other agencies solicitations.

  • LadyLobo says:

    The additional time should allow PIs to prepare fully compliant and competitive proposals.
    Anyone else read that and go Daaammmmmmnn

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Is the goal to reduce collaborations or cripple the early career folks? It's one thing to be limited to a single submission per round if you have some support already and you're tossing in a collaborative proposal or maybe another idea you have, but this is going to keep junior people from collaborating until they have a first one in the bag. If I'm allowed only one per round, I'm making damn sure that it is a proposal that is core to my lab's success and not something where I am not receiving the majority of the funds.

    Does this help NSF reduce their load? Sure. But is it good for science?

    • odyssey says:

      I concur as far as the Co-PI thing goes. I'm really not sure that's a good idea. As far as one PI submission per cycle goes, remember that this applies to MCB, not all BIO. Many of the folks applying there could just as easily apply to the NIH (and do). In addition, I'm not sure I've ever seen two proposals from the same PI (as PI on both) during the same cycle on any of the MCB panels I've served on, so I'm not sure much is really changing here. The situation may be different in other BIO Divisions of course.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    And I'm curious how this affects things like CAREER awards, which are cross cutting and have a different deadline, but are generally reviewed in the same panels as the typical proposals.

    • odyssey says:

      Deadlines etc. for CAREER awards are unaffected - they're under a different program solicitation. I'm not sure how it will affect their review on panels though.

    • GMP says:

      but are generally reviewed in the same panels as the typical proposals

      Is this a BIO directorate thing? Because there are definitely separate panels with specific compositions (only senior well established people) for CAREERs in my directorate.

    • fcs says:

      I was wondering that too. I would think CAREER would be unaffected by this in my directorate, but will have to check.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    In addition, I'm not sure I've ever seen two proposals from the same PI (as PI on both) during the same cycle on any of the MCB panels I've served on, so I'm not sure much is really changing here.

    Wait, do you mean per panel? If so, then I'm decidedly over-reacting. I thought you were saying that they only want one proposal per PI in ALL of MCB. If that's not the case, this isn't much of a change at all.

    • Odyssey says:

      No, I believe it is all MCB. The work done by the PI's I review would only be handled by two panels, so the odds are high that we would see double submissions, and we don't. As noted above, YMMV.

  • grad student says:

    what about DDIGs? If those are included I can see that being really problematic

    • Odyssey says:

      The changes only apply to investigator initiated research grant proposals submitted to MCB. DDIG's are not affected.

  • [...] NSF BIO has been looking to make some changes to their review process for a while. The MCB division of BIO recently announced that they were going to an 8 month cycle, whereby there would still be two deadlines a year, but proposals could only be submitted to one or the other. They also limited the number of proposals that a person could be listed as PI or co-PI to one per cycle. Odyssey has a summary of the changes here. [...]