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  • AOU Virtual Town Hall on the New NSF BIO Proposal Review Process

    Fern Davies

      Speak out on the new NSF BIO proposal submission and review policy:

      • How has it affected you?
      • Give us your suggestions for improvements that would help NSF to address your concerns.

    Speak out on the new NSF BIO proposal submission and review policy:

    • How has it affected you?
    • Give us your suggestions for improvements that would help NSF to address your concerns.

    The American Ornithologists’ Union is convening a virtual town hall on Ornithology Exchange to hear the views and concerns of ornithologists on the “proposal processing changes” implemented as of 1 January 2012 by The NSF Divisions of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Environmental Biology, and Integrative Organismal Systems. We invite all ornithologists to participate.

    This new policy, announced in a Dear Colleague letter on 15 August 2011 made significant changes to the grant submission and review processes for grants submitted to the core programs within those divisions:

    • limiting frequency of submission to once per year
    • requirement that a pre-proposal be submitted
    • limiting individual participation in grant proposals to two per year

    The Division did not request input from the scientific community before announcing and implementing these changes. Now that these changes have been implemented, several unintended consequences have became apparent. Among them:

    • long lag between preproposal and receipt of funding; it now takes over a year instead of the 6-9 months that was the case prior to the implementation of the new policy
    • if the preproposal is unsuccessful and either resubmitted or replaced by another proposal in the subsequent year, the lag time grows to two years
    • the limit of two proposals per year hinders collaboration
    • feedback from the panels to the preproposal applicants is limited (there are no ad hoc reviews), making it more difficult to develop a successful proposal

    These lags make it difficult to sustain research programs and bring new students into those programs. The hindrance on collaborative proposals may make it more difficult for young researchers to establish themselves.


    University of Minnesota professor Sarah Hobbie, an active member of the Ecological Society of America, initiated a grassroots effort to assess the level of concern among scientists. In August 2012, she circulated a survey and communicated the results to BIO Director John Wingfield. This was followed by an open letter, signed by 555 scientists, including a number of ornithologists. Scott Collins, President of the Ecological Society of America, followed with a request for a meeting with BIO directorate leadership.

    A number of ornithologists are interested in this issue and, with the assistance of the Ornithological Council, are exploring ways to help assure that the efforts of their colleagues succeed. For this reason, we are holding a virtual town meeting and hope you will join us to share your experiences with and concerns about the NSF proposal submission and review process.


    We are especially eager to hear your ideas about measures that might be taken to ameliorate the impacts while addressing the very real problems that BIO intended to address by instituting the new policy.


    The town hall will be held on Ornithology Exchange on a subforum called NSF Funding Policies. Click here to go directly to the Town Hall.


    The forum will be limited to full members of the Ornithology Exchange and full membership is limited to members of the OE supporting societies. Every registration is checked for society membership status. The forums are password-protected; be sure to sign in before clicking on the forum. Please be assured that no one else will have access to this forum and that information aggregated from this discussion will include no personal information, including names or other identifying information.

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