of the BIO Advisory Committee
October 20-21, 1997
MONDAY, OCTOBER 20 -
Welcome and Introduction of New Members
Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Chair of the Advisory Committee for Biological
Sciences (BIOAC), convened the meeting at 9:00 am with a welcome
to members and guests.
Dr. Mary Clutter, Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences
(BIO), introduced new advisory committee members (Dr. Ellen Goldberg,
Dr. Ralph Quatrano, Dr. Marvalee Wake, and Dr. Robert Horsch).
She noted that Dr. George Jones was also a new member but was not
in attendance at the meeting.
Dr. Clutter also introduced new BIO senior staff:
- Dr. Bruce Hayden, Division Director, Division of Environmental
- Dr. Charles Liarakos, Deputy Division Director, Division of
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences
- Dr. Machi Dilworth, Acting Division Director, Division of Biological
- Dr. Maryanna Henkart, Division Director, Division of Molecular
and Cellular Biosciences.
Dr. Clutter announced that Dr. Frank Harris is the new Chair Designate
and that Dr. Benjamin Hart is the new CEOSE representative.
Remarks and Approval of Minutes
The minutes for the April 1997 meeting were unanimously approved
by the BIOAC.
FY 1998 Budget
Dr. Clutter reviewed the current status of the FY 1998 Budget for
NSF. Dr. Clutter then reviewed BIO’s budget and proposal
trends within the last decade. In particular, she noted trends
in BIO’s proportion of NSF’s Research and Related
Activities (R&RA) budget, proposal success rate, award size
and duration, and modes of support. Dr. Clutter finished her
presentation with a review of follow on actions from recommendations
made by the BIOAC in FY 1997. In particular, she discussed Small
Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER), multidisciplinary proposal
review, the new merit review criteria, postdoctoral fellowships,
graduate student support, molecular evolution and the NSF Government
Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Strategic Plan.
The BIOAC discussed:
- How the $40M for plant genome research was added to NSF’s
budget and how that amount compares to other Federal genome
Report on BIO Management Retreat
Dr. James Edwards, Deputy Assistant Director for the Biological
Sciences, gave an overview of BIO’s annual planning process
and reported on the FY 1997 BIO Senior Management Retreat. The
topics Dr. Edwards covered from the retreat included:
- The BIO Issues Working Group, particularly the Working Group’s
charge, assumptions they worked under, problems they encountered
and interim recommendations.
- A new genomics working group to develop a Plant Genome initiative.
- The possibility of a new molecular evolution panel. Dr. Villa-Komaroff
addressed this issue further by stating that there first needed
to be an evaluation of the criteria for establishing new panels
before this specific topic could be addressed.
- Decision tree developed by the Special Competitions Working
- Impacts of FastLane on BIO staff and the reviewer community.
- Need to increase the numbers of individuals from under-represented
groups in the scientific community and at NSF.
- Congressional scrutiny of NSF’s rotator program.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The benefits of using evaluative tools such as the decision
tree to meet GPRA requirements.
- How BIO will address increased workload from the Plant Genome
Dr. Neal Lane, Director, NSF
Dr. Clutter opened the session by reviewing the outcomes of the
National Science Board (NSB) meeting in Houston, Texas (October
8-10, 1997). She noted that graduate and postdoctoral education
was a major topic of discussion at the meeting.
Dr. Neal Lane further elaborated on the NSF FY 1998 Budget and
discussed GPRA with the BIOAC. He noted that NSF submitted its
GPRA strategic and performance plans with the OMB FY 1999 Budget.
Dr. Lane stressed that NSF will continue to need Advisory Committee
input on implementing GPRA. Dr. Lane stated that the scientific
community needs to address the issue of under-represented groups
in science and engineering, and asked that the BIOAC provide its
thoughts on this problem. He also noted that we need to find ways
to identify outstanding young people who are not at the top research
institutions and bring them into first rate research laboratories.
The BIOAC discussed:
- How to bridge the perceived disconnect between excellence in science
and the need to broaden the diversity of the scientific community.
- If NSF’s approach to the development of its budget has
changed in light of the $40M for plant genome research. Dr. Lane
noted that NSF still goes through the same budget development
Graduate Education and Human Resources Development Working Group
Dr. George Hill summarized the report from the Graduate Education
and Human Resources Development Working Group. Dr. Hill was very
pleased with the report and noted that it will be very important
for Division Directors and Program Officers to be fully involved
and committed to human resources goals.
BIOAC response: Research Experiences for Graduate Students (REGS)
- Supported the REGS program, and noted that in particular it
ensures that good graduate students are coupled with first-rate
research laboratories. They expressed concern that sometimes
recipients of Graduate and Minority Graduate Fellowships end
up in laboratories that have little or no funding.
- Expressed concern that adequate support should be provided
to first year graduate students.
- Expressed concern that the requirement to identify graduate
students and address human resource development issues in proposals
may make Principal Investigators (PIs) more likely to ask for
support for technicians and postdoctoral fellows, rather than
- Discussed if under-represented groups are rejecting jobs in
academia or are more likely to go into medicine. Noted that we
need to ensure that both the undergraduate and graduate environment
- Noted that another important constraint is the lack of money
available to graduate students for supplies.
- Suggested the development of teaching fellowships for graduate
students to teach at the middle and high school levels. This
would improve science education at these levels and provide graduate
students with valuable teaching experience outside of the university.
- Recommended that the National Science Board ask the National
Research Council to review the use of average GRE scores as a
major criterion for ranking graduate programs.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 20 - Afternoon Session
BIOAC Workshops Report and Discussion
Dr. Gregory Florant reported
on the workshop he organized at Colorado State University on "Integrating
the Life Sciences: Meeting the Needs of the 21st Century." In
reviewing the recommendations, he focused on actions NSF could
take, such as expanding the Systemic Reform Initiative to include
post-secondary education and augmenting the Research Experiences
for Undergraduates (REU) program.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The reduction in number and complexity of undergraduate laboratory
- The need to encourage universities to view mentorship by faculty
as a valuable activity.
- The importance of curriculum reform at the undergraduate level.
- The importance of specifically addressing graduate student
education needs when developing interdisciplinary programs.
- The benefits of program officers meeting with RTG/IGERT students
during site visits.
- The need for more BIOAC workshops.
- The need for NSF to consider increasing the diversity of rotators.
NSF Rotator Program- Role and Purpose
Dr. Bruce Umminger, Division Director for Integrative Biology and
Neuroscience, reviewed the role and purpose of NSF’s rotator
program. He noted that currently about 50% of BIO’s scientific
staff are rotators and that the program is under increased scrutiny.
Dr. Umminger mentioned the Science article on the rotator program
and noted that not all rotators are paid for out of research
funds, just those hired under the Intergovernmental Personnel
Act (IPA). Dr. Umminger noted the following points to consider:
- Rotators bring new ideas to NSF to keep current with trends
and opportunities in science.
- Rotators bring first hand knowledge of the working environment,
its opportunities and constraints, of university and college
scientific faculty members.
- Rotators gain excellent experience they can take back to their
- Recruitment of rotators is increasingly difficult.
- NSF’s institutional memory is difficult to sustain, especially
in programs staffed largely or entirely by rotators.
- Attention to annual training and team building is required.
Dr. Umminger asked the BIOAC to consider:
- The appropriate balance of rotators and permanent staff.
- Standardizing the program so that all rotators are some sort
of IPA employee.
- Encourage rotators to maintain a relationship with NSF, such
as participating in outreach activities, after they return to
their home institutions.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The possibility of partnering the rotator program with certain
schools, perhaps a business school, to enable rotators to get "credit" with
their home institutions for training in science management. This
could be beneficial in preparing individuals for academic management
positions, such as deanships or department chairs. Overall, the
BIOAC agreed that there needs to be some mechanism to enrich
the rotator program.
- Making the rotator program competitive so that it is more attractive
to faculty and academic institutions.
- The importance of the rotator program in bringing valuable
knowledge back to home institutions and the need to promote this
benefit with academic institutions. One option discussed was
to use former rotators in public relations activities.
The BIOAC felt that the current mix of rotator and permanent staff
in BIO seemed appropriate.
Introduction to Breakout Groups (Maryanna Henkart)
Dr. Maryanna Henkart, Division Director for Molecular and Cellular
Biosciences, asked for the BIOAC’s assistance in developing
NSF’s goals in supporting genomic studies, infrastructure,
and post-genome functional research. She noted that genome data
is accumulating at an increasing rate. Dr. Henkart also reviewed
the history of the Arabidopsis genome project and noted that
it is a good model for approaching genome projects. Dr. Henkart
presented a number of issues for the BIOAC to consider in their
The BIOAC met in breakout groups to discuss NSF’s role in
genomics from 2:20-4:00 p.m.
Report on Interdisciplinary Experiment (John Fray)
Dr. John Fray, Deputy Division Director for Integrative Biology
and Neuroscience, presented the outcomes of the multidisciplinary
experiment (MULE). In particular, Dr. Fray noted that 30% of
the proposals reviewed by the MULE panel were recommended for
funding, while the home program recommended 26% of the MULE proposals
for funding. The home program panel’s overall funding rate
was 27%. Three proposals were recommended by both the MULE and
home program panels for funding. Fray also discussed the MULE
panel’s views on what makes a "perfect" review
system for multidisciplinary proposals, including selection of
panelists and ad hoc reviewers, assignment of proposals, and
how to define multidisciplinary.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The role of the program officer and NSF management in making
- The need to ensure that program officers and panels are sensitive
to the broader societal impacts of research, including education
and diversity issues.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21-
Committee of Visitors Reports and Approval
Dr. Clutter began this session by stating to the BIOAC that NSF
needs advice on how to best integrate COV reports with Advisory
Committee reports in order to demonstrate achievements within
the context of GPRA.
The following COV reports were discussed by the BIOAC:
- Long Term Projects in Environmental Biology COV (reviewed by
Dr. Frank Harris)
- Cell Biology COV (reviewed by Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff)
- Division of Integrative Biology and Neuroscience COV (reviewed
by Dr. Gwen Jacobs)
The BIOAC discussed:
- The importance of providing award abstracts that are easily
understood by the general public and ways to encourage PIs to
write abstracts that meet this need.
- If NSF is funding enough SGERs.
- Various mechanisms to facilitate faster award decisions. Overall,
the BIOAC strongly supported BIO’s use of panels.
- The IBN COV’s suggestion that NSF provide fellowships
to support students who are at least two years into their graduate
programs. Some members of the BIOAC felt that the first two
years of graduate school were a better indication of future success
than the undergraduate record. Others stressed the importance
of continuing first year fellowships to allow graduate students
to immerse themselves in their programs before they start teaching
The BIOAC approved the COV reports.
Follow On to SGER Discussion:
Dr. Clutter followed up on the earlier discussion of SGERs by noting
that from 1990-1996, across all of NSF 2272 SGERs were submitted
and 1506 awards were made (66% success rate). In BIO, 577 proposals
were submitted and 355 awards were made (62% success rate). Dr.
Marvin Cassman (NIH) noted that NIH has tried funding high risk/high
impact proposals through their regular programs without much
success, but that this year they are trying it as a separate
program. Dr. Aristides Patrinos (DOE) noted that DOE looks at
funding such proposals after the regular panel has made its recommendations.
He noted that this method has met with mixed success.
Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA)
Dr. Clutter asked the BIOAC to consider how advisory committees
should assimilate COV reports and reviewed several models for
how this could be achieved.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The models presented and generally supported the idea of a
Directorate-wide COV that focused on a particular issue, such
as education or infrastructure. This topic will be discussed
again at the Spring meeting, when the report on the Directorate
for Geosciences’ COV will be
available (addressed education, human resources, and facilities).
Dr. Clutter introduced a general discussion of how different types
of institutions are addressing accountability issues and how NSF
can apply these ideas to meet GPRA’s accountability requirements.
She asked the following BIOAC members to address this topic from
the perspective of their institutions:
- Dr. Rita Colwell- University
- Dr. Ellen Goldberg- Research Institute
- Dr. Robert Horsch- Industry
Dr. Rita Colwell, University of Maryland
Dr. Colwell discussed the collaboration the University of Maryland
has with Sweden and Norway. She noted that the success of this
collaboration depended on significant investment in cutting-edge
telecommunications technology and commitment on the part of faculty
to take on the challenges of lecturing via a telecommunications
system. Another aspect of reinvention Dr. Colwell discussed was
the University’s decision to change to a merit-based pay
system. She noted that this system allows employees and supervisors
to interact in a meaningful away about their performance and
to develop benchmarks for accomplishments. Currently, the University
is looking at how to measure students’ accomplishments,
including the development of self-paced classes and an examination
of student advising. Dr. Colwell recommended that it might be
useful for NSF staff to visit universities to get a better sense
of the kinds of changes they are making.
The BIOAC discussed:
- How universities can develop teaching performance evaluation mechanisms
Dr. Ellen Goldberg, Santa Fe Institute
Dr. Goldberg reviewed the history of the Santa Fe Institute and
noted that it is very experimental, multidisciplinary, and highly
risk-oriented in nature. She also noted that up until very recently,
the Institute felt that it did not need accountability measures.
This philosophy changed once funding agencies began to require
them. Dr. Goldberg discussed areas of accountability used by
- Founding Workshops bring experts together to explore areas that
may develop into new programs.
- Success of the Institute’s programs is often measured
by publications that represent breakthroughs in a scientific
area. The challenge here is to communicate that although these
breakthroughs are often picked up by the universities, they originate
at the Santa Fe Institute. The Institute also looks for examples
of how it has transferred ideas to universities and promoted
the development of multidisciplinary programs.
- Looks for examples of where Institute-fostered collaborations
among disparate fields have resulted in changing the focus
of a field or the development of a new one.
Other areas discussed by Dr. Goldberg include:
- The Institute’s summer school program on complexity for
graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, young faculty, and
some advanced undergraduates. They are tracking how these students
do after they leave and it appears that many are up and coming
- The development of a network of businesses interested in the
Santa Fe Institute’s work. The activity involves constant evaluation
of how the Institute’s work benefits businesses and how
this connection to business impacts the Institute.
- A current effort to look at methods to address diversity issues
at the Institute.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The Institute’s pre-print paper series as a mechanism to
educate the scientific community about the Institute’s
Dr. Robert Horsch, Monsanto Life Sciences Company
Dr. Horsch stated that for industry, stock price change is the
bottom line in terms of accountability- everything else are indicators
that lead up to this. He noted that since most of Monsanto’s
work is long term, developing accountability indicators in the
near term is a challenge when impact will be several years away.
Some measures Monsanto relies on include net present value calculations
and the balanced score card model to evaluate the effects of
current actions on future stock prices.
Reports from Breakout Groups and Action Agenda
Dr. Nina Fedoroff reported for the first breakout group. She noted
that while it will be difficult to effectively distribute the
$40M for plant genome research, it can be done. This breakout
group stressed that it is important to finish sequencing the
Arabidopsis genome quickly, but that a large fraction of the
money should not go to production sequencing of plant genomes
in general. They felt the focus should be on international collaboration
and the development of biological and technological advances
aimed at understanding gene function, extracting information
from sequences, and best approaches to understanding how families
of sequences work. They also noted the need to promote the integration
of sequence information with scientific knowledge from higher
levels of biological organization (i.e., evolution, physiology,
Dr. Ralph Quatrano reported on the discussion of the second breakout
group. This group largely concurred with the recommendations of
the first group. In addition, they noted the need to interact closely
with industry, as they have already undertaken some of this work.
The group also supported the recommendations of the IWG on Plant
Genomes, especially the recommendation to support studies and technology
development in the area of functional genomics.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The need to invest in functional genomics while also ensuring
that sequencing activities are completed.
- The opportunity available to NSF to develop a leadership role
in genomic science.
- The importance of preparing a well-developed plan before activities
- The need to address the informatics component early on in this
- The importance of not undertaking this activity via traditional
centers. The idea of virtual centers was supported by the BIOAC.
The BIOAC will consider April 6-7 or April 8-9, 1998 as dates for
the next meeting.
Dr. Villa-Komaroff asked if anyone would be interested in holding
a workshop and if the BIOAC should continue to hold them. The BIOAC
supported the idea of additional workshops. Two new workshops will
be held over the next year, in addition to the one already planned
by Dr. Rita Colwell:
- Dr. Laura Hoopes- life sciences and computing
- Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff and Dr. George Hill- multidisciplinary
Any other BIOAC members interested in planning a workshop should
contact Dr. Mary Clutter or Mrs. Peggy Weber.
Dr. Villa-Komaroff stated that she will write a draft response
to the Science article on NSF’s rotator program and will
send it to the BIOAC for comment. Carbon copies of the response
will also be sent to Dr. Neal Lane, Director, NSF and Dr. Richard
Zare, Chairman, National Science Board.
Hardcopy minutes approved by: Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Chair
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