Meet DEB: George Malanson, PCE Program Officer

Basic Profile

Name: George Malanson

GPM head

Education: PhD, UCLA, 1983

Home Institution: University of Iowa

Research Experience/History: I started out in fire ecology, working on coastal sage scrub at UCLA with Walt Westman. I continued on that track in a postdoc in Montpellier, France (with Louis Trabaud on an NSF fellowship), where I was able to augment some of his experimental burns with some of my own. In between I had an interlude where I was serendipitously introduced to Glacier National Park (avalanche paths there look like fuel breaks carved into the hillsides of southern California – and function similarly). Looking at avalanche paths set up a switch to riparian ecology when I moved to Iowa because I wanted to refocus on spatial structure, and linearity seemed like a good construct. I later changed to alpine treeline to continue the linearity – in a different way – but mostly to get back to the Glacier. That work has occupied most of the past 25 years. Recently I have been looking at some large scale biogeography of alpine tundra, in part because the tundra is important for what happens to tree seedlings at treeline and in part because its diversity may be what suffers with climate change. The continuing question in this work is: How does the spatial structuring of populations by the abiotic environment affect the processes determining community structure and diversity. I am particularly interested in feedback loops. Some modeling work has led to applying similar models for coupled human-natural systems.

NSF Experience/History: NSF Rotator since 8/4/14. Review experience: prior site panel for LTER; reviewer for PCE, GSS; panelist for CNH, GSS.

Competitions I currently work on: Population and Community Ecology.

Q & A

Describe your current IR/D activities:

  • Revising a manuscript on how neighborhood facilitation works in the stress-gradient hypothesis
  • Revising a manuscript on beta-diversity in alpine tundra

What do you do in your position at NSF?

Ad hoc, ad hoc, and ad hoc: i.e., get proposals reviewed.

Biggest surprise you’ve encountered coming to DEB from the academic world:

Everyone here uses acronyms. All the time. Who knew?

One thing you wished more people understood about your field and why:

Uncertainty. It doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything.

What was the last book you read?

The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett, but I recommend her short stories, especially Servants of the Map.

Something extra about you to share with readers?

I have a passing interest in academic genealogies. Mine goes back to John Merle Coulter (1851-1928), but his doctorates were honorary and so it stops there.


A quick refresher for blog visitors

We’ve come a long way since launching the blog in February of 2013. For one, there are a lot more of you following us and reading posts on a regular basis.

So we’re interrupting our normal content to post a quick “nuts and bolts” refresher in the hope of improving your experience here and encouraging more participation.


This blog is an informal communication medium of the NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology. You can share with us anything you’d like us to know and we can provide you with information, pass along news and announcements, respond to your questions and comments and share our experiences. Suggestions for new and follow-up post topics are always appreciated.

Why doesn’t DEBrief run reader polls and ask for discussion of specific scenarios?

Soliciting advice or information from the public (e.g., us asking you questions that could be seen as placing undue burden on your time) is governed by various laws and takes place through formal mechanisms, for example by the BIO Advisory Committee. The blog is not an approved formal mechanism for doing this.


Please do: your questions, comments, responses to posts, and even general venting are all welcome. We started the blog because we wanted to create an open opportunity for two-way communication between DEB and the research community.

Comments are moderated (see the blog policies) so an email address can be useful for follow-up but isn’t required. In fact, you can comment without filling in any of the information and stay anonymous if you wish.


We try to have something new roughly every week but make no guarantees since we put a high premium on quality content and also have other responsibilities, for example: managing proposal review.

For your convenience, you can click the links to the right to receive notifications of new posts or to subscribe via an RSS.


DEBrief is more than just captivating original content you might “like”. We also bring you important reminders and critical updates related to new and ongoing funding opportunities. Help us get this information to everyone who would benefit from seeing it. Sharing buttons for various traditional (email, print) and social (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit) media are at the bottom of each post.


Old posts are below and will continuously load as you scroll deeper into the past. Since some are quite long, most content for older posts has been moved below the fold. A search function, categorical filters, and monthly archives are available via the menus on the right-hand side of the page.

Up top, we have some tabs with permanent information:

  • “DEB Resources and Links” takes you directly to frequently sought official information hosted on the website.
  • “About” lists who we our and our aims in presenting information here.
  • “Blog Policies” explains what you should expect from us and what we expect from you while interacting through the blog.

Reminder: 2014 BIO DDIG Deadline Thursday Oct 9

The DEB (all clusters) and IOS (Behavioral Systems Cluster only) due date for Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (DDIG) is Thursday, 9 October 2014.

Submissions must be received by 5:00 PM (your local time) on Thursday, 9 October 2014.

This is the same scheduled deadline (2nd Thursday in October) as last year.

Don’t be confused by last year’s extended deadline caused by the government shutdown. Be aware of the correct due date and don’t miss your window to apply!

If you are planning to submit:

Please be sure all of the required paperwork and certifications (especially the “statement that the student has advanced to candidacy for a Ph.D., signed and dated by the department chairperson, graduate dean, or similar administrative official”) will be ready for the submission. Also, please make sure your organizational representative (usually, the Sponsored Research Office (SRO)) is aware of the actual due date to avoid missing the deadline.


DDIG solicitation (submission instructions):

DDIG Website (with program contacts):

Our recent series on DDIG: part 1, part 2, part 3


Two New Dear Colleague Letters Promote International Collaboration in DEB

We are excited to announce two new Dear Colleague Letters (DCLs) in the Division of Environmental Biology.

When DEB researchers pursue international research collaborations, a common challenge is for both parties to secure concurrent funding. As explained in a previous DEBrief blog post on international collaboration, DEB can fund investigators through US-based institutions, however, DEB cannot fund investigators through foreign institutions. If both collaborators apply for grants independently to their respective country’s funding agency, there is a risk that one or both sides will not be funded. Some call this challenge double jeopardy.

International agreements between funding agencies can help to mitigate this type of  challenge. In lieu of each funding agency conducting a concurrent and independent review of the proposal, agencies can work together to streamline the review process into one mutually approved review. A single review process minimizes the risks associated with double jeopardy. If a jointly submitted proposal is selected for funding, then each country will pay for its own researcher’s component of the project. By aligning our funding decisions with those of other science funding agencies, we are able to extend the reach of our investigators’ high quality, cutting-edge science.

The two new Dear Colleague Letters are separate activities that have important differences. We strongly encourage interested investigators to carefully read the relevant Dear Colleague Letter and its associated program solicitation. DEB will begin accepting these US-Israel or US-UK collaborative proposals for the 2015 core solicitation preliminary proposal deadline of January 23, 2015.

It is important to recognize that these Dear Colleague Letters ARE NOT solicitations with dedicated budget lines (e.g. they do not describe new opportunities for funding). These DCLs simply announce a new way for international collaborative proposals to go through existing peer review mechanisms. We’re trying to make international collaboration routine as much as possible by reducing unnecessary barriers.



BSF_LogoThe US – Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) is a science-funding agency that supports collaborative research between United States and Israeli scientists. The projects they fund cover a wide range of basic and applied scientific fields. The DEB-BSF Dear Colleague Letter strives to enhance collaborations between US and Israeli scientists specifically in the realm of environmental biology.


NERC_LogoThe Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is one of the seven councils within the Research Councils United Kingdom (RCUK). It is the UK’s largest funder of independent environmental science, training, and innovation. The goal of the DEB-NERC Dear Colleague Letter is to reduce current barriers that investigators face when working with UK collaborators in the field of environmental biology and to promote US and UK science partnership.

Interested investigators are strongly encouraged to email in advance of submitting a proposal.

For questions on the BSF-DCL, please email:

For questions on the NERC-DCL, please email:


What’s your DEB Story?

Sometimes, it can be hard to fit what you want to tell us into your annual report. Other times, the coolest results, recognition of important research outcomes, and broader impacts only come to fruition in the years after a grant was closed and the final reports compiled.

We’re interested in unearthing the dark data on award outcomes. Help us tell the full story of DEB funding: from personal experiences to news-making discoveries, we want to hear from you. Comment, email us, or schedule a time to talk with us to share your experiences.

Non-exhaustive list of examples:

  • Any part of the project that you couldn’t fit in your reports and want us to know about.
  • Updates on how research on a grant has influenced student careers.
  • Publications that have become modern classics.
  • Awards and recognitions.
  • Institutional legacies of innovative programs.
  • Follow-up or translational research that took your results in unexpected directions.

We’re always looking to highlight the results of research spending to illustrate the breadth of impacts of past and current awards. Short summary stories of award outcomes are passed to NSF’s Public Affairs team and may wind up on Your responses can help us highlight the many ways in which DEB awards serve to promote the progress of science, support education, and contribute to national well-being.

DEB Numbers: CAREER Submission Data

This is a quick numbers post while we in DEB pivot from summer research and meeting outreach to fiscal closeout and autumn (full proposal) panel mode.

CAREER proposals in BIO were due on July 21, 2014. These proposals will be reviewed this fall and become part of the FY 2015 decision-making process. In this post, we take a look at the trends in submission of CAREER proposals through the current competition. We aren’t looking at funding rates or outcomes – those are beyond the scope of today’s post.

If you have no clue what a CAREER proposal is, skip to this short primer.

DEB CAREER Submissions Trend

The CAREER program is a long-standing, foundation-wide opportunity for junior faculty. In DEB, CAREER proposals can provide eligible PIs an additional submission above and beyond the 2 allowed annually in the core programs.

Some DEB staff were concerned that we would see a substantial increase in CAREER submissions after the launch of the preliminary proposal process for the core programs. The reasoning was that CAREER-eligible junior faculty who were not invited to submit a full proposal would submit a CAREER instead. Alternatively, others pointed out that a competitive CAREER proposal differs substantially from a regular research proposal and that one does not simply flip a project idea from one to the other. Going in to the preliminary proposal system, it was an open question as to how CAREER submissions would respond.


Between 2002 and 2007, we received 40-60 CAREER proposals per year. There was rapid growth from 2008 to 2009 and 2010, well before the preliminary proposal process was launched, but that trend has not continued over the 5 subsequent deadlines. There is a jump in 2013, the first CAREER deadline after the switch to preliminary proposals, but that level has not been maintained. It appears that, 3 years in, we have not experienced a large shift of DEB proposals into the CAREER mechanism. Anecdotally, a few comments we’ve heard suggest that CAREER proposals continue to be seen as prestigious awards with high expectations at the review stage so many eligible PIs may be hesitant to apply. Supposing this view is sufficiently widespread it could easily suppress the numbers of PIs who would otherwise turn to this program after or instead of a core program submission.

Elsewhere in BIO

While there was little change in CAREER submission numbers after the switch to the preliminary proposal system in DEB, the story is somewhat different in IOS (which instituted preliminary proposals at the same time) and MCB (which instituted a single deadline and PI submission limit of 1). Both of these Divisions also started from a very different place than DEB with respect to CAREER submissions. IOS and MCB received larger numbers of CAREER proposals than DEB in the years immediately prior to their respective review process changes and there are less tangible but important cultural differences in community expectations and approach to CAREER proposals. MCB was coming down from a submission peak (217 CAREER proposals) in 2006 and IOS was at a plateau ~110 following substantial submission growth in the early 2000s.CareerTrend2

*The 2015 numbers may be revised if some submissions are returned as incomplete or out of compliance.

Both IOS and MCB experienced actual and proportionately larger initial jumps in CAREER submissions post-2012 than DEB. And, neither IOS nor MCB experienced a drop of similar magnitude to DEB during the second or third year since their solicitation changes. It’s not clear why the reaction in these two Divisions differed so much from the DEB communities. Potential reasons include: larger communities with larger potential for increases, influx of PIs from the biomedical community seeking funding, and differing perceptions and expectations for CAREER submissions relative to regular proposals.


Even though three years is a short run, CAREER submissions from 2013 onward in each of the three Divisions appear to be relatively stable. Concern about overwhelming growth in CAREER submissions has not been borne out. However, it is unclear why numbers went up and remained there in MCB and IOS but not DEB and what that means for us. Are DEB PIs and/or reviewers much more selective as to what they will put forward for a CAREER award? Do the demographics differ between the fields enough that we were already saturated with CAREER submissions while the other Divisions were not? Or is the variation stochastic? If anyone has data that might shed some light on these questions, we’d be happy to know.

CAREER primer:

CAREER is shorthand for the NSF-wide Faculty Early Career Development Program. The CAREER program is distinguished from other NSF opportunities by being exclusively for pre-tenured faculty and specifically focused on excellent educational aspects integrated with an outstanding research program. In addition to being considered a prestigious award in its own right, receipt of a CAREER award is a prerequisite of eligibility for the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

CAREER program submissions have a single annual deadline in mid-to-late July (exact date varies by directorate) and are reviewed by the most relevant disciplinary program. In DEB, CAREER proposals are taken to review in our fall full proposal panels, alongside invited full proposals, OPUS, and RCN submissions, and co-review proposals as we have previously illustrated. While not the normal practice in DEB, it is fairly common across NSF to have panels exclusively for CAREER proposals in programs where there are large numbers of CAREER submissions and/or no other close deadlines. [back to top]

DEB Live! 2014: ESA in Sacramento, 10-15 August

DEB is coming to the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Sacramento, California.

We are expanding our formal presence at this year’s meeting by:

(1) Holding our regular lunchtime “Town Hall” session on Tuesday, August 12 from 11:30-1:15 pm in room 202 of the Sacramento Convention Center.

(2) Hosting a Table in the Exhibit Hall  with general information about NSF and the Biological Sciences Directorate, including funding opportunities in and beyond DEB (as of press time we expect to be Table B). Expect 1 or 2 representatives at the table throughout the day.

Our ESA 2014 Table. Stop by and say "hi."

Our ESA 2014 Table. Stop by and say “hi.”

(3) Program Officers will also generally be available for questions at the NSF exhibit table during the late-afternoon poster sessions: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4:30-6:30 pm.

(4) If you wish to arrange a special time to meet with one of these folks you can contact them by email.


Below are individuals from NSF who will be in attendance at the meeting:

Penny Firth, Division Director
Division of Environmental Biology

Alan Tessier, Deputy Division Director (Acting)
Division of Environmental Biology

Henry Gholz, Program Officer
Division of Environmental Biology, Ecosystem Science Cluster

Peter Alpert, Program Officer
Division of Environmental Biology, Population and Community Ecology Cluster

Linda Deegan, Program Officer
Division of Environmental Biology, Ecosystem Science Cluster

Betsy Von Holle, Program Officer
Division of Environmental Biology, Population and Community Ecology Cluster

John Schade, Program Officer
Division of Environmental Biology, Ecosystem Science Cluster

Alan Wilson, Program Officer
Division of Environmental Biology, Population and Community Ecology Cluster

John Adamec, Program Analyst
Division of Environmental Biology

Cheryl Dybas, Public Affairs Officer
NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs