DEB Deputy Division Director Search Open

In case you had not heard, the ad for the Deputy Division Director (DDD) position in DEB was posted the other day. It will remain open until Friday, 5 December 2014.

View the announcement here:

The Deputy Division Director is a permanent (career, in fed-speak) appointment at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level. See here for a primer on the SES:

From the announcement:

The Deputy Division Director participates with the Division Director in providing leadership and direction to the Division of Environmental Biology. Assists the Division Director in carrying out Division-wide responsibilities such as strategic planning and management, human capital management including recruitment of staff, budget preparation for submission to congress, and overseeing the evaluation of proposals and recommendations for awards and declinations. Represents NSF to relevant external groups and fosters partnerships with other Divisions, Directorates, Federal agencies, scientific organizations and the academic community. The Deputy Division Director assumes the Division Director role in the absence of the Division Director.


Meet DEB: Joe Miller, SBS Program Officer

Basic Profile

Name: Joe MillerMiller_1

Education: PhD, Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison

Home Institution (Rotators):

Before arriving at the NSF I was a Research Scientist at the Center for Australian National Biodiversity Research at the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra. This is part of CSIRO and I worked closely with other researchers at the insect and vertebrate collections as well as people at Australian National University (ANU). I maintain a strong research connection with this group.

NSF Experience/History

I have been a rotator in the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster for a year. I was supposed to start on October 1, 2013, but the “Shutdown” delayed my arrival for several weeks. I waited patiently for the shutdown to end so I could travel to Arlington. It was bit awkward as I stayed in Canberra an extra three weeks after my goodbye party.

Research Experience/History:

My career in biodiversity science had a fortuitous start. I was a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer (see below) in Madison Wisconsin. My experience in Ecuador had reawakened my interest in agriculture (see below). While wandering through the horticulture building I saw a 100 Sucre (old currency of Ecuador) taped to an office door. I knocked on the door and spent the next hour talking to David Spooner, a USDA potato taxonomist, who had just returned from collecting potatoes (Solanum) in Ecuador. That was my introduction to systematics as a career and I realized that was what I was looking for. I took a job washing dishes in the lab, started doing lab work and six years later had a PhD.

I studied the wild relatives of the cultivated potato to understand which species were domesticated and to work on the taxonomy. It was great but I wish I could redo the work with Next Generation Sequence data! Miller_2I owe my current career path in Acacia research to planetary science. After graduating I applied for a postdoc in Canberra and I learned that I was the runner-up. However a few weeks later I was asked if I still wanted the postdoc and gladly accepted. I later learned that the original awardee’s partner had just discovered the first exoplanet. They forwent Australia to look for more planets so I went to Australia to explore Acacia.

Competitions I currently work on:Miller_3

I work on the Systematics and Biodiversity Core programs, Phylogenetic Systematics and Biodiversity: Discovery and Analysis. I also work on the Genealogy of Life (GoLife) program and assist the BIO Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology program.

Q & A

Describe your current IR/D activities:

My research focuses on the systematics and biogeography of the Australian flora. For many years I focused on Acacia systematics but now have expanded to other groups such as Asteraceae, orchids, bryophytes and even Eucalyptus. Sometimes when I give a seminar I talk about the geopolitical advantage of being a botanist in Australia. The Australian botanical community is well organized. All vouchered plant specimens are databased and have been available online for several years. Another advantage is that the research community has an agreed upon taxonomy of the flora, the Australian Plant Census. Lastly the clade I study, Acacia, is nearly entirely (over 99.5% of the phylogenetic diversity) contained within Australia. My research has been focused on developing a strong phylogeny of Acacia and then by applying these wonderful datasets I have a great foundation for comparative studies.Miller_4

For the past few years my research focus has been to use these integrated phylogeny and spatial datasets to investigate biogeography. In particular with my research collaborators we have developed some new ways of identifying areas of paleo- and neoendemism by applying some advanced measures of phylogenetic diversity and phylogenetic endemism. We are applying these ideas on many datasets of the Australian flora. I am particularly interested in the use of these data in conservation planning.


For fun I play with phylogenetic visualizations. With collaborators at the Atlas of Living Australia I am using webservices to link spatial, environmental and trait data with phylogenies. These tools help us integrate data to bring an evolutionary perspective to biodiversity data so we can see patterns in complex data.

How did you come to be working in DEB?

Over the past few years I have become more and more interested in the integration of data (see above). We are in the midst of a revolutionary time where we have all this new data: phylogenies, spatial, environmental, trait etc… along with new visualizations that have created an opportunity to link it all together for better science. I do some development in this area and wanted to pursue it at a larger scale. The Genealogy of Life (GoLife) program ( has these same goals and I wanted to help make it happen.

Tell your awesome fieldwork adventure story:

I am fortunate to have done a lot of Acacia collecting in arid, outback Australia. One night is especially memorable as we camped way out there, half way between Perth and Alice Springs. I slept under an Acacia tree a couple of hundred miles from the nearest town. Although I lived in Australia eight years, I have no deadly Australian animal stories. The most beautiful place I have done fieldwork is the alpine areas of Tasmania. The most fun I had in the field was driving through Mexico collecting Acacia on my DEB grant.Miller_6

Recount a formative educational/mentoring experience (help us understand why you enjoy research/professional service/federal service:

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 80s in Ecuador. I worked on a small animal husbandry project and also did soil conservation and forestry work. Before this experience I was not interested in biology but it was a turning point for me.

Describe a job you had prior to working at NSF:

I am a farm boy. I grew up on a farm in eastern South Dakota so my early work experiences were working the land. The farm is in a transition area between crop and pastureland so there was, and still is, a mix of crops and animals. I spent all my summers during high school and college working with my Dad making hay, fixing fences, harvesting grain and whatever else needed to be done. Because of many varied experiences with them, I have a love/hate relationship with pigs. I still get excited when I see a field of oats and someday would like to own a tractor.

Links for recent funding opportunity updates in BIO

Please take note of these recently published funding opportunity updates:

1) A revision to the DEB Core Programs solicitation has been published. The new solicitation number is NSF 15-500. See it here:

2) The Long Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) solicitation has also been updated. The new solicitation number is NSF 15-503. See it here:

3) Current DEB awardees should have received a reminder about Education and Broadening Participation supplement requests, due December 2. The guidance for these supplements is also online, here:

4) A revision of the BIO Postdoctoral Fellowships program has also been published. There are 3 tracks all of which may be relevant to new PhDs in DEB fields: (1) Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology, (2) Research Using Biological Collections, and (3) National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI). See it here:

As always, we are happy to receive  your questions in the comments and by phone or email.

DEB Numbers: Community Satisfaction Survey Results

You may recall that way back in the first half of 2013 we invited the community by email and also via this blog to participate in a survey to gauge satisfaction with the preliminary proposal process in DEB and IOS.

The full results of the survey have now been published in BioScience. Our thanks to you for responding to our call to participate in great numbers and to the various discussants, readers, and reviewers who helped throughout the process.

We understand how strongly many people feel about these issues and appreciate your engagement as individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives. For every possible change we do or do not make, real lives are being impacted and that matters to us; and when 9 of 10 proposals are declined there will always be more individuals who “lose” than “win” even if the collective face of either group doesn’t change at all. We are ultimately people, trying to do our best to balance trade-offs with very real individual and collective consequences amidst constraints that extend well beyond any one of us. We are considering the responses very carefully, continuing to monitor outcomes, make adjustments, and evaluate the results of these changes with all available data.

Major Messages:

Respondents were most satisfied with the preliminary proposal requirement and mostly dissatisfied with the switch to a single annual deadline.

The respondents indicated that they see the DEB and IOS changes as a potential threat to the success of several different groups, especially to the ability of early career faculty to obtain funding. After the first complete review cycle, there were no immediate and obvious changes to the representation of these groups in the award portfolio.

General consensus was seen in responses between DEB and IOS and across various demographic divisions.

You can check the results out for yourself here: (Web) (PDF)

Note: you may hit a paywall if searching for the article directly from the web. These links should get you there directly.


Leslie J. Rissler and John Adamec. Gauging Satisfaction with the New Proposal Process in DEB and IOS at the NSF. BioScience (September 2014) 64 (9): 837-843 first published online August 13, 2014 doi:10.1093/biosci/biu116




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