Notes from NSF Virtual Office Hour of April 2, 2020

These are notes taken by Ian Billick. The meeting was for all of NSF, but included some questions relevant to REU programs. The notes are not for the entire meeting, but rather issues abstracted by Ian as being relevant to REU programs.

To: Bio REU Community
From: Ian Billick, Chair, Bio REU Leadership Council
RE: Notes from NSF Virtual Office Hour of April 2
Date: April 6, 2020

These are my notes from the April 2 NSF virtual office hour. This was an NSF-wide meeting and not just for REU programs. However, program officer Sally O’Connor participated and fielded questions specific to the REU program. The notes do not cover the entire meeting, but rather issues that I noted as being relevant to the REU programs. Please keep in mind that while I’m offering my notes as a guide, I may have misheard, or things may have changed. If there are any issues which are critical to you, contact your program officer directly rather than rely upon these notes. I apologize in advance for any mistakes I’ve made.

1. NSF understands the challenges that everyone is dealing with, including the uncertainty of summer plans and moving to online teaching.

2. There will be more flexibility than normal for dealing with cancellations and salaries. However, it is critical that you document everything, including the rationale for decisions, and pay careful attention to your own institutional policies. If your institution gets audited, it will be very important to be able to reconstruct what happened. You should be communicating with your sponsored research office.

3. NSF encouraged people to check dates for when your reports are due as well as end dates of grants. Don’t get caught out by requesting a no cost extension too late (at least 10 days before the award expires, though please doublecheck this with your sponsored office, they may have additional deadlines)!

4. There was discussion of whether a student who would have participated this summer, then graduated by May of 2021, can participate in a summer 2021 program. The general answer is no, because it will create a problem squeezing out the upcoming students. However, it was indicated that you could make a special request of the program officer, which would be reviewed on a case by case basis. So while it is generally discouraged, there may be some special situations that merit it. However, you will need to work that out with your program officer.

5. As has previously been discussed, NSF is not providing guidance on whether programs should or should not run this summer. Each institution will need to make its own decision. If you do cancel, it is strongly recommended that you file for a no cost extension, mentioning CoVID19 as the reason.

6. How are annual reports different if you get a no cost extension for a cancellation? As soon as the extension is goes through, an extra year is added for the annual report. For this year’s report, explain the situation, why it was cancelled, and address any other changes in the program.

7. Someone asked whether REU programs can change to remote programs. The answer is yes, though it is recommended that you communicate with the program officer and file a change of scope. As mentioned above, Joseph Ayoob is convening a group that has been discussing best practices and sharing notes. Keep in mind that changes of scope/objectives require prior NSF approval, so submit your request before you implement the new program.

8. Can you request a supplement for setting up a remote program? You will need to reach out to the program officer and it will be handled on a case by case basis.

9. How do supplements work? You will need to manage this carefully, working with your own institution. There is no rush to submit a supplement request. Make certain you understand what you plan to do so as to minimize changes. Keep in mind that you cannot be assured of supplemental funding.

10. Can REU housing support be used to purchase computers? You will need to work with your institutional officers and follow your institutional policies. You still need to obtain prior approval to transfer funds from participate support to other categories, though look for institutional guidance on what is categorized as participant support.

11. Can funds for students be shifted to grad support for developing materials? The general answer is no. This would most likely be considered shifting money out of participant support cost, which would require NSF approval, and seemed discouraged.