Q. How often will calls be issued?
We will be issuing another call, probably in late summer or early fall. We’re trying to get onto an annual step with these proposals.
Q. Part of the proposal asked for a rationale for why this should go through the NCO. Is that a rationale for why we should be using LTER sites or is there a specific mission of the NCO that we should be made aware of to help us in the proposal process?
A. The NCO is a synthesis center trying to promote cross-site activity and network-level science, both within the LTER Network and outside the LTER network, as well. So we are trying to get engagement here in the synthesis working group mode. So–for example–if it’s a group of two or three collaborators and they’ve been working together for years, then they really don’t need a synthesis center to keep working together and that probably wouldn’t be a good fit for this proposal. This effort is trying to support collaborative team science doing integrative, synthetic work addressing these issues that the LTER network is concerned with.
We’re really just looking for that kind of fit. Clearly, it’s an opportunity to use existing data, clearly it’s a situation where a synthesis center can help get the work done. Clearly, it’s a compelling science question. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking for.
A. If I can just address what I think you’re asking here, the NCO doesn’t have any different scientific mission than the LTER network as a whole. The scientific goals would be synthesis within the topics of the LTER.
Q. With respect to the PIs who will be leading the project or the primary people who will be writing it and communicating with you, would it be concerning in this application if that’s primarily composed of early career people? That is graduate students and postdocs?
A. No. That doesn’t raise any red flags. Not if the research is well-articulated and strong.
Q. So by LTER researchers then, you mean researchers who are at the LTERs, not LTER PIs or senior faculty members?
A. That’s correct.
Q. How does reimbursement work? Can these expenses be direct billed to NCEAS? How much do you need to load up your credit cards?
A. We actually direct bill to the travel agent for air fares and to the hotel for rooms. The only expenses you would incur on your own credit card are incidentals such as parking, restaurant meal expenses, transportation here in Santa Barbara. So the small expenses, we will reimburse you for; the main expenses—the airfare and the hotel—we direct bill.
Q. Do groups have to come to Santa Barbara, to the Center–or if it’s more convenient, more central–could they meet in other locations?
A. Admittedly, that’s one where we, as a new central communications office, are still sorting that out. We really do want to move toward virtual technologies, however, that being said, we do feel that meetings need to happen here. Not all of them, but the initial meetings. We can provide support here to get groups off and going, including helping advise and set up future virtual communications and so forth.
A. When it really makes sense to meet somewhere other than Santa Barbara, we will work with you in doing that. There are things that we can do much better here than we can do off site, such as logistical support and on-site training, but we also recognize that we are trying promote efficiency in the communications office in general. So virtual collaboration, we’re happy to help you with that. If there are some meetings that happen off-site, that’s fine as well.
Q. If I am a postdoc and I want to be the group leader, do I need to ask for PI status from my school–or that’s not a requirement?
A. No, that’s not a requirement from us.
Q. So I can just be a group leader if I’m a postdoc?
A. One thing that Jenn said that I want to emphasize. We are not going to be transferring any funding from the NCO to another institution.
Q. I don’t want to get too into the weeds on details, but I wonder if we could talk a bit about number of institutions to include? I come from a grassland site. I could imagine a proposal that focused on grassland sites, which would be, maybe, between 4 and 6 sites that we would include. Or it could be a much broader question about plant community stuff which would be quite a larger number. So I wonder if you guys have a sense of balancing specificity and inclusion?
A. Synthesis research can be very narrowly focused across different space and time scales than you’re used to, but still a relatively focused thematic area. Or it can be new work across thematic areas. It can be narrowly disciplinary or it can be broadly interdisciplinary. So, we are not trying to prescribe anything in that direction at all. It’s, “What is a compelling research direction for you?”

In terms of the number of institutions, the only thing that’s a bit of a red flag for us is if we see the entire working group is from the same institution, we kind of feel like, well, why do they need us? Typically, you’re looking for an opportunity to pull people together from different institutions, in a neutral facility in Santa Barbara, where you can get your work done.

A. One of the things that would make a strong proposal is to identify the data sets you’ll need up front. So striving for a larger group–if it doesn’t make sense, for your questions, for your data set–would make it harder to articulate a good proposal.

Q. I see on the web site that you have a way to estimate the budget, but then it doesn’t say anywhere in the guidelines for proposals that you want that information included. So do you want us to actually give a dollar amount of what we are requesting or not?
A. When you fill out that spreadsheet, that just helps you get a sense of whether you’re coming up against our limits or not. We will re-estimate all the budgets from the numbers you give us as we go. That’s just to give you an indication of what the likely cost of your group will be. But you could go ahead and send it back to us as well.
Q. I know you mentioned that if we managed to keep proposal budgets a bit lower, it might be possible to fund more proposals. I was wondering if it might be possible to write in something that would be a cost saving method? The simplest I can think of is, say we had a five day meeting in Santa Barbara, we could hold a few days of that up at the Sedgwick Research Center, which would be substantially cheaper than holding something in town. Is that something you would be interested in seeing as part of the proposal?
A. We don’t want you to limit the synthesis activities just to be cost-effective, but to the extent that being cost-effective makes sense, we would love to be able to support more groups. For example, you may have a great idea for a working group, but it really may not need a two-year duration. It may be something you can competently do in a year. So make it a one-year working group–then that gives us more resources for somebody else. But what you really want to think about is how to tailor the activity–in terms of the number of participants and its duration–to the question, in order that it will give you a good chance for a successful working group.
Q. How many proposals can individuals be identified in and in what roles?
A. Given that this is an LTER network, we do expect some overlap. We didn’t articulate that in the RFP, but we have talked about it a bit and we can’t really see that somebody could be a lead on two proposals. We don’t really see that as being effective, but you could be a working group member in more than one proposal. And if somebody were a lead on one and a member on another, we would look at those.