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About the Society Governance Documents Talking points about Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) hiatus


April 2016


On March 16, 2016, NSF placed the Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) program on hiatus for fiscal year 2017 in order to evaluate its long-term funding needs and its priority within the Biological Sciences Directorate. While on hiatus, NSF is actively soliciting comments about this program. This a talking-points memo, which will explain what CSBR funds and offer suggestions for writing individual and institutional letters to NSF.

Basic Information about CSBR

What is the CSBR?

Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR), part of the Directorate for Biological Sciences’ Division of Biological Infrastructure. CSBR first accepted proposals in 2011. It was preceded by the Improvements to Biological Research Collections, Biological Research Collections (BRC), and Research Collections in Systematics and Ecology (RCSE) programs.

Who/what does CSBR fund?

Research-oriented biological collections: vouchered natural history museum collections of extant or fossil specimens, DNA and tissue libraries, and living stock and culture collections for the following types of projects:
  • collections with a clear and urgent research need to secure, organize, and curate biological specimens
  • collections with a clear and urgent research need to secure, organize, and curate specimen data
  • transferring ownership of “orphaned” collections to new institutions

In other words, CSBR funds special efforts to improve physical conditions and data for collections that are key resources for our scientific community. They focus on collections for which external support is needed to ensure their continued use and accessibility to the larger biological research community.

Since 2012, CSBR has funded 115 grants. CSBR has strongly supported paleontological collections; their funding of fossil collections and supporting databases (15 grants) totals $5.5 million since 2012 ($5,473,235; award list below). That figure does not include additional millions in support of modern vertebrate collections, which are also in regular use by members of our society.

A spreadsheet documenting all CSBR, BRC, and RCSE awards is available online here. Grants that directly funded paleontology collections or databases are highlighted in green. Grants that funded databases or workshops that help integrate paleontological collections with other types of collections are highlighted in yellow. Grants that funded collections of extant vertebrates only are not highlighted.

What doesn't CSBR fund?

  • regular maintenance and upkeep of collections

  • acquisition of new specimens through fieldwork
  • direct support of research (but see talking points for how CSBR indirectly supports research, below)
  • curating material held in trust for the US Federal Government
  • US Federal repositories such as the Smithsonian Institution

Where do I send comments to CSBR about the hiatus?


Talking points for letters/comments to the NSF about the CSBR hiatus

1. Highlight specific examples and data that link CSBR funding to the core missions of the NSF (primarily research, but also training and outreach).

If your institution received CSBR funding:
  • How many undergraduate and graduate students were trained?
  • How many staff were trained in new skills?
  • How many people were employed?
  • How many additional scientists have used the collection?
  • How many publications resulted from this research (in-house or outside researchers)?
  • How many specimens were saved, curated?
  • How are specimens accessible in ways they weren’t before?
  • How are these specimens or data used in STEM education?
  • How are these specimens used in public outreach?

If your research benefited from CSBR funding:
  • Did you visit a collection that was previously inaccessible?
  • Did an online database alert you to a relevant collection?
  • Did that research contribute to pilot data for additional NSF/grant support?
  • How many publications resulted from that research?

If your training benefited from CSBR funding (e.g., as staff or a student):
  • Did your dissertation or thesis research involve collections funded by CSBR?
  • Which new skills did you acquire from CSBR training/collections use?
  • Did this experience help you get a new job or into a graduate program?

2. The long term impacts of CSBR funding reach farther but are harder to quantify than the short term impacts of research grants.
The long term impacts of CSBR funding (specimen cabinets, curatorial experience for undergrads) are harder to quantify than the short term results of a research grant (papers). For example, curating and rehousing specimens in new cabinets can benefit researchers for fifty years or longer, including researchers who are not members of the funded institution. External and future researchers are unlikely to recognize the impact of the CSBR in their acknowledgments –they probably don’t know the cabinet was funded by NSF– so this sort of impact is unlikely to be included in grantees’ annual reports (especially years after the grant is concluded).

CSBR is a recent program, and its long term impacts have not likely been recognized. However, the impact of its preceding programs (see above) can be assessed. A spreadsheet documenting all CSBR, BRC, and RCSE awards is available online here.

Your research benefited from CSBR, BRC, or RCSE funding if you:
  • Visited or used a collection that was rehoused with CSBR dollars
    • e.g., The Field Museum’s fossil mammals, Yale Peabody Museum’s Marsh dinos, Science Museum of Minnesota’s paleo collections; see spreadsheet for more)
  • Worked on an orphaned collection whose transfer was funded by NSF
    • e.g., the Princeton collection transferred to Yale; fossil primates now at the Duke Lemur Center; see spreadsheet for more
  • You have ever used a collection databased in Specify
  • You have ever used the online databases HerpNet or ORNIS

3. Specimens form the material basis of our research and must be conserved. 
Our research cannot be done from photos, scans, or digital records alone.  Continued preservation of and access to original fossils, skeletal specimens, and other biological material is necessary for research to continue or to be verified. Conservation also allows new avenues of research to be developed, e.g., by exploring the physical or chemical analysis of the specimen itself through new technology or improved techniques.

Please give examples where your research depends on physical specimens:
  • Examples of how your research cannot be done without the physical specimen
  • Examples of discoveries that you could only have been made using the physical specimen
  • New technology that is being used on physical specimens themselves
  • Uses of field notes and other associated specimen data that do not exist online
  • Examples of publications documenting the above

Other resources

SVP letter to NSF about the CSBR

Joint letter to NSF about the CSBR hiatus, co-signed by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Natural Science Collections Alliance, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

Advice for constructive feedback on CSBR

DBI's blog post, "Information and Guidance for Providing Feedback"