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Mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on MPS’s mission and activities

April 9, 2021

A message from NSF Assistant Director Sean Jones, head of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a national challenge for the research community. Researchers from biochemistry to mathematical modeling were mobilized to address an immediate need for knowledge on how the virus affects its victims, spreads, and can be stopped. Research projects in all fields have been hampered by the pandemic as universities and other institutions limited in-person work, group gatherings, facility access, and travel. In response, the National Science Foundation provided RAPID funding grants, extended deadlines, and approved other funding flexibilities to enable continued support for researchers whose projects were impacted by the pandemic. As the pandemic enters its second year, NSF is developing additional mechanisms to mitigate its impact on the research enterprise.

The Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences has many existing funding mechanisms designed to enable cutting edge research while supporting diversity and scientific training across career stages. As the pandemic has persisted and has particularly affected early career researchers and those at historically underserved institutions, we must find additional innovative ways to maintain the strength of the scientific enterprise. If you or your colleagues could benefit from the opportunities below, we encourage you to reach out and help spread the word.

The NSF is committed to the progress of science and the advancement of national health and welfare. We know the researchers in the physical sciences share this mission as well. On the other side of this challenge is a wealth of new discoveries, and we hope to achieve that together through continued support of researchers and the infrastructure that makes their research possible.


Sean L. Jones
NSF Assistant Director, MPS


Postdoctoral Research Fellowships

In addition to expanded funding in the DMS Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowships, MPS is supporting postdoctoral researchers through a new fellowship program designed to increase the participation of historically underrepresented groups (MPS-Ascend). New proposals are welcome from postdoctoral researchers and PhD students in any MPS-supported discipline.

Graduate Student Supplements

Graduate students represent the next generation of scientists, and ensuring that their training continues is important to MPS.  In partnership with EHR, MPS supports Graduate Research Supplements through the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program. AGEP emphasizes increasing the involvement in research by members of underrepresented groups. PIs with active MPS awards can seek support for an additional masters or PhD student. See the AGEP-GRS Dear Colleague Letter for eligibility details.  Additional supplemental support opportunities also include the MPS Graduate Research Supplement for Veterans and Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities.

Early Career Researchers

Early funding support is instrumental in helping beginning researchers launch their careers. In recognition of the vulnerable position of many early career researchers due to the pandemic, MPS has announced a call for proposal through Launching Early-Career Academic Pathways (LEAPS-MPS). These grants will provide support for pre-tenure faculty in Mathematical and Physical Sciences fields at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs), and Carnegie Research 2 (R2) universities. In addition, the LEAPS-MPS call also aims to broaden participation to include members from groups underrepresented in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.

Expanded funding availability will also support the prestigious NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, which offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Early-career faculty who have strong commitments to integrating education into their research should apply.

Minority-serving Institutions and Partnerships

The Historically Black Colleges and Universities - Excellence in Research (HBCU-EiR) funding opportunity was established to strengthen research capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). MPS and its Divisions participate in HBCU-EiR with several awards each year. Researchers in any MPS-supported discipline may apply through the OIA solicitation, indicating a corresponding MPS program as a secondary unit of consideration. Additionally, the Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials Research (PREM) program of the Division of Materials Research (DMR) aims to enable, build, and grow partnerships between minority-serving institutions and DMR-supported centers and/or facilities to increase recruitment, retention, and degree attainment by members of those groups most underrepresented in materials research, and at the same time aims to support excellent research and education endeavors that strengthen such partnerships. The PREM program welcomes proposals for seed projects.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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