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5 Things To Do Before You Begin Writing Your DOE Proposal

In a session hosted by the Research Office, two Lehigh faculty shared best practices for submitting a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Specifically, the discussion centered on the philosophy of this federal agency and advice for what to do before you even begin writing a full proposal in response to a funding opportunity announcement.

Anand Jagota (Chair, Bioengineering) and Israel Wachs (Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering), who led the presentation, have decades of continuous funding from the DOE and are incredibly knowledgeable in what the agency is looking for during the application review process.

So you’d like to apply for DOE funding? In addition to reviewing the instructions in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) here are five things you should do before you begin writing a full proposal:

  • Review the DOE website and locate the Research Areas and Reports and Activities of the Program that best fits with your field of research.
    • It is very important to pay attention to the DOE Research Needs. For example, the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) Program seems to prefer fundamental, long-term energy-themed research topics that allow you to go deeper and deeper into a particular subject matter.
  • Thoroughly review the information provided in the FOA. Similar to other agencies, the program managers spend a lot of time reviewing and editing the funding opportunity announcement before it’s released. They use it as their guide for deciding whether proposals meet the criteria, and it would benefit faculty to use it as their guide for writing the proposal.
    • Work with your CGS to register in, become familiar with the new Workspace platform, and design a workflow process that works best for your team.
  • Make contact with the current DOE Program Manager. Initial contact may take several forms, for example an email requesting a phone call that leads to an in person meeting while attending a research-related conference.
    • Relationship building and collaboration among top institutions and laboratories seems to be an important consideration during the review process.
  • Review your preliminary data and prepare a White Paper (2 pages) to send to the Program Manager.
    • This agency prefers to see relevant and significant preliminary data; think in terms of “60% is what you did, 40% is what you will do if funded.”
  • Be prepared to receive limited feedback for a declined proposal.
    • DOE is a little less transparent (than some of the other agencies) in terms of sharing reviewer feedback. This agency is also a little less clear with explaining why your proposal was declined, and it is therefore difficult to determine which areas need improvement in order to prepare a strong resubmission.
    • From experience, there are two criteria for getting funded 1) The proposal needs really good reviews from each committee member, and 2) The Program Manager has to be convinced that your project fits, and has long-term potential (which could mirror a subjective review).

6 Inside Tips for Crafting a Competitive Proposal – The view from the inside

by Heather Messina and Kate Bullard, Office of Research and Graduate Studies

In a session hosted by the Research Office, several Lehigh faculty shared best practices for submitting a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF). Specifically, the discussion centered on tips for engaging the proposal review audience and highlighting Broader Impacts.

Kate Arrington (Psychology) and Hector Munoz-Avila (CSE), who led the panel discussion, recently returned from Washington DC after a rotation as NSF Program Officers in their respective fields of research. Ed Webb (MEM) and Jim Hwang (ECE) joined the discussion to offer insight as recent awardees.

In addition to following the instructions in the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and the NSF program solicitation here are insights for crafting a competitive proposal.

  • Search for New funding opportunity announcements offered by the agency. There tend to be fewer applicants for the first couple cycles of a New funding opportunity.
  • Email the program officer assigned before you begin writing the proposal. Ask specific questions such as:
    • Does my research topic fit with this funding opportunity announcement? Attach a one-page summary of the main points of your proposed project.
    • How will the review process be set up? Will there be an ad hoc review? Depending on how the program officer conducts a review process, you can tailor your project description to appeal to a panel with expertise in your topic, or to a committee that needs context or background information.
    • Is it possible for my research topic to fit the goals of more than one directorate? It was mentioned that co-review of a proposal by more than one directorate results in a greater chance to be funded.
  • List between 5-7 “Suggested Reviewers” in NSF Fastlane. The program officer actually uses this list, and it makes their job easier to put a review panel together.
  • Craft a compelling message for why your project is an important step in moving your field of research forward.
    • The program officers spend a lot of time reviewing and editing the program solicitation before it’s released. They use it as their guide for deciding whether proposals meet the criteria, and it would benefit faculty to use it as their guide for writing the proposal.
    • The Broader Impacts section of the NSF proposal is important and is closely looked at by both the review panel and the program officer. It was mentioned that this piece should be a focus area of clear and detailed planning/writing.
    • Describe in the Budget Justification document what funds you are using to support your plans for the Broader Impacts.
  • Email the program officer a couple weeks after a proposal is declined, and request a phone call to discuss the context of why the proposal was declined, and suggested areas of improvement for future proposal submissions.
  • Offer to serve on review committees for research topics within your expertise. Any stage investigator is encouraged to email the program officer to let them know what topics you would be interested in reviewing.


Things to know about Liu Xiaobo

Vera Fennell is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University.  Her research centers on China, Africa and China in Africa. You can follow her on twitter at @VeraFennell1 
In light of American college student, Otto Wambier’s “death” in custody in an authoritarian state, Liu Xiaobo’s death shows how these states treat those in official police custody and the role of international pressure. Other Chinese dissidents, like Wei Jingsheng, author of the 1978 “Big Character” wall poster, “Democracy: The Fifth Modernization”, was tried and arrested in 1979. By 1993, international pressure and, specifically, calls for his release by US President Bill Clinton, lead to his release one week before the International Olympic Committee had to vote on the location of the 2008 Olympics. Wei continued his pro-democracy activism and was re-arrested. He was released in 1997 for medical reasons and deported to the US for treatment.
But the CCP control over media and information is so total, that most of the Tiananmen Square protesters probably did not know who Wei Jingsheng is and what he did.
Liu Xiaobo was more than just a political dissent. He was a professor of comparative literature at Beijing Normal, a teacher’s college. His activism was long and deep. He was chief editor of  “Democratic China” magazine and the only writer of the “China Charter 08” to be arrested. The Charter, signed by many human rights activists, called for democratic reforms in governmental structure and an end to one-party rule. For that, only he was arrested and found guilty of “inciting the subversion of state power”. He was a patriot. He loved his country and its people and he sacrificed his life for so they could hear or read of the goals outlined in the Charter.

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Archival Research: Intention, Opportunity, Pleasure

Elizabeth Dolan is an Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. This summer she embarked on a research trip to the British Library. 

From the outside, archival research doesn’t look like much: one scholar alone, reading old and oddly sized books and manuscripts hour after hour. But these crumbling documents hold stories that come alive in the scholar’s mind and offer insight into the nuances of human experience over time. One arrives at an archive with a research plan, an intention to answer a well-defined question. But, once the scholar is elbow deep in the sources, the archive itself begins to shape the research—offering up in the midst of hours of tedious reading unexpected finds, opportunities for new lines of inquiry. These surprises, the questions they raise, the mystery, the putting together of pieces are the great pleasure of archival work.

Thanks to a Faculty Innovation Grant, I’m on the first of several trips in AY 2016-17 to various archives, this time to the British Library in London. I last conducted research in this venerable institution in 1995, while still in graduate school. At that time, the collection was held at the British Museum. One walked up the grand marble steps, past thePICTURE 2 Brit Libary large marble lions, and into the darkly paneled library to unearth old texts. The new British Library, situated several blocks away from the British Museum, opened in 1998. It exudes a beauty and light appropriate for this invaluable collection of 150 million items, including manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints, drawings, musical scores, patents, sound recordings, stamps, and, of course, books. As the web site explains, “If you see 5 items each day, it would take you over 80,000 years to see the whole of the collection.” And it grows by 3 million items a year. Continue reading Archival Research: Intention, Opportunity, Pleasure

Bringing People to Healthcare & A Holiday

Kelly Austin is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lehigh. She is in Bududa, Uganda this summer with a group of students pursuing her research in community health. You can see her previous posts here.

So, the word is out. The Lehigh “mzungus” are back in Bududa and thus people are showing up again at the Zaale compound. This all started about 2 summers ago, as I began actively researching health issues in the area. Many locals incorrectly conflate my understanding of public health with being a trained doctor or medical practitioner. What they do understand is that we are willing to do what is needed to help obviously sick thermometerpeople get the life-saving interventions they need. Every time another “patient” rolls in, I explain to them that I am not a doctor, but that I would be happy to transport them to the private clinic (and pay for their treatments). So far this year, the students and I have helped over a dozen people (mostly children) get to the private clinic on the other side of the district. There are no clinics in our village of Bubiita, and the nearest clinic is run by the government and faces “stock outs” of medicines for 3 weeks out of every month. So most don’t waste their time walking 2 miles to a public clinic without medicines and instead seek out our assistance, when they can, to get them to the private clinic.

Our peak day was about 2 weeks ago, when I drove 6 children to the clinic who just showed up at the gate, with fevers, vomiting, and other active aliments. 4 of these 6 children had malaria (and only 2 of them threw up in the car – yay!). One of them had severe malaria (+++) which would have quickly progressed into cerebral malaria without immediate action. He had to be on IV treatments, but has made a full recovery. I am grateful to have a number of Lehigh students on the team this year that are pre-med or interested in public health. They have been helping me take patients to the clinic when I am busy working on research, as well as following up with their treatments. When children arrive, we take them to the clinic and help them through all the stations (check in, vitals, consultation, lab, etc.), especially the young ones that would be lost without someone to guide them. This is often a feat in itself, as some of them are so young or under-educated that they do not even know their age or last name. For the kids that come from unstable homes, we have them return to the compound whenever they need their next dose of medicine and give them a meal and clean water to take it with. For some of the children, like the very young ones, we find out where they live from Maayi or Papa, then do “house calls” to follow up with their medications or treatments at the proper time. Many children or adults are just simply too poor to pay for the private clinic, so after getting them there and back, we send them on their way, making sure they know how and when to take their medication and stress to them the importance of adhering to the full dose.

I know that this anything but a long term solution for the community. I often think about what happens to these sick children when we are not here for the other 10 months of the year. I know that many of them would end up in really bad shape, likely going to the apocalyptic Bududa hospital where you “walk in with one disease but come out with five more” (quote from a local health inspector) as a last resort once their illness had progressed to devastating stages. Or many of them would treat themselves from a drug shop or local healer, likely not getting an accurate diagnosis (if any) or the proper dosage of treatments. So in the meantime, we take them to the clinic. I don’t have the heart to turn away sick people when they arrive on our door step.

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In Japan as a visiting scholar

Charles Stevens is an Assistant Professor of Management at Lehigh University. Below he details his travel overseas which is funded by Faculty Grant for International Connections through the Office of International Affairs at Lehigh

I am currently in Tokyo, Japan as a visiting scholar at the Nihon University College of Economics. Nihon University is a large private research university with campuses throughout Tokyo. To put its large size into specifics, the university has about 70,000 students, and even the college of economics has approximately 7,000 students, putting just this one college at a size even larger than all of Lehigh in terms of the number of students! In spite of these seeming differences, however, there are many similarities with Lehigh. Interacting with the students has been very rewarding, as they are intelligent and inquisitive. I know some Japanese from my time living in Japan, but even if I did not, the students have been proactive in interacting and engaging in dialogue with me in both Japanese and English. Many have an interest in studying abroad, especially in English-speaking locations like the universities. When I talk about Lehigh to the students here, their eyes light up when they hear about the challenging academic environment as well as the proximity to global cities like New York and Philadelphia. Likewise, Nihon University would be an attractive location for Lehigh students wishing to study abroad, as the university offers many classes in English, it too has a vibrant academic environment, and the university is situated in Tokyo, the exciting and important economic, political, and cultural heart of Japan. At a time when Asia is increasingly powerful in terms of its role on the world stage (note that China is the world’s second largest economy, and Japan is third), familiarity with this important region is of utmost importance for Lehigh graduates.

I received a Faculty Grant for International Connections to come to Nihon University for 3 weeks to help build the potential for faculty and student exchanges between the two universities, as well as to interact with students, deepen connections with faculty, present research seminars, and collect data for an ongoing research project. Before leaving Japan, I will give a seminar on one of my main areas of professional and personal interest: political risk. I look forward to engaging with the faculty and students on this issue.

Culture is another area of specialization for me, as it represents an interest that was cultivated when I spent time in Japan as a student and also working in industry. Working for a Japanese company in Japan was an unforgettable and rewarding experience, as I saw how culture permeated everything from individual-level interpersonal interactions to big-picture strategic decisions. As part of an active research project, my research team and I will use student responses to a survey to answer research questions relating to the impact of cultural values on outcomes of interest to organizations, such as trust, commitment, and cultural intelligence. I look forward to seeing how the Japanese students’ answers to the survey questions compare to the answers of students at U.S. and Chinese universities, who will also be completing the survey.

In sum, my time at Nihon University has been a very rewarding experience, and I am grateful to both Lehigh and my hosts at Nihon University for the opportunity.

Establishment of an Unprecedented Protein Modification – Two is Better Than One

Marcos Pires is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Lehigh. Below he discusses some of current work of his lab. 

In many instances, human pathology can be directly tied to the proteins that reside out the outside, on the surface, and within human cells. This in itself should not be surprising. After all, proteins are well established as acting as the workhorses of cells. Not only are proteins responsible for a high volume of chemical transformation that need to take place for cells to remain viable, they also have a series of additional roles in structuring biomacromolecules, inter- and intra-cellular communication, and storage. Through all these functions, diversity within the protein matrix becomes essential. After all, there are only 20-22k genes that encode human proteins in the human genome. The question that naturally arises is: how do human cells perform all the necessary and incredibly diverse tasks with such a limited set of building block?

During the past decade, intensive research in this area has demonstrated that following their biosynthesis, the structure of proteins is only an initial template. Proteins can be thought of as strings (of variable lengths) made with 20 building blocks. These building blocks are amino acids. All proteins in nature are made from the same 20 building blocks. Depending on one’s view, 20 building blocks to make all the proteins in the natural world (from complex human cells down to microbes) may seem like a small and insufficient number. In some ways, this may be true. One possible way to expand on the make-up of these building blocks may be to change them after the string has been assembled. And this is exactly what happens to many human cells. Following their assembly out of the biosynthetic machinery (ribosomes), they are heavily decorated with a number of chemical modifications. These modifications (or post-translational modifications) serve to diversify both the structure and function of proteins. Due to their role in controlling protein function, the aberrant modification of proteins has been heavily implicated in a number of human diseases.

My research group is interested in discovering modifications that were not previously described in this area. We rely on fundamental chemical principles, first and foremost, to evaluate amino acid modifications that have been discovered previously. Next, we predict what combinations of chemical modifications could be tolerated based on the chemistry involved. From this analysis, we concluded that two well known modifications (methylation and acetylation) should be tolerated within the same amino acid. In other words, it may be possible that proteins are getting doubly modified at the same site via two unique pathways. By mapping this out, we predict that we may unmask a previously unappreciated signal mode within cells. Furthermore, these modifications may play roles in the development and progression of human diseases.

On Zionism and Melancholia (the case of Israel Zarchi)

Lehigh Assistant Professor of History Nitzan Lebovic describes below his work on Israel Zarchi. The monograph has been published in Hebrew and is being translated into English for publication. 

The project itself is interesting for anyone interested in the history of Zionism, the history and theory of Melancholy (which exists since ancient Greece), with the history of Hebrew literature, and with the biography of an important albeit forgotten author from the 1930s and 1940s; my book is trying to do all that, and explain that in a self-conscious way, by using an a-typical form; I chose to write the book in short vignettes which move between the different layers,– the historical, the theoretical, the collective, and the personal—and connecting those together in order to explain the particular as part of the general, the part as a necessary component of the whole. In order to explain what I’ve done, let me reverse the order now, and explain the rationale moving from the particular, the biographical case I used, to the general—the history and theory of Melancholy Zionism.

Israel Zarchi (1909–1947) was born in Jedrzjow, Poland. Zarchi 3 picHe graduated from Polish and Jewish schools, studying European culture as well as Judaism and the Hebrew language. When he was 15, he travelled for a year to south Italy as a tutor with a German-speaking family and returned fluent in German. He immigrated to Palestine in 1928-1929 and worked as a pioneer, building roads and cultivating the land. During this period he wrote his first novel, Youth. In 1932, encouraged by the father of modern Hebrew poetry, H. N. Bialik, he began studies at the Hebrew University. He graduated in 1937 with a Masters degree in literature, philosophy, and history. From 1929 until his death 18 years later, Zarchi published six novels and seven collections of stories, and translated Heinrich von Kleist (he was the first translator of “Michael Kolhaas”), Joseph Conrad, and Janusz Korczak into Hebrew. In spite of his rich literary production and intellectual activity, Zarchi’s name was forgotten shortly after his death.

My book presents Zarchi’s idealism and melancholy as symptomatic of the time. It was his subversive way of using values and affect, that explains the disappearance of his name from the pages of Israeli and Zionist history, after 1948. In the book I look at Zarchi’s life—I found his private archive, previously unopened—and poetics, but also go further and identify Zarchi as representative of a more general discourse. Looking at the diaries, letters, and literary texts from this dual angle reveals the gaps between the idealist discourse of early Zionist ideology—much of it focused on manly forms of realization (the macho soldier or pioneer)—and the personal melancholy of a generation that left its past behind. Zarchi’s case is an exemplary one, not only because he explores those gaps in a conscious way (his literature is brilliant), but also because of his deep and intimate knowledge of leading cultural figures in the Jewish Yishuv (settlement) of the time. Zarchi was a close colleague and a friend of literary figures such as the “national poet”  H.N.Bialik, the Nobel prize winner S. Y. Agnon, and leading poets such as S. Shalom, and U. Z. Greenberg, as well as of intellectuals such as Joseph Klausner and Hugo Bergmann—the directors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In his diaries and letters he wrote about his ties and disagreements with these high-profile intellectuals and reflected upon the alternative: an image of melancholic failure and a theopolitical symbolism at a time of a secularist-nationalist rhetoric. The diaries quote from many and varied intellectual sources, starting with ancient Greek philosophy, up to German and English Romanticism, French and Russian literature, and ending with the modern psychology of Freud or the Jewish followers of Ahad Haam.

Zarchi’s literature gives a voice to the hardship of immigration to Palestine, but without any attempt to solve conflicts or justify the idealist language in nationalist terms. That way, the clash between his protagonists and the society or norms they are expected to abide by, only exposes the unreasonableness of the norm itself. His protagonists, usually figures from the margins of society, end up adopting madness, fantasy, or death as an alternative to the oppressive demands of social and psychological coercion. In other words, adopting such a perspective enables Zarchi to turn the “unreasonable” melancholy into an understandable, albeit a difficult, choice. In his literature and in his life, Zarchi aestheticized his own struggles by making them the sign of a whole generation. Much like his protagonists, he preferred the melancholic, the feminine, and the intellectual over the utopian, the manly, and the practical. In the words of his daughter, Nurit Zarchi—now an acknowledged author herself—“My mother always accused my father of being too feminine and too spiritual, not manly enough, and way too absorbed in his literature.” My text follows Zarchi’s affective language and its gradual transformation from an early 1930s idealism and critique of Zionist chauvinism, into an apocalyptic and a mythical view during the 1940s. In his last texts, Zarchi turned to Jewish and Christian discourses about the apocalypse, a language foreign to the style and ideology of the time. In his eulogy to Zarchi, Klausner—once Zarchi’s mentor and friend—characterized his literature as “a case of imperfectum.” He, like other historians of literature, never bothered to mention it, or Zarchi, again.

Methodologically speaking, my research utilizes the skills of an intellectual historian: I started the project in weeks long research in the up-till then unknown archive, followed by months long investigations into the sources mentioned by Zarchi, his literature, and the critique of his work. I then expended my research into the more general history of Hebrew literature and early Zionist culture and politics, the history of gender relations and the history of psychology. The text follows all those while tying the analysis back to the genealogical analysis of the term melancholy. The writing itself moves gradually from the simple, Zarchi’s life, to the sophisticated,– its political, literary, and philosophical context. In order to ground the narrative better I followed also the chronology of Zarchi’s literary production, from his first novel, published in 1933, to his death in 1947, and the posthumously last novel, published the following year.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) 2016 Summer Faculty Opportunities

These programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory provide hands-on research opportunities for faculty from U.S. colleges and universities. All programs are limited to current, full-time teaching faculty at an institution of higher education in the U.S., unless otherwise noted. Application deadlines vary by program. This information is provided via the Oak Ridge Association of Universities (ORAU).

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Call for Internal Proposals: NEH Summer Stipend 2016

NEH has announced the 2016 Summer Stipend Competition. Below you will find a short summary of the program.  The NEH website includes the full guidelines, FAQs and sample proposals.  After reviewing these, if you feel that your work would be a fit for the program, please submit a short proposal to the Office of the Vice President and Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies at Lehigh is limited to two nominations, and therefore we will be reviewing proposals through an internal evaluation process.
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