Program Update: New CSYou Submission System

As Howell and Travel Grant applicants are finding out, CSUPERB is shifting our proposal submission, application and review systems over to a whole new system.

Our Online Application and Review System (OARS) system has been robust; in fact it’s accepting hundreds of symposium poster abstract submissions today!  But for a variety of reasons including the fact that none of us in the program office are really card-carrying software engineers, web designers or security experts, we plan to shift operations over to the CSYou system.

The CSYou system is open to all CSU faculty and staff.*  It serves as a system-wide intranet; its content ranges from collaborative project portals and Cal State news items to the handy-dandy “Find People” button that we use all the time here at CSUPERB.  To gain access to CSYou, point your browser to Things seem to work best when using Microsoft Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.  First thing you’ll see is a drop down menu; select your campus home.  You’ll be sent to your campus email portal, where you’ll enter your campus email username or ID number and password to gain entry to CSYou (today’s screen shot below). Thanks to some middleware magic, your campus credentials gain you access to the shared intranet resources.


CSYou is built on top of a Microsoft SharePoint database; that’s what got us interested here in the program office.  Relational databases make all of us really happy here in the program office (it’s true). But more importantly, even us non-software-engineers can create familiar-looking, web-based forms to capture applications and reviews.  Since Tyson Gadd joined the CSUPERB office, he’s been working with Ronnie Phipps at the Chancellor’s Office building forms and web pages for our grants programs.  We’re piloting the new CSYou system with the Howell-CSUPERB Student Research Scholars program.  During the next year we expect to migrate all our programs to CSYou, culminating with the complex 2015 symposium poster abstract submissions systems next fall.

When you use the link listed at the Howell Scholars application submission website, you’ll be taken directly to the submission webform (screen shot below). If you haven’t logged into CSYou yet that day (or have an open browser session already), you’ll have to log in using your campus user name and password before landing on the webform. Again, things seem to work best when using Microsoft Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.  Be warned: auto-fill entries aren’t captured properly by the system (if you see a yellow box, you’ll need to type your content to enter data).  You can upload proposals and supporting documents in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word formats.


We expect some technical glitches and bumps as we bring these new systems online. As always, if you have difficulties, call the program office (619-594-2822) before the deadline and we’ll help you out.  Hopefully the majority of applicants will find the CSYou system intuitive and easy-to-use; if not, please let us know how we can improve it!


* For a variety of reasons – including mentoring, financial aid and privacy reasons – CSU students cannot submit applications and proposals directly to CSUPERB.  All our grant, award and symposium programs require the support of a CSU faculty or staff mentor. As a result we accept applications, nominations and proposals from CSU administrators, faculty or staff only.

Howell Foundation Board Meeting

Each summer I meet with the board at the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health (DAHF,  Since 2001 CSUPERB has partnered with the DAHF to jointly fund undergraduate researchers.  In total we’ve supported 129 undergraduates at 20 different CSU campuses! During the summer we meet to plan the next Request for Applications (RFA) and smooth out the administrative wrinkles that come with partnerships.

For the last three years we’ve tried to assess the impact of the Howell-CSUPERB Awards on our scholars and track their career paths.   We now have OK, but spotty, data on the scholars funded between 2006-2012.  I’ve reported on student outcomes here before; the Howell Scholars data is a subset of the data presented in our annual reports. We extracted some of that data to report to the Howell Board on the program overall; here’s our 2013 Howell Board report (with photos, of course!).

Annual reporting is always tough on us data geeks – there is so much good stuff that never makes it into a report.  Like – did you know that 90% of the 2012 Howell Scholars had previous research experience? Most worked ~10 hours/week in an academic lab before becoming Howell-CSUPERB Scholars. Interestingly 90% of them are first-in-their-family to prepare for a biomedical research career. 38% of the 2012 Scholars report they “thought the research experience might help me get a job or into graduate school.”*  54% report they selected their faculty mentors based on faculty research pages at campus websites (31% did it the old-fashioned way – they took a class their mentor taught).  Bottom line, 100% of the 2012 Scholars thought the experience was (1) overall a good one, that the experience helped them (2) decide on what career path to follow, and that they (2) plan to pursue research opportunities in women’s health in the future.

It’s hard to decide how to tweak a program when the student-reported outcomes are that good!  As a result the Howell Board agreed to keep the RFA pretty much the same as last year.  That is – we plan to make up to 12 awards ($3500 each) to CSU undergraduate researchers interested in studying problems related to women’s health. We hope to see applications involving student-faculty teams “from life, physical, computer and clinical sciences, engineering, agriculture, math and entrepreneurship or business departments” (and, yes, that includes public health studies and medical device development!).  Look for the 2014 RFA to issue later in August after the SPC signs off August 6th (applications usually due the first week in October)!

We can not thank the Howell Foundation donors enough – they’ve chosen to support undergraduates and as a result have had incredible impact on students’ trajectories and career paths.  What a great way to give back!



*31% said the reason they became Howell Scholars was that “I thought having time with my mentor in lab would help me with my academic and career goals.”  The third most popular response (16%) was “I wanted to find out if a career in biotechnology might be something I’d like.”


Summer Break

It’s been so long since my last blog post that I had to install two new versions of WordPress software and renew an expired spam filter before getting started here!

I’ve written a lot lately – just not here on the CSUPERB blog.  I was working with state-wide teams on two NSF grant proposals (WIDER & I-Corps Site) that were due the first of July.  I like the work needed to pull high-performing teams together; “alliance management” is one of the skills I’ve picked up over the years.  I’ve found that pulling together and aligning teams around a grant proposal is often easier than getting the work done, if funded.  So recruiting motivated, can-do, and enthusiastic proposal-writing partners is critical to success on the back-end!  (To protect the innocent I won’t name names unless we’re successful!)

One of the things that motivated the team writing the WIDER proposal was Freeman Hrabowski’s 2012 TEDx talk. Spend 15 minutes once a term or so listening to this talk to regain your sense of purpose as a public higher education professional! Coincidentally Stanley Maloy (SDSU, SPC member) forwarded the link to me this morning – it’s good to see that video going “viral” in CSUPERB circles – so I’ll give it a nudge here!

I’ve also been reading a collection of hopeful NSF CAREER award proposals written by CSUPERB PIs.  That grant program is “dedicated to stimulating the discovery process in which the excitement of research is enhanced by inspired teaching and enthusiastic learning.”  We hope that CSUPERB PI’s absorb enough of our emphasis on the integration of education (teaching) and research to compete well for CAREER awards. So I’m finding myself pointing PIs to the “effective STEM education” literature (here) and community networks (here and here and here) we referenced writing our own WIDER proposal.  Most remain unaware of ways they can improve undergraduate education and instead propose activities to transmit their research excitement and discoveries “off campus” to museums and K-12 programs. Admittedly that’s good too, but selfishly, I’d like to see the excitement of research translated to the CSU’s undergraduates and potential transfer students!  Most PIs I’ve been emailing are not aware we’ve tried to collate materials for proposal writers at our website; but worse I think – when they get there – they’re overwhelmed with the need to open and read articles based on titles only.

So – I’m experimenting with a new way to curate materials of interest to the CSUPERB community – – so I don’t have to keep cutting and pasting web addresses (& I can share directly to LinkedIn or Facebook)! Here’s my first “” collection of networks, policy and reports on “Effective STEM Education.”  I’m hoping the graphics, tags and commentary help PIs decide if the link is worth following. Some PDFs can be read on the platform (or mobile app). You can filter or search on “network,” “NSF,” “biology,” “pre-med” tags, as well as many others.  I’ll keep adding links and tags to STEM Education materials I think are notable or influential (email me or comment here with suggestions!).  I’ll probably pull together an Entrepreneurial Education collection next, so stay tuned.

Good luck, grant proposal writers!

Spring Grants and Peer Review

It’s been a quiet month on the blog, but April is an important month at CSUPERB so we need to celebrate!

We announced the CSUPERB “major grant” awards and the Presidents’ Commission Scholars this week.  The Faculty-Student Collaborative Research Grants and the Presidents’ Commission Scholars are two of the most popular CSUPERB programs, as gauged by campus participation. So our normally quiet office enjoyed the email buzz from students, PIs, chairs and deans this week!

Campus participation defined by applications received from each campus to CSUPERB grant program, award program or as symposium registration. Data shown for AY06/07 – AY12/13.

Campus participation defined by applications received from each campus to CSUPERB grant program, award program or as symposium registration. Data shown for AY06/07 – AY12/13.

CSUPERB made 36 grant awards totaling $574,685 to CSU faculty at 17 CSU universities. Awards were made as part of four competitive CSUPERB grant programs: New Investigator, Research Development, Entrepreneurial Joint Venture and Programmatic Development. Faculty review panels evaluated 95 proposals from principal investigators (PIs) at 19 different CSU campuses. Averaged across the four programs, awards were made to 38% of the proposals received.

I use the scare quotes around “major grants” because these are the largest awards CSUPERB makes, but they are all seed grants that pay out $15,000 – 25,000 spent over 18 months.  The aim of these programs is to support preliminary work that can lead to follow-on funding from external agencies and organizations.  These follow-on grants support collaborative faculty-student research, innovative educational programs, and knowledge and technology transfer.  The reality of biotechnology-related scholarship is that significant funds (>$15k/year) are needed to support research programs.  Students gain deep learning opportunities working with PIs or participating in courses that are built on faculty scholarship.  As a consequence grant-getting is fundamental to biotechnology education and research.  We wish all our new PIs the best of luck in the lab, field and clinic!

Sixteen undergraduate researchers, the 2013 Presidents’ Commission Scholars, will be carrying out faculty‐mentored biotechnology research projects on 12 different CSU campuses this summer.  CSUPERB provides $8000 to support these summer research projects. This year’s request for proposals invited applications from CSU students early in their academic career.  The majority of applications were still from students in or starting their junior (3rd) year, but the selection committee funded freshman and sophomores as well.  Jaimey Homen, a chemistry student finishing her first year at Sonoma State University, will be working with Dr. Carmen Works to characterize photochemically activated molecules.  The group’s long-term goal is to engineer molecules that deliver carbon monoxide (CO) to specifically protect certain biological tissues. For context, CO has been shown previously to improve organ transplant survival rates.  Ms. Homen became interested in undergraduate research opportunities and met Dr. Works by participating in SSU’s Freshman Learning Community.  We hope Ms. Homen and the other 2013 Scholars have a wonderful summer!

CSUPERB’s peer review process starts in February when proposals are received.  This spring 57 faculty from 20 CSU campuses worked on six different proposal review panels.  The major grants were reviewed at meetings April 13-14 in San Jose; four different panels discussed and evaluated proposals that weekend.  The travel grants and Presidents’ Commission Scholar applications are reviewed by panels working on the internet and by teleconference.  Overall our faculty reviewers do a great job selecting promising research projects to fund.  For every major grant dollar awarded by CSUPERB between 2004 and 2010, PIs went on to win $14 (a 1400% fiscal “return on investment”) in grants from external organizations.  This, of course, is a direct credit to the excellent and competitive faculty scholars at work in the CSU.

We celebrate and justify our grant programs by pointing to the fiscal return-on-investment, but we also monitor student impact and knowledge transfer (publications, collaborations).  But any measure of peer review “success” must come with an acceptance of failure as well.  Not all the engineered strains survive, not all the experiments work, not all the hypotheses pan out.  Not all the PIs write well-crafted follow-on grant proposals, not all the research collaborations hold together, not all the innovative ideas find a good fit at a funding agency or an angel investing group.  Some ideas are ahead of their time, some skate too close to the bleeding edge, some are out of step with prevailing opinions. We teach our students and assistant professors that their success will depend on their ability to shake off failure and move on to write the next draft, design the next experiment, or repeat the test until it’s significant.  Some of those successes will come within the year, but scientific triumphs often take longer than we expect or come later in a career than hoped.

Expert scientists, engineers and clinicians are familiar and comfortable with these truths. None of us can predict the research projects that will work or have the greatest impact on society. But if we don’t talk about the failures inherent in scientific research and development, unintended and “disastrous”* consequences result.

Scientific peer review came under increased congressional scrutiny this week.**  Rep. Lamar Smith challenged the National Science Foundation (NSF) peer review processes and proposed new review criteria.   Rep. Smith went on to request access to the “scientific/technical reviews and Program Officers Review Analysis” for five specific NSF grants.  Yesterday President Obama defended scientific peer review during a talk at the National Academy of Science, stating, “I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process.”

Faculty reviewers and PIs probably don’t think often enough on the integrity underlying our peer review systems.  More often we grumble about nit-picking reviewers, the lack of high-risk, high-impact ideas, program officers’ insistence on well-written, on-time reviews, and the dearth of funds needed to support biotechnology innovation.  But if we sit back and ponder the implications of Rep. Smith’s requests to NSF, we suddenly see the wonder and power of our grass-roots, peer-driven national science agenda.  This is a process that serves to select the best science as-we-see-it, to plant the seeds of new technologies and therapies, and to train generations of the nation’s best-and-brightest scientists, engineers and clinicians.  The U.S. peer review systems underlying our research and development enterprise aren’t always pretty or perfect or innovative, but like our democracy, they’re highly regarded worldwide despite inherent incrementalism and consensus-building.  The corollary is that the aggregate outcome of peer review is the aggregate outcome*** of our nation’s research enterprise that remains envied worldwide.

Can we improve the system? Sure.  Even at CSUPERB we evaluate our programs, iterate our processes, and tune the strategic intent of our grant programs.  We do that with significant input from the expert science and engineering faculty involved with the program. We adjust to the budgets supplied by the taxpayers via the California legislature and the governor.  We keep our eyes on how biotechnology is defined by the external life science community. But – as of yet – we have not had to change how and what biotechnology research we fund in response to political pressure of any kind.

I understand the politicians in Washington, D.C. hold the purse-strings, but I sincerely hope political committees will not dictate how and what American science is done going forward.  To go that unscientific and undemocratic route would, indeed, be disastrous to our research and development enterprise.



* Characterization attributed to Bruce Alberts at Nature Blogs.

**The blogosphere is just getting heated up about this political power-grab of peer review, but some good context is provided by Derek Lowe and The AmericanScience bloggers. 

***U.S. research outcomes can be reported many different ways, for example, see NSF’s measures and outcomes and Ben Bernanke’s take.

Habits of Mind That Drive Science

We are all now familiar with the widely-spread story that the 2012 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology, Sir John Gurdon, was not encouraged early in his (inauspicious) academic career.  His high school biology teacher wrote, “If he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”

In higher education we have structured layers of opportunity (introductory courses, minor and major degrees, postbaccalaureate courses) to acquire increasingly higher levels of disciplinary knowledge and skills.  We hope to send non-science majors into society knowing how to ask and answer scientific questions.*  We hope our undergraduate science majors have opportunities to engage in the practice of science and learn facts and habits needed to become professional scientists.

The opportunity to climb these disciplinary layers is typically based on academic achievement.  Grades in prerequisites (like Sir Gurdon’s high school biology) and “gateway” introductory courses are the keys to further advancement.  As Jo Handelsman and coauthors wrote in their important article on “Scientific Teaching” back in 2004, “the majority of life sciences courses rely on ‘transmission-of-information’ lectures and ‘cookbook’ laboratory exercises techniques that are not highly effective in fostering conceptual understanding or scientific reasoning.”  Shouldn’t we focus instead on those learning outcomes?** Should opportunities to practice science be granted only to students who get great grades or have more seniority?

So how did Sir Gurdon end up a Nobel laureate (surely the pinnacle of disciplinary layers!)? He immersed himself in the practice of science when given the opportunity (by mistake!).  Like many of us scientists and engineers, he probably didn’t gain inspiration or learn well from lectures and cookbooks. We know he joined a genetics research group and – as they say – the rest is history.

There is a wealth of research and evidence*** showing “that supplementing or replacing lectures with active-learning strategies and engaging students in discovery and scientific process improves learning and knowledge retention.”   Handlesman and coauthors go on to write, “Active participation in lectures and discovery-based laboratories helps students develop the habits of mind that drive science.”

Here we are nearly a decade later and NSF, NIH and HHMI are still waiting to see wide-spread adoption of these research- and evidence-based practices in undergraduate life science education. This week John Wingfield (the assistant director of NSF’s BIO division) wrote on the PULSE community forum, “There is much interest across the National Science Foundation (NSF) in coming up with ways by which we could raise the bar for service courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Freshmen and sophomores sometimes endure these courses often taught by different faculty resulting in a lack of consistency. Yet, if these courses really inspired students and gave them a glimpse of the amazing breadth of STEM, then it could transform those preparative years leading to intro courses for their majors and upper division courses.”

This summer I heard NSF program officers encourage PIs to figure out ways to incorporate their research into undergraduate courses…so that they will be competitive for future research funding!  Over the last handful of years CSUPERB has funded CSU researchers (who, of course are also wonderful educators) to bring their scientific passion into the classroom.  These seed grants have transformed introductory courses into interdisciplinary explorations**** of the Sacramento river delta, coastal environments and bacterial communities.  The learning outcomes and impact on student engagement are encouraging and remarkable in many ways (increased student retention, student interest in science majors, student interest in undergraduate research opportunities, etc.).  We’ve organized a “Scientific Teaching” workshop at this year’s symposium to get us all talking about engaging students in life science courses.  Koni Stone (CSU Stanislaus), Wayne Tikkanen (CSU Los Angeles), Anya Goodman & Alex Dekhtyar (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) will present some of their forays into scientific teaching.

We released this year’s Programmatic Grants RFP in October (proposals due Feb. 4, 2013).  We’re looking to fund “innovative general education courses, laboratories, and first-year experiences, as well as revisions to lower-level or introductory biotechnology-related courses.”  I encourage biotechnology researchers to take a second look at this “educational grant” opportunity.  Perhaps the work it seeds will set you up for success in your next research grant renewal!  Importantly we hope you go on to inspire and involve a future Nobel laureate or two!

* The recent press (here and here) provides plenty of evidence that today’s society needs the ability to think analytically!
**Apologies for the higher ed jargon – I tried to outline undergraduate science degree learning outcomes in the second paragraph above.
***We just restructured the “faculty” pages at the CSUPERB website  - check it out if you’re looking for information on life science industry partnering and undergraduate education and research.

****One grant even partnered scientists with dance choreographers (the world premiere will be at this year’s symposium).


Program Update: Howell Scholars and Travel Grant Proposals Under Review

Those familiar with CSUPERB usually think of the fall as planning time for the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium.  In fact, we also have three grant programs with proposals under review with award decisions expected in early December.  They are the Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar Awards, the fall Faculty Travel Grants and the fall Student Travel Grants.

This is the thirteenth year of CSUPERB’s partnership with the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research in both reviewing and funding this undergraduate grant program. We announced the 2013 RFP in late August and by the October 10th deadline received 27 proposals from 12 of the 23 CSU campuses.  While this is down 16% from last year’s submissions, we are still in line with our seven-year running average of 26 proposals from 12 campuses (AY06/07 thru AY12/13).  As an undergraduate-only award, we received proposals from 6 juniors and 21 seniors.  There were no proposals submitted by freshmen or sophomores.  In the first half of December, CSUPERB expects to fund eleven $3,500 Howell Scholars grants, resulting in a 41% award rate.  This aligns with the program’s seven year average 44% award rate.

The CSUPERB Travel Grant Program consists of both faculty and student programs. We have two funding rounds each academic year; the first in the fall and the second in the spring.  For the fall 2012 round, we received 57 proposals from 16 CSU campuses.  Since the 2006/2007 academic year an average of 55 proposals from 14 campuses were received in the fall round and 64 proposals from 16 campuses in the spring. Interest by academic discipline this round tilted towards the biological sciences with 67% of the proposals submitted.  Other categories totaled 26% from chemistry/biochemistry, 4% from engineering and 4% from physics.

Fall 2012 travel award decisions will be announced in early December.  Spring 2013 travel grant RFPs will be released this coming February. CSU tenure/tenure-track faculty and full-time CSU students in good standing who wish to submit a proposal should watch the CSUPERB home page for the RFP announcement.  The 2013 spring travel grant proposal submission deadline is March 11, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. pacific time.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to everyone hitting the road as part of their holiday weekend!

Vision and Change Leadership Fellow Applications – Due July 9

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have banded together to fund 40 “Vision and Change (V&C) Leadership” Fellows this year.  I think CSUPERB-affiliated faculty and deans are highly qualified to apply and I hope one or more of them win a voice at the V&C table.

NIH, NSF and HHMI are collaboratively funding PULSE, an acronym for “Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education.” PULSE wants to “convene a group of 40 Vision and Change (V&C) Leadership Fellows. The V&C Fellows* will be thoughtful chairs, former chairs, deans or equivalent level faculty members who share a passion for undergraduate biology education, concern for its future, and the desire to act at the local and national levels. Fellows will participate in an exciting year-long facilitated process to identify solutions and prototype change. These outcomes will inform future investments by NSF, NIH and HHMI.”

It is that last italicized sentence (emphasis mine) that should catch your interest.  The possibility that these funding agencies and organizations might put (more) resources into undergraduate life science education is a very good thing, indeed.  Public, comprehensive, regional universities like the CSU are facing tremendous budgetary headwinds these days.  Even as policy makers strive to cut student costs by subsidizing tuition and providing low-cost loans, the campuses themselves face crippling budget cuts.  Any and all support for life sciences curriculum modernization, reform or re-design is welcome. Any investment in CSU students’ success on campus is welcome.

Public, comprehensive, regional universities, like the 23 CSU campuses, educate a large proportion of the life science undergraduates across the U.S.  The CSU educates 44% of the life science graduates in California.  After graduation many go on to graduate school, medical school, postdocs and faculty positions where they do compete successfully for NIH, NSF and HHMI funding (and jobs!).  That said, the NIH and NSF spend the majority of their training funds on post-baccalaureate education.** HHMI focuses science education funding on “research universities” and “leading researchers,” but also a select list of “undergraduate-focused colleges and universities.” The Committee for Economic Development recently advocated for greater support of regional comprehensive universities to answer the national call for more STEM graduates.  I sincerely hope a thoughtful, informed*** CSU faculty member is selected as a V&C Leadership Fellow to represent the “44% perspective” on undergraduate life science education.  Based on the cadre of CSUPERB faculty already involved in PKAL, CUR, HHMI, NSF and NIH supported activities, I am certain we have knowlegeable and eligible candidates!


* What will a V&C Fellow do or be?  The PULSE website includes an FAQ that outlines about  200 hours of service and activities over the year-long fellowship. Good luck, applicants!

**You’ve read it here before, but remember 80% of professionals working in the life science industry have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.  NIH and NSF focus on training future researchers (not patent lawyers, business development professionals or project managers), but I think the emphasis on training doctoral level researchers is still out of sync with the current academic and industrial job market.  

*** The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is hosting the Fellows competition.  AIBS is home to the Introductory Biology Project.  V&C Fellow applicants can hone their familiarity with authentic and participatory learning and learning research by checking out some of the literature at the CSUPERB website (including the 2011 Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education report).