The new solicitation for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program arrived last night with NSF’s daily digest bulletin. There were eight items they brought to our attention as changes from last year, but when I was going through it late this morning, the soundtrack screeched to a halt:
4. Although NSF will continue to fund outstanding Graduate Research Fellowships in all areas of science and engineering supported by NSF, in FY2021, GRFP will emphasize three high priority research areas in alignment with NSF goals. These areas are Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Science, and Computationally Intensive Research. Applications are encouraged in all disciplines supported by NSF that incorporate these high priority research areas.https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20587/nsf20587.htm
I am simply asking, what the heck is going on? I’ve got a lot of questions.
Why? What is the motivation for this change? What is it supposed to accomplish?
Have the folks running the program looked at the distribution of prior applications in this realm and thought about how this might impact the diversity, equity, institutional distribution, et cetera, of the applicant pool and funded applications? I know this is a priority for the folks running the program, but I have no idea whether they’ve done the assessment to forecast the impact on the demographics of the funded students.
How many of the funded applications will have to come under the umbrella of Artificial Quantum Computation Stuff?
Could it have been possible to give more heads up to the folks developing their applications? It’s unlike NSF to rush this kind of thing, so I’m confused.
Is there going to be specific guidance for applicants and the people and organizations supporting applicants, with respect to this change in program emphasis?
Meanwhile, if you’re working on your own GRFP application, or you’re mentoring someone who is, I do have a few thoughts that might put this in context. First, we don’t know how much of this is window dressing, and how much of this really will drive funding decisions for the bulk of applications. Second, nobody ever expects you to actually do the project that you propose, and it’s 100% okay if you do a different project once you’re funded. Third, nowadays, it’s a recurring theme in ecology/evolution/behavior to incorporate some genomic work. And nowadays, nearly all genomic work is computational. So there’s that. Fourth, these proposals don’t fund supplies for the research, and genomics and serious computational work can get pricey. But, hey, it’s not like you’re actually expected to do the proposed project.
I hope we’ll hear more from this from NSF, because dropping a few bombshell sentences about this in the new solicitation without additional context is not helpful to anybody.