EEB Mentor Match to help underrepresented students get graduate fellowships

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I’ve griped about how undergraduates from wealthy private institutions and public research universities get the lion’s share of graduate fellowships. This happens for some obvious reasons of course, and I’m pleased to introduce a scheme that — with your help — can contribute to fixing this situation.

To get right to it: I’m teaming up with Meghan Duffy to pair up mentors with students from Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to give them guidance and support as they put together their fellowship applications. (Meg has been the leader on this.)

To participate, see this post from Dynamic Ecology where she describes the project. Continue reading

How bad is the loss of NSF dissertation improvement grants?

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Last week, NSF announced they have stopped awarding DDIGs – the Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants in the divisions of Environmental Biology and Integrative Organismal Systems.

How bad is this decision? In the words of Jane Lubchenco:

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NSF Graduate Fellowships and the path towards equity

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When I visited the SACNAS conference some weeks ago, I spent most of my time in the exhibit hall, chatting with students at their posters and scoping out the institutional recruitment tables. A few organizations had primo real estate, with a large amount of square footage right by the entrance. They had a small army of representatives, always busy with students. The ones that I recall include USC, Harvard, and NSF.

There’s no doubt that NSF is serious about its institutional mission to develop the most talented scientific workforce in this country, which means we need scientists from all backgrounds. If you think that NSF isn’t committed to the recruitment of underrepresented minorities (URMs), you probably don’t have a lot of experience with NSF. They not only care, but they also put a lot of thought into how to do it right. Continue reading

Let’s nominate folks for NSF’s Waterman award, including women

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Every year, the National Science Foundation gives an award to the most bestest early-career scientist in the US. It’s up to the scientific community — that’s me and you — to make sure the pool really has the best. Which means it has to have a lot of women in it.

Months ago, we had a small spike in traffic here at Small Pond because we joined the chorus wondering how NSF can manage to go thirteen years without giving the Waterman Award to a woman. Continue reading

How can track record matter in double-blind grant reviews?

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We should have double blind grant reviews. I made this argument a couple weeks ago, which was met with general agreement. Except for one thing, which I now address.

trouble coverSome readers said that double-blind reviews can’t work, or are inadvisable, because of the need to evaluate the PI’s track record. I disagree with my whole heart. I think we can make it work. If our community is going to make progress on diversity and equity like we keep trying to do, then we have to make it work.

We can’t just put up our hands and say, “We need to keep it the same because the alternative won’t work” because the status quo is clearly biased in a way that continues to damage our community. Continue reading

Self-funding your research program

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In the last few months, something has been on my mind. I’ve brought up the topic a few times, with some research scientists who hold tenured faculty positions. It would go along these lines:

I’m thinking of funding all of my research out of my salary. If I imagine a scenario in which…

  • I take a 20% cut in salary
  • I get that money in research support
  • I don’t spend any more time writing grants

… it just makes me happy.

Every time I’ve brought it up, this was the response.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this, too.”

I was pretty much amazed. I thought it was just me. Continue reading

NSF’s Water Man award

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When I was a tween, a cutsey feel-good book was a bestseller: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. If we learn to solve problems as kids, that should help us solve similar problems as adults.

Let’s do a kindergarten-level exercise in math and pattern recognition. Can you figure out what shape comes next?seriesa

If you said star, you’re right! Congrats!

Let’s do another one. What shape do you expect to find next?

seriesb

If you said star again, then that means you’re two for two. Good job!

Let’s look for another pattern:

WaterMEN

What do you think comes next? If you guessed 2016, then you’re right! Your pattern recognition skills are fantastic! Continue reading

Using a grant writer

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I’m working on a couple biggish grants at over the next couple months. I’m doing something that I haven’t done before, at least not as a PI. I’m working with grantwriters, under the support of my university. These are for grants to support a bunch of people doing a variety of things, with many organizational components that are only tangentially connected to the science. Continue reading

NSF makes its graduate fellowships more accessible

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The US National Science Foundation has changed a rule for their Graduate Fellowships. As of next year, grad students can only make one attempt at landing a graduate fellowship, which is intended to increase the proportion of awards going to undergraduates. Continue reading

Receiving an FOIA request for your grant

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Update, 02 September 2017: An article came out today in a well-known semi-journalistic website, for which I was interviewed. I’d like to be clear that this piece dramatically misrepresents my views. The quotes from me are real, though they were knowingly taken out of context by the authors of the piece, and attitudes and responses ascribed to me but not in quotes are in direct contradiction to things that I had said in my interview with them. (They represented me as someone who was upset and resentful at having received a legal and reasonable FOIA request for my work — I made it very clear I did not feel that way, and they linked to this piece here which made that point fully clear. They took a quote about a particular incident and implied it was about a different situation. I don’t think an FOIA request is a “jerky move,” it’s something we’re entitled to as people whose taxes support publicly funded research. What is a jerky move is contacting someone asking for a copy of their grant, and then saying that if you don’t want to hand it over, they’ll just FOIA it anyway. And an even bigger jerky move, by the way, is saying things about people that you know aren’t true. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way: if a journalist from a site that rhymes with Fuzzbead contacts you about a piece, think more than twice. I respect the work they’ve done on exposing sexual misconduct in academia, but this level of unprofessionalism leads me to doubt anything on their site, which is a damn shame. 

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How to promote inclusivity in graduate fellowships?

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Students who did their undergraduate work at elite universities are dominating access to federally funded graduate fellowships in the sciences. I pointed out this obvious fact at the beginning of this month, which to my surprise caught quite a bit of attention. I also got a lot of email (which I discuss here — it’s more interesting than you might expect).

A common response was: Okay, that’s the problem, what about solutions? Hence, this post. First, here are some facts that are are germane to the solutions. Continue reading

Elite vs. disadvantaged institutions, and NSF Graduate Fellowships: a peek inside the mailbag

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I’ll be soon be sharing specific ideas about what can be done about the disadvantages experienced by talented students who attend non-prestigious undergraduate institutions. But first, I thought it would be useful for me to share how this topic has affected my inbox.

I barely get any email related to this site. Aside from the site stats, and some interactions on twitter, I wouldn’t have any other indicator about readership. So when I receive the occasional email related to this site, it stands out.

In relative terms, I got several metric tons of emails about last week’s post about NSF graduate fellowships. Continue reading

NSF Graduate Fellowships are a part of the problem

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I started this morning with tremendous news: a student of mine, who left my lab for a PhD program last year, let me know that his NSF Graduate Research Fellowship was funded!

I had two other former students who put in applications. I downloaded the big list from NSF, and — alas — they did not have the same fortune. So, I was 33% happy. Continue reading

Poll: What is your risk/reward preference in science funding?

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NSF mostly overlooked teaching institutions for Presidential Early Career Awards

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The PECASE awards from NSF were announced as a Christmas present for 19 scientists.

These Presidential Early Career Awardees are picked from the cream of the crop of the CAREER awards. The CAREER award emphasizes an integrated research and teaching career development plan. Hearty congratulations to all recipients! This should make the holiday even nicer.

This year’s recipients of NSF PECASE awards work at the following institutions. Undergraduate institutions are in bold.

Alabama

Arizona

Berkeley (x2)

BYU

Bowdoin

Caltech

Cornell

Georgia Tech

Louisville

Maryland

Minnesota

Princeton

Santa Barbara

Stanford

Univ. Puerto Rico at Cayey (classification here)

Texas

Virginia Tech

Wisconsin

According to NSF:

Selection for this award is based on two important criteria:  1) innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology that is relevant to the mission of the sponsoring organization or agency, and 2) community service demonstrated through scientific leadership, education or community outreach.

This year, if you round up, then 11% of these PECASE awards from via NSF went to scientists at primarily undergraduate institutions. If you browse the institutions with CAREER awardees, it’s clear that this nonrandom subset has a bias against the awardees from teaching institutions. There are far more than 11% CAREER awardees from teaching institutions.

Is this bias based on merit? That’s an interesting question. How is merit quantified by NSF when picking PECASE awards from among the CAREER awards? I have no idea how to answer that question.

I don’t find any of this surprising, but thought that I should put this fact out there. Those of you are applying for CAREERs from teaching institutions have a good shot at getting one, but, well, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have a fair shot at the PECASE. For the two of you who cracked that very hard nut this year, congratulations!