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Workshop on the Changing Climate for Research Funding in Washington

Big 10 Headquarters
March 15, 1996

The workshop attracted 21 participants from 10 research universities in the upper Midwest . They ranged from Assistant Professors to Associate Deans for Research. The agenda sent out ahead of time is attached. Four breakout groups worked from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with a break for lunch). Each addressed independently the issues raised in the position paper and in Dr. Clutter's description of the current and projected budgets for research support at the Federal level. Not surprisingly, attention focused on the role of the NSF and specifically the Biology Directorate.

The Breakout Groups Raised The Following Issues:

  • The University has to change its definition of professor to include the totality of teaching, research, and service. Front-line researchers should be engaged in undergraduate teaching. NSF should change its policies to support this new culture, encouraging individual investigators to become "the total professor", involved in the education of students, generation of new knowledge through research, and service to the university and the community. NSF should avoid further balkanization of its funds through new programs, but it should redefine scientific excellence for its review panels to include both teaching excellence at the undergraduate and graduate levels and involvement of undergraduates in the research project. Programs should ask for evidence of such excellence in all grant proposals;
  • A corollary of this is that the criteria for grant evaluation should be as explicit as possible and that program officers should relate to individual investigators as clearly as possible the role of each of the individual criteria in the decision to fund or not to fund the grant. The panels should also be given this information as a follow-up at the next panel meeting;
  • NSF should support individual vs. "big" science (several groups emphasized this point) and this could include a cap on total research funding in a given laboratory;
  • Cooperative programs of internships for graduate students in industry and in undergraduate institutions would broaden career opportunities for graduate students. Matching grants for such internships were suggested. NSF should consider supplements to existing grants to facilitate outreach;
  • Efforts should be made at the university level to identify new sources of outside matching funds (from state or industrial sources) for NSF grants. This should not be the responsibility of the PI;
  • NSF should help educate scientists and administrators to communicate better to the public the value of science. This might include workshops on how to get this across to community leaders and the public in general;
  • NSF should facilitate the formation of alliances with foreign scientists;
  • Smaller grants spread over a larger number of investigators are not a good idea. Grants should be of an appropriate size;
  • Keeping young investigators funded should remain a very high priority;
  • Guidelines for proposals for RTGs and post-doctoral fellowships should encourage study of disciplines not traditionally associated with biology, this would allow the trainees to think about non-traditional career paths;
  • Several groups discussed the need to limit the number of research universities, but none could think of a role for NSF to play in this downsizing;
  • Lengthening the term of the awards was discussed, but the consequences (fewer new grants) made this less popular;
  • The participants noted the lack of a unified voice to speak for biology at the National level. (Comparison was made to the American Chemical Society. ) Biology has many different voices, each with its own agenda. Much would be gained if these voices could be unified;
  • The workshop closed on the note that we in the universities are all involved in the entire continuum of education, from K to returning students. It is our responsibility to educate our society about biology, and we all suffer if we neglect any part of this.

 

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