Workshop on the Changing Environment for the Biological Sciences
Portland State University
March 3-4, 1996
The Workshop at Portland State University was attended by faculty members and administrators from several institutions in Oregon and Washington, including Washington State University at Pullman and its metropolitan campus WSU-Vancouver; U. of Washington; Portland State University; Oregon State University; U. of Oregon; Willamette University; Pacific University; University of Portland; Lewis and Clark; and Mount Hood Community College.
The purpose of including this broad range of institutions with a range of missions was to facilitate the exploration of how institutions in a single geographic region can interact with each other to create a supportive environment for research and instruction in the biological sciences at the K-12 level and at undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral level, as well as in the conduct of collaborative research.
The discussion was shaped by a set of questions prepared beforehand with the particular mix of institutional types in mind:
- How can research and education be integrated by faculty at
diverse types of institutions? Exactly what does this integration
mean? How does it differ, if at all, at large institutions and
small liberal arts colleges; at urban universities, state universities,
and land-grant universities?
- How can diminishing funds at the private,
state, and federal levels be leveraged to keep the biological
sciences enterprise in this nation outstanding? What will be
the major needs of the colleges and universities over the next
10 years? Do these needs differ at different types of institutions?
- How can support for research at colleges and universities be
leveraged to improve undergraduate and graduate education?
- How can faculty best be supported as their roles change in
response to the changes in colleges and universities, especially
to offer mission-specific curricula and to address significant
societal issues, especially at the local level?
- What are the
best ways to utilize faculty resources in a time of limited
research funding? Some possibilities: consortium/cooperative
grants; long-term awards; grants that require non-federal matches.
- What are the best ways to encourage and facilitate cooperative
research efforts with other public and private agencies and institutions
and with business and industry?
- What emphasis should be placed on mechanisms to improve US-international cooperation? What should these mechanisms be?
After an overview of the changing climate for research funding in the United States by Dr. Mary Clutter, the members of the workshop divided into smaller discussion groups to consider the issues developed in the background paper and to raise additional questions and suggestions. What follows is a summary of a rich and stimulating discussion.
The Basic Mission of the Directorate
There was general agreement that the Directorate must continue to emphasize support for individual investigators, collaborative work through RUI and REU grants, and the investment in research infrastructure such as equipment and facilities. The current program mix is successful. It is possible, however, to introduce additional elements that can increase the ability of NSF to achieve its broad mission, while at the same time providing support for maintaining our world leadership in the biological sciences. The recommendations can be arranged in three broad categories: Faculty Development (Careers); Collaborative Strategies for Teaching and Research; and Curricular Change.
Faculty Development (Careers)
- In funding faculty development awards, encourage an institutional
resource commitment or match in order to promote a relationship
between the scholarly agenda of the award recipient and the priorities
of the institution in research, policy studies and curricular innovation;
- Consider supporting collaborative research projects conducted
by teams of faculty and students from undergraduate and community
colleges and research universities;
- Provide a supplement to multi-year
grants that will permit the interpretation of the principle
research findings for public audiences such as policy-makers
and industry partners;
- Create and fund a scholar-teacher program
for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the biological
sciences that will provide experience with significant university-industry
partnerships, curricular innovation, collaborative research,
or policy studies;
- Design and offer a symposium sponsored by
the Directorate on the integration of research and education
that includes a discussion of good project designs that meaningfully
incorporate high school and undergraduate students in the conduct
of research, the development of effective criteria for evaluating
the quality of both the research and the educational experience,
and a review of the longer term consequences of the increasing
involvement of undergraduates in research. On the basis of
the results of the symposium, consider providing support for
longer term projects to design and test new evaluation strategies
that will guide the introduction of additional research-education
initiatives into Directorate-funded research projects;
a mechanism for members of the BIO Advisory Committee to interact
with the chairs of departments of biological sciences to discuss
(a) the integration of research and education; (b) curricular
reform and the introduction of research opportunities for undergraduates
into sponsored research projects; (c) the monitoring of the longer
term impact of changing curricular and research; strategies;
and (d) faculty development and rewards and the role of NSF in
supporting a broader scholarly agenda that permits the achievement
of the overreaching goals of NSF as defined in its strategic
plan and that responds to the changing environment on college
and university campuses;
- Offer a mid-career fellowship that would encourage faculty who have spent significant time in other science-related activities such as curricular innovation or who have had heavy responsibilities for undergraduate teaching to develop a new research agenda and become active investigators again.
Collaborative Strategies for Teaching and Research
- Provide more explicit funding for collaborative models, both
intra-institutional and inter-institutional;
- Build a formal component
into the review of research proposals that effectively evaluates
any educational component. This might be accomplished by a
jointly-funded panel that links the Directorate to the Division
of EHR or by the creation of panels that include reviewers competent
to evaluate projects that include collaborative components, community
outreach, the involvement of diverse institutions, or interdisciplinary
projects or teams;
- Encourage the development of new research
models that incorporate learning goals for students, such as
the Harvey Mudd senior projects that place undergraduates in
community and industry settings to work on specific community-sponsored
- Study the fiscal and time implications of collaborative
work which require the coordination of diverse faculty and
students, infrastructure to support collaborative work, and a
significantly greater commitment of faculty time for program
management and support. Introduce different criteria for budget
review of collaborative proposals based on the experience of
successful collaborative projects;
- Since smaller institutions
often cannot afford to release faculty time for collaborative
work, consider different funding strategies that will permit
departments to release faculty for this purpose;
- Fund a long term study of the impact of significant involvement of students in research upon subsequent career choices of the students, on the quality of the research conducted, and on the attitudes of students toward basic research and toward science and mathematics in general.
- Facilitate curricular change and public outreach by providing
an opportunity for supplementary funding for research grants
that lend themselves to these activities. Consider the REU supplement
as a model;
- Provide workshops and professional support to facilitate
the communication of research findings to members of the media,
legislators, and local groups by providing specific training
for faculty, graduate students and undergraduates in how to
interpret the significance of their work to various constituents;
- Involve representatives of industry, government and the science-based
professions in the review of proposals that involve community-based,
collaborative, or educational components in order to reflect
the scientific needs of policy-makers, practitioners, and employers;
- Offer a "transition package" to allow traditional researchers to participate in curricular reform in mid career and then successfully return to research. Provide summer project funds that permit faculty to participate in collaborative curricular development projects and collaborative research.
Prepared by: Judith Ramaley, March 1996