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A message from Division Director Dr. Steven Goldstein


February 25, 2021

As I’m writing this letter, I’ve been a member of the Division of Earth Sciences for just over 3 months. Over that time there have been some positive developments for our community. For example, the new Administration has elevated the position of the President’s Science Advisor to the cabinet. And with the implementation of the vaccinations we (hopefully) can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the effects of COVID-19, which has had a devastating impact on our community and our science.

Looking at a slightly longer time frame than my tenure at EAR, other events are impacting the EAR community. The National Academies Decadal Survey of EAR - A Vision for the Earth Sciences 2020-2013: Earth in Time - was released last May, and will guide the direction of EAR over the next few years.  Several tragic events have forced the USA to confront the enduring issue of racism and its societal effects, which has spurred the academic and research community to confront its own issues.

For myself, coming to NSF has been an interesting change of perspective. Until my arrival that perspective has always been as a PI, and it has been illuminating, and reassuring, to view it all from the other side. My experience already many times over is that EAR is a highly motivated group that is dedicated to the continued excellence of basic research in the Earth Sciences, and to the well-being of the community it serves.

 Looking forward over the near future, my main initial priorities are three-fold:

·       Dealing with the impacts of COVID-19. Soon after my arrival EAR released a letter to the community, sent to the EARTH listserv on November 25 and published on December 4, about our plans to help to deal with the effects of COVID-19. We are particularly focused on helping to bridge the most vulnerable communities whose salaries depend on NSF awards and whose progress has been interrupted by this crisis, which we have identified as students, post-docs, and technical staff. We offer guidance to PIs about how to go about helping us to help.

·       Implementing the Earth in Time Report. Last summer EAR began the process of considering and prioritizing the recommendations of the Earth in Time report. As the Report acknowledges, it reflects a vision whose full implementation would require a substantial increase in funding. Therefore, we need to both prioritize and find creative ways to move forward. In this context, I recommend that everyone read it, and please send me feedback.

·       Promoting JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) in the Earth Sciences. It’s a badge of shame that the geosciences is the least diverse among STEM fields. It’s even more disconcerting to learn a meeting was held way back in 1972, the First National Conference on Minority Participation in Earth Sciences and Mineral Engineering, to address how to increase participation of members of underrepresented minority groups in the geosciences. The first speaker was Professor Randolph W. Bromery, a geophysicist and the first black Chancellor of UMass-Amherst. In his speech he said “[if] we leave without at least the beginnings of some commitments and the beginnings of some programs to accelerate the entry of minority groups into the earth sciences and mineral engineering, then this conference will have gone the way of many other conferences that I have attended in the past 25 years.” Well, it’s been 49 years since the conference, with little progress. A recent study (link here) give the following breakdown for PhDs awarded in the geosciences to US citizens and permanent residents between 1973-2016, based on how individuals self-identified and on data from the NSF biennial Survey of Doctoral Recipients: White – 19,570, Black – 232, Native American – 74, Hispanic or Latino – 628, Asian – 1183. We need to do better in the future, as we could hardly do worse. NSF and EAR will be committed to contributing to doing better.

The mission of EAR is to support the best science, and to serve the Earth Sciences community effectively. I applied for and accepted the position as Division Director in order to be able to focus my own efforts to serve our research community. I know well that PIs have strong opinions about how NSF and EAR can serve them better. I want a dialogue with the community. If you have anything you want to share, please get in touch.

Dr. Steven Goldstein
Director, Division of Earth Sciences
National Science Foundation

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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