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A Descriptive Analysis of the
Presidential Faculty Fellows Program:

Contributions to Science and Engineering
through Leadership in Research and Teaching

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Table of Contents
Executive Summary
I. Introduction
II. Characteristics of PFF Program
III. Impact of PFF Program
IV. Summary and Conclusions
Appendix A: Tenure-Track Faculty Who Received a PFF Grant
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4. Summary and Conclusions

This study has collected and analyzed the wide range of activities that have been undertaken by the 120 young faculty who received support through the PFF program. PFF Fellows have made considerable progress in achieving each of NSF’s four GPRA policy goals. Fellows have enhanced their capacity to conduct and disseminate research, contributed their expertise to both the public and private sectors, promoted increased representation of the traditionally underrepresented in scientific fields, and collaborated with researchers and scholars in other countries. In addition, they have also had an impact on education by enhancing the quality of instruction, supporting teacher professional development, and creating scientific enrichment opportunities for K-12 students.

PFF grants provided Fellows with a flexibility that many other grants do not.

PFF grants provided Fellows with a flexibility that many other grants do not. The open-ended structure of the program enabled young scientists to accelerate the pace of their work and to explore new frontiers. Comments from several fellows interviewed for this report clearly indicated that they considered this freedom to be one of the primary benefits of their award. PFF grants also provided the facilities and equipment essential to conduct experiments and make important discoveries. In addition, in the words of one Fellow, the security that PFF afforded allowed Fellows to create strategies for influencing local, state, and national science policy without fear of reprisals.

In addition, all of the Fellows used their PFF awards to maintain or expand educational activities. The PFF program has supported curriculum development efforts, both on a small scale that involved redesigning or developing individual courses, and on a larger scale that involved redefining entire course sequences or areas of specialization. Often, curriculum development efforts were aimed at building stronger connections between research and teaching. Fellows also contributed to improved achievement by participating in outreach activities involving K-12 teachers and students. Examples included providing pre- and in-service education to teachers, creating or coordinating special enrichment programs for K-12 science students, and participating in school-wide outreach activities aimed at generating interest in science and engineering careers. Fellows also promoted increased representation of the groups underrepresented in science and education fields. Female or minority students were drawn into PFF-supported research projects, provided opportunities to learn the fundamentals of research, and offered career guidance. In some cases, special minority programs were created and coordinated by Fellows.

This study has also provided NSF with fundamental insights about the benefits of providing a small cadre of accomplished young faculty with flexible and stable funding for an extended period. These activities, and the corresponding achievements, clearly transcended traditional improvements in teaching practices and research activities. In addition, interviews with a sample of Fellows suggest that the program's direct and indirect impacts (e.g., on teaching practices, on innovative research that leads to important discoveries, and on promoting careers in science and engineering) endure long after PFF funds expire.

In addition, interviews with a sample of Fellows sugget that the program's direct and indirect impacts endure long after PFF funds expire.

The Foundation is continuing its commitment to support young faculty members. As it moves ahead, it will continue to face a series of choices about how best to support the young faculty of the 21st century. The process used to inform these decisions will benefit from a structured and standardized assessment of the different approaches that can be used to promote young faculty. The Foundation has recently taken two important steps to enhance the rigor of data collected about tenure-track faculty who receive NSF support. First, a study will obtain valuable information about the activities and achievements of tenure-track faculty who have received funding through CAREER and PECASE. Second, the Foundation's FastLane system, designed to obtain standardized data across all NSF programs, will collect some of the data needed to assess activities and impacts among future NSF-supported tenure-track faculty.

In addition to these important and timely activities, we recommend that a structured annual collection activity be developed specifically for programs that support young faculty (a number of NSF programs are electing to conduct additional annual collection activities to obtain information not covered by FastLane). Such a system would facilitate the Foundation's efforts to more reliably quantify and assess the range of activities and accomplishments among NSF-supported tenure-track faculty. It would also increase NSF's capacity to make timely and accurate reports to Congress about program impacts.

Finally, NSF might consider administering a slightly modified version of the CAREER survey to the 120 Fellows who were funded through PFF. This would enable the Foundation to assess the relative impacts of two programs that used diverse strategies to address a common purpose. Comparing activities and impacts across PFF and CAREER would provide timely insights on maximizing NSF’s future support of young scholars.

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Last Modified: 03/24/17


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