Thursday, May 27, 2010

Getting NSF Research Money And Pleasing Taxpayers.

This quote in Nature:

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) is unique among the world's science-funding agencies in its insistence that every proposal, large or small, must include an activity to demonstrate the research's 'broader impacts' on science or society. This might involve the researchers giving talks at a local museum, developing new curricula or perhaps forming a start-up company.

reminded me of something my thesis advisor told me about getting NSF grants. (And he should know as he obtained an NSF postdoctoral fellowship and a very large NSF career award.)

He told me:
 My secret was I calculated how much money I would receieve and how many taxpayers it would take on average to put up that money.  Then I set up outreach programs that I could demonstrate would reach that many taxpayers in a scientifically beneficial way.
So there you go.  For all you hoping to get NSF money, keep in mind how many taxpayers will have to support you to achieve your research goals.  You may just literally have to repay each one of them if you want NSF money.

Any thoughts on whether this is a good demand for the NSF to make?


  1. I think this is perfectly reasonable, however I might also add that you can offset numbers with need to some degree. If you could come up with a project that impacted only 1% of the number of needed tax-payers but focused on poor, minority, girls in inner city schools with learning disabilities, that would work too.

  2. I happen to be funded by an NSF grant for my research right now. I had not thought of it this way. I think it's a good way to look at it. Makes me sort of feel more responsible to accurate report it to the citizens.

    When I was at BYU I had scholarships from the University. Each time I got one I was always asked to write a letter thanking the unknown beneficiaries (tithing payers I assume). The award always indicated that the best mechanism for "repayment" was to make a contribution to the world by getting good grades and becoming successful. Hopefully I've done that or am doing that.

    I kind of like the accountability aspect of it.

  3. jmb275,

    I sort of like how it makes people be responsible to those funding them as well.

  4. One more thing on NSF funding - if you apply for the NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoc, which along with the Hubble, Einstein, and Sagan Fellowships from NASA are the top national fellowships in our field, you are required to include in your proposal a significant education/outreach component. The general recommendation in that this take up 10-20% of your time. And this is something that they really do look in at a very high level.

    The point is that even in their top-level research fellowships, they are still extremely serious about education and outreach.

  5. Nick, does this blog count as outreach?


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