Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process
Jul17

Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process

  A recent report from the National Science Board seeks to ease the burden of private investigators and lower costs associated with the overall merit review process for federal research grants. The National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) has released a report outlining recommendations to reduce administrative workload for principal investigators of federally funded research. The report is in response to several previous federal surveys and reports from the Federal Demonstration Partnership and the National Research Council that found these results: 1)      Federally supported scientists spend an average of 42 percent of their research time on administrative tasks. 2)      “The problem of excessive regulatory burdens…puts a drag on the efficiency of all university research,” potentially costing “billions of dollars over the next decade.” Among its recommendations, the NSB report recommends focusing grant proposal oversight on merit and achievement; harmonizing and streamlining grant management requirements among federal agencies and bureaus; eliminating or modifying unnecessary or ineffective regulations; and, identifying and disseminating model programs and practices that increase the efficiency of university research review processes. On July 14, the House passed bipartisan H.R. 5056, the Research Development and Efficiency Act, that seeks to implement the report recommendations. It was introduced by Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology with bipartisan agreement. The bill would create an interagency working group under the authority of the National Science and Technology Council with these mandates: (1) Harmonize, streamline, and eliminate duplicative Federal regulations and reporting requirements; and (2) minimize the regulatory burden on United States institutions of higher education performing federally funded research while maintaining accountability for Federal tax dollars. The NSB, various research entities and institutions, including the American Association of Universities, support the legislation. Additional information on the NSB report is available...

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The importance of investing in the researchers of the future
Jul09

The importance of investing in the researchers of the future

In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2014 Graduate Student Policy (GSPA) Award winner Brittany West Marsden (the University of Maryland) reflects on her meeting with various congressional office staff this past spring. She explains how this experience “demystified” the perceived complexity of engaging in the policymaking process. During the podcast, Marsden elaborates on her conversation with a congressional staffer who she cited as being strong advocate for science. The congressional staffer asked Marsden and the other students in attendance about their long-term career goals. The students voiced their reservations about pursuing careers that rely on grant funding. Increasingly, they see their professors spend more time applying for funding at the expense of doing actual scientific research. “We think about investing in the products of research, but we also can’t overlook investing in the future researchers themselves,” stated Marsden. The Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition meetings, which Marsden and other 2014 GSPA winners attended, allowed the graduate students to highlight various federal research programs that aid in their science-career development. The meeting conversations included federal programs such as the National Science Foundation Interdisciplinary Graduate Research and Education Traineeship and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship, in which Marsden participated. In the podcast, Marsden noted how the EPA STAR Fellowship fostered her progress throughout graduate school and expanded her network of scientific contacts around the country. Unfortunately, the residual impacts of the 2013 sequestration cuts to the federal budget including spending cuts to EPA and other federal agency programs are diminishing the funding opportunities available for graduate-student career development. The practical and long-term residual effects of this reduced funding are multifold. As mentioned above, one effect is graduate students choosing careers outside of science; another effect is the possibility of students taking their talents to other countries. Insufficient or lack of sustained funding also limits the ability of career scientists to conduct the research that has led to discoveries that help improve American society. Many scientific breakthroughs occurred by chance or happenstance such as commonplace microwave ovens or Alexander Fleming’s accidental encounter with penicillium mold in 1928. Over the long term, lack of federal-science investment hinders the United States’ capacity to compete globally and create the jobs of the future that bolster economic development and opportunity. Recent reports conclude the United States is on the precipice of falling behind other countries in its share of research and development investment. In short, if the US wants to remain a leader in scientific innovation and achievement, it is critical for the nation to invest in programs and initiatives that draw young...

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Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields
Mar30

Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2009 Programme for the International Student Assessment results showed the United States ranking 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries. Following this news, President Obama announced a $250 million proposal to increase funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As he stated in his budget message, “In a generation, we’ve fallen from first place to ninth place in the proportion of our young people with college degrees. We lag behind other nations in the quality of our math and science education.” The following post, contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, graduate student at University of Illinois-Chicago and recent recipient of ESA’s 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award, tells how diversity in environmental fields shows promise for the future of science. The student diversity was astounding, beautiful brown faces with shining eyes sat attentive and hanging on every word of the career panelists. This was the scene at last year’s Green College and Careers Fair organized by the Ecological Society of America and The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. The goal was to diversify environmental and ecological careers by reaching out to underserved communities: The hope is to change the face and fields of environmental careers by providing opportunities to those who traditionally lack access. The career fair was hosted at The New School in New York City—over 100 high school students (from 9 schools around the New York-New Jersey area) were treated to a highly professional career fair, including structured school-to-college workshops. The event was made possible with support from the Toyota USA Foundation. Students received information about environmental and natural resource careers and topics such as research ethics, laboratory work tips, resume guidelines, reference letters and tips on being successful in college. Other sessions included exhibitor presentations, a financial aid workshop, mock job interviews and a career panel. The career panelists—Victor Medina, Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, Charlee Glenn and Ann-Marie Alcantara— were young professionals and alumni of both the LEAF and ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program. They addressed more than just traditional college talk—they got to the heart of being minorities in fields where they are underrepresented. Glenn, a panelist and SEEDS alumna, shared her story of how ecology became an interest, which subsequently developed into her current position as Diversity Programs Assistant for ESA’s SEEDS program. Medina, a LEAF alumnus, discussed how he uses his educational and personal success to influence others within his community to do better—not only for themselves but for the environment as well. Alcantara, also a LEAF alumna, talked about her goals of being...

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To fly or not to fly?

Evolution can do funny things. Like producing the amazing feat of flight in a lineage of reptiles, which over time led to an adaptive radiation seldom rivaled in the history of animals. And then producing, in some 30 species of birds, the loss of the adaptation altogether. It would seem a ridiculous thing to do, to give up the power of flight, when you can fly. Certainly, if I could fly, I wouldn’t bother giving it up. That’s Rory Wilson, a professor of aquatic biology at the University of Wales Swansea. He’s pictured here with his first love and the subject of his Ph.D.: the African penguin. His most recent work gets up-close and personal with another flightless bird, the Galápagos cormorant, sometimes known as – you guessed it – the flightless cormorant. Wilson and his colleagues wondered what led this bird to lose the ability to fly when none of the other 60 waterbirds in its order – including pelicans, frigatebirds and boobies – have done the same.  Listen to Dr. Wilson discuss why some birds have evolved flightlessness in this podcast, the November installment of ESA’s Field Talk series. In birds, flight most likely originated as an escape response. Reptilian predecessors to modern-day birds would scamper away from predators, leading to the evolution of wings, feathers and muscles that lifted the animals off the ground, much to the chagrin of frustrated four-legged carnivores. Once they took to the air, the resourceful birds then co-opted this adaptation for other functions to boost their survival, such as traveling much greater distances in search of food. In the Galápagos islands, though, the situation is a bit different. There are no terrestrial predators, so using flight as an escape response isn’t important. The warm Pacific water and nutrient upwelling surrounding the Galápagos also make the coasts rich in seafloor prey, potentially reducing the need to travel great distances to find food. Wilson’s team tested this idea by tagging 95 birds with GPS loggers and time-depth recorders to get a sense of their position and movement in the water over a 24-hour period. Sure enough, the birds routinely dove in shallow waters at depths of only 20 percent of their deepest dives. The combination of release from predation and the ability to find consistent food close to shore led to these birds kicking their flying habit in favor of a streamlined body suited for diving. Though his research is motivated by the love of these flightless birds, the new object of Wilson’s affection is of the electronic kind. He hopes that the loggers his team uses can someday be made small and...

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