I was recently at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology conference, where I sat in on a meeting of the Division of Animal Behavior. Dr. John Wingfield, Division Director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, explained 3 new changes to the process of applying for research funding. These changes are things that researchers will have to do in order to apply for funding or in order to complete their obligations to the NSF after receiving funding. Researchers have to address these topics:

1)   Bioeconomy We are now required to include a paragraph outlining how our research will support “bioeconomy”. The basic idea here is that you have to outline how your research will either create jobs, support existing jobs, or stimulate the economy. For example, research to slow or reverse the decline of a charismatic species may support the local tourism-related income.

2)   Lay-person summary of results At the completion of an NSF funded research project, a short report summarizing the fundings of the project must be submitted. The summary should be in lay-terms, and is meant to complement the lay-person worded project description which is submitted when researchers apply for funding. This means that the public will be able to find a description of all NSF funded research, as well as a summary of their findings when the study is complete.

3)   Data archival All applications must contain information on how the data collected during the project will be archived so it can be accessed again in the future. The data do not have to be made public, they simply have to be archived.

I’m particularly excited about the requirement for a lay-summary and the data archival requirement. The lay-summary means that results paid for by public funding will be made available to the public, hopefully in a language that is easily understandable. I think that this complements the open access journal movement well.

Currently, data archival does not need to be done publicly. I believe, however, that data archival requirements are aimed at preserving data for future analyses, and to promote data-sharing between researchers. I think this is wonderful. Our data are frequently paid for by public money and, sometimes, the lives of our study animals. We should feel obligated to get the maximum mileage out of every data point collected, and this is a good step in the right direction.  As Dr. Wingfield pointed out, the community will have to have a discussion about how to best share our data and about how to determine authorship when shared data are being used, but I think that this is as good a time as any to begin this discussion.

Sorry if this post was a bit dry for non-scientists. I’m excited that the NSF is leading the way in some major reforms in how we share data amongst ourselves and with the public, so I couldn’t help but share my meeting notes.

7 Responses to “Changes in how researchers apply for money through the NSF”

  1. geekoneone

    Not dry at all for non-scientists. You didn’t really comment on the bioeconomy portion. I’d be interested to know what you think. I don’t think science needs to have an economic purpose in order to receive public funding. Or do you think the requirement is just an extra hoop to jump through? Even though scientists state that their work will support the economy is so many ways, that doesn’t actually mean that it will.

    • weinersmith

      I’m not entirely sure what I think about the bioeconomy requirement. It’s true that large NSF grants usually do support “employees” in that the funds cover graduate student stipends, post-docs, etc., and in that way it creates jobs. NSF funded projects also cover costs of supplies (I’ve spent hundreds of dollars at the local Home Depot or ACE Hardware), which supports the economy.

      Before forming a final opinion on the bioeconomy requirement I’d like to know more about what prompted the requirement and how this information will effect which projects get funded. At the moment I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, so I’m holding off judgement for the moment. If I learn more I’ll get back to you.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Peter Coffey

        I’m on the fence about that too. I agree that our funding already creates jobs. My understanding is that some part of grant money goes to the institution you work at, and they in turn use it to pay support staff, build buildings, pay your electrical bills…
        I am interested to see if other fields which receive federal funding have to write such a statement. Do schools have to explain that their new computer labs will help the economy? I’m not sayin’ they don’t, I’m just wondering if they have to justify how it contributes to the edu-conomy.

  2. Tweets that mention Changes in how researchers apply for money through the NSF | Weinersmith --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zach Weiner. Zach Weiner said: Changes in how researchers apply for money through the NSF @FuSchmu […]

  3. Calimecita

    That is very interesting to know. Our state-funded scientific research system (CONICET, Argentina) usually looks to the NSF and other major organizations for orientation in their guidelines and policies, so it’s probable that these changes will eventually be reflected in the requirements for our local grants.
    Like you, I like points (2) and (3). About (1), I’m not sure – I hope it will not be something that drives “basic science” researchers to come up with creative discourses (aka lies) about economy-stimulating results for projects that have no practical/technological applications. But that is a probable consequence, if a higher “bioeconomy” index leads to higher chances of getting a grant.

    • Jordan

      To a degree I feel like that already happens in grant applications to the NIH. A lot of basic research gets done with fairly tenuous connections to medical applications. It’s usually still valuable work, but seeing intros where the authors nearly twist themselves in knots to explain how their research relates to a particular disease can be a bit odd.

  4. Monex

    The National Science Foundation Arctic System Science ARCSS ..program supports a multidisciplinary research effort of the Arctic environment…Within the many different ARCSS data collection efforts it is vital to facilitate data..archival and an easy mechanism for data exchange among researchers interested in the..Arctic system. This data protocol is a guideline for OAII ARCSS investigators to..ensure proper data formats meta data and efficient data archival.

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