Archive for: May, 2011
The title of this post is actually a search phrase someone used today that led them to my blog. Regular readers probably have picked up on the fact that I run an NSF REU site program. i.e. I'm PI on the grant. Right now I'm in the midst of organizing things for this summer's participants and should really be focussing on that, not writing a blog post. In many ways it's the busiest time of year for me, despite the fact semester ended four weeks ago. REU sites are a lot of work. From the advertising/recruiting, to sorting through the many applications*, to making offers, assigning labs, organizing accommodations, booking flights for participants who live too far away to drive, corralling people to give various presentations etc., putting together the ethics component**, tracking the career trajectories of previous participants for the rest of my life, and on and on. A lot of work.
Did I mention the NSF won't allow any of the REU funds to be used for administrative help? Sure, my department is kind enough to provide us with some help, but it still largely falls on the shoulders of myself and my Co-PI.
At my institution it doesn't/didn't help with tenure. Which is why I didn't start the program until after I was tenured.
The faculty in the department like having the undergrads in their labs for the summer for free, but would survive just fine without them. So it buys me some goodwill, but not a lot.
I often have one of the participants in my lab for the summer, but I could fairly easily get a supplement from the NSF to do this without having to run a whole site program.
So why do it?
Because I like involving undergrads in research. Because I think the goal of the NSF REU program, to give research experiences to undergrads who don't have ready access to them, is a good one.
The idea with REU programs is to provide research experience to students so that they can decide whether or not to pursue a career in research. Or science in general. And the focus is supposed to be on students who don't have lots of research opportunities at their home institutions. So we recruit heavily from four-year colleges and end up with kids who don't necessarily know which is the business end of a pipette. But they're interested in learning. And enthusiastic. And it's such a blast watching them develop over the summer into scientists. And many of our past participants have been very, very good. Once they work out the pipette thing. That's part of why I do it.
Some have decide by the end of the summer that research is not for them. I consider those successes - they're not wasting their time and someone else's time and money going to grad school to figure out it's not what they want to do.*** This is another reason I do it.
Others have gone on to grad school. Some at some of the best institutions in the country. More reasons to do it.
Bottom line is I do it because I enjoy it. In the end that's the most tangible benefit for me. But it's also the best one.
* ~130 applications this year for eight positions. That's an NIH-like success rate for the applicants.
** Now mandatory if you're funded through BIO.
*** REU programs are a hell of a lot cheaper than grad school.
This should be interesting. NSF's Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences is moving from submission dates for investigator-initiated research projects* every six months to every eight months. And limiting the number of proposals as a PI or Co-PI to one per cycle. Read the details here. And here's the new Program Solicitation.
Apparently these changes are a trial and only apply to MCB. So far. The rationales are that a) the eight month cycle will give PI's whose proposals have been rejected more time to adequately respond, and b) the limit of one proposal as a PI or Co-PI (note the or) will reduce the load on reviewers.
I'm sure this will cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Personally, I think this will be good. The NSF typically takes six months - sometimes more, sometimes less - to get panel summaries and reviews back to PI's. With the six month cycle that means those PI's have little to no time to turn around and revise their proposals. Many simply can't and end up waiting until the next cycle, twelve months after initial submission, to send in their revised proposals. The eight month cycle should help alleviate this. Planing for submission of renewals, particularly over the next year or so, could get a little tricky - I know I'll have to think carefully about my own renewal - but every major change will have it's shaky transition period.
On the other hand, the longer cycle time (but shorter resubmission time) could lead to larger panel and reviewer loads. Limiting PI's to a single submission should help there. Although, in my experience as a MCB reviewer and panelist (and of course YMMV) it's uncommon for PI's to have more than one proposal submitted simultaneously. I'm not so sure about the "PI or Co-PI" clause though. I would have preferred that it be limited to just one as a PI, or perhaps one as PI and one as Co-PI.
Want more info? The NSF has prepared a FAQ. My favorite question and (non-)answer:
21. Question: What should I do if I was planning to apply in July but now I can't apply until September?
Answer: PIs have two additional months to develop their proposals further. The additional time should allow PIs to prepare fully compliant and competitive proposals.
Wail and gnash to your heart's content in the comments.
* These are the typical (and majority of) proposals that are submitted. i.e. Not those submitted in response to a specific program.