His 2003 DDIG laid the groundwork for research that, 8 years later, helped him win NSF’s top award for young scientists, and he now encourages his students to apply.
“They may be small amounts of money, but they can have an extraordinary impact on someone’s career.” In a letter yesterday to directorate officials, the 10,000-member Ecological Society of America, based in Washington, D.
C., asks the Arlington, Virginia–based NSF to preserve the dissertation grants within biology and offers to help it find ways to “reduce high workloads and meet changing program priorities.” The letter highlights the multiple benefits of the dissertation grants: They not only allow graduate students to go beyond their adviser’s research expertise, but they also teach them important career skills, including how to write a grant proposal and manage a budget.
Senior managers in the biology directorate said they terminated the program reluctantly, with the hope that it will ease a growing workload on program officers in the two divisions—environmental biology (DEB) and integrated organismal systems (IOS)—now offering them.
Despite their budget of less than $3 million a year, the biology DDIGs have made a remarkable impression on the community over the decades they have been awarded.
Hopi Hoekstra, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, says that applying for a DDIG is practically a rite of passage in her lab.
“In a word, it’s a workload issue,” says Paula Mabee, head of DEB.
At the same time, they acknowledge that the additional work stems in part from insufficient resources.
At roughly ,000 each, dissertation awards are much smaller than bread-and-butter research grants, which average 0,000 a year across the entire directorate.
But they require the same level of scrutiny by NSF’s vaunted peer-review system, meaning program officers must put in the same effort in selecting reviewers, running panels, and processing the paperwork for every grant that’s made.