Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘funding’

New Broader Impacts Statement

catenary_bikeThis week, I just got my fourth of four submitted proposals rejected. I am not unhappy because I am already revamping the first two, which were reviewed quite well, and I think they will be written even better and get even better reviews (and perhaps some money?) in the next round. I also got a really nice WomanOfScience friend to help me jazz them up. They were good science, but quite dull-sounding. She just batted 1000 on her last 7 proposals, so she knows her sh!t. For the most part, I agreed with the criticisms of the reviewers. They were valid, and there are ways to make my proposals better. As I have always said, “Criticism: Take It.” I will take it and gladly ask for more.

But, I have a bone to pick. Let me quote one of my reviews (I know people don’t usually do this, but it is important you see what was written to understand).

Strengths:
The PIs have an outstanding record of mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds.
Weaknesses:
The broader impact work is already ongoing, and new efforts are not described.

Notice this weakness. It is a weakness that I am already strong in broader impacts. THAT is a WEAKNESS! How? What should I do? Invent yet another class to take up more of my time so I publish fewer papers every year? Or should I mentor more than 6-10 undergraduates in independent research projects per year? Should fewer of these students be from under-represented groups? Because those students take longer to mentor because they are worried their parents will be evicted or deported while they are away at school, and that takes up too much of my time? Or perhaps I should do yet a 5th outreach activity to encourage women and girls of color to join STEM – maybe invent my own because the ones I am doing with established groups, such as Girls Inc, are blasé. I mean, everyone does it, right? WRONG! No! I will not take this criticism. This is NOT a weakness. I am not weak in broader impacts because I am doing so fucking much already, and to say this is a weakness is asinine and ridiculous.

But, I take criticism… Maybe there is another problem that I can solve? Maybe they don’t realize how much I do. I mean they have my name and record (and they can easily find me online), but I can only list FIVE synergistic activities in my 2-page long biosketch. My full CV is a whopping 25 pages long. The parts describing my teaching and service take up 10 pages of real estate and include 6 separate funded grants just for teaching and mentoring activities – that are in a separate section from my research funding. But, I can’t include all that in my biosketch. I can only include 5 synergistic activities. FIVE! That doesn’t even cover the funded teaching/mentoring work I do – let alone the unfunded work.

I could list all this in my proposal, but there isn’t really space. And if I did, I would be using up space I should be using for the more serious endeavor of science. I could put a link to my website in the proposal, but that is actually not allowed (despite having seen it in so many other proposals). I am afraid to not follow the rules and have my grant rejected for such a stupid reason. So, I don’t put in a URL to my lab website that lists all this work.

So how do I let them know, succinctly, yet firmly, that: No, I will not be doing any NEW Broader Impacts to satisfy their twisted idea that every new NSF grant must have yet another mentoring, outreach, or teaching activity to accompany it?

I am thinking of writing a statement such as this (let me know what you think)…

Broader Impacts:

In this section, I describe my commitment to teaching and mentoring women and under-represented minority students to train them to become the next generation of scientists, engineers, educators, and creators. The criticism that these efforts are “ongoing” and that “no new efforts are being established” is true, and I will likely get that critique as I usually do. But, I would like to point out that I participate in 15 other broader impact activities that cannot be fit into the 5 allowed in the biosketch nor in this document. I do not see the need nor the reason to create another mentoring or educational activity for myself in order to obtain this grant to perform research when I am already, as a woman in a male-dominated field, so over committed to teaching and outreach. Indeed, in a recent survey of my male colleagues in my department, I participate in 10x as many outreach activities as they do. So, there is no need for me to create anything new to make sure I am disseminating my science, educating the youth, or have a high quantity of mentoring and teaching activities. I am already doing what you want me to do.

Further, the criticism that I am not creating anything new or unique is not correct. I train 6-10 students per year. That is approximately 2-10x as many undergraduates as my colleagues (actually, some take zero undergraduates, but one should not divide by zero), creating research opportunities that are unique for each student. My students present at national conferences and many have published their work. To each of these students, their work, commitment, and time in the lab is unique and new for them. Together, we are creating new science and new experiences. Many of them have never solved a problem without a known answer prior to this work. So, I reject the critique that my broader impacts are not “new.”

Additionally, the fact that my laboratory is a diverse environment in terms of gender, religion, race, and ethnicity is also novel. Each new student adds to that novelty, that flavor, and that uniqueness. So, I believe that it is incorrect to say that my broader impacts are not “new.” Perhaps the idea of undergraduates performing research in a culturally diverse setting is not new to you, but it is certainly new to them (and it is unique within my institution).

Finally, if the reviewers need me to do something new for every NSF proposal, I will inevitably have to do one less thing that I am already committed to and maintaining through shear force of will. The activities I do are not complete in 3-year increments. I do not complete them with the completion of the grant. My goal is to sustain these activities. Thus, I cannot start something new every three years with the start of each new funded proposal unless I stop doing something else. If I did drop something, that would mean one less committee would have a smart, strong, female required for diversity. One more program will be lacking a woman to represent my entire field and gender to local middle school students. One more student will not be given the opportunity to try her hand at research despite her mother, her society, and yes, even herself, telling her that she should not. The things that I describe, that I am already committed to, are not mere whims to me. They are not things I do to pad my CV or to make you happy to fund me. They are part of the service I do to the community and to society to educate the young people of this country. I am sorry if what I do is not enough for you; if my students are not enough for you, but this is about all I can do.

So, what do you think? Perhaps I won’t write this after all, but maybe just put a link in my proposal to this post. (wink) Let me know what you think. Post or comment here. To get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

The Best Way to get Copies of Funded Grants…and the Worst Way

PikiWiki_Israel_9290_Gan-Shmuel_-_girls_in_class_1952In the vein of writing, writing, writing, which is the quote on my office door for the past 4 weeks, I thought I would post a piece from another woman of science. This one is about the true first step in any writing process – getting examples. For writing manuscripts, getting examples is easy. You just read a lot of published papers and try to emulate their style (especially clear and nice papers). For other types of writing, getting examples can be more difficult, or downright hard. Perhaps one of the most important types of writing we do in academic science is grant writing.  My advice is always to get examples. Today’s guest post is about how to go about getting examples… and how not… Enjoy!

You’re a brand-new assistant professor, or you’re applying to agency to which you’ve never applied for funding. Where to start? Examples of successful applications are some of the best ways to figure out how to structure your application and to tailor your application to a particular agency or foundation. Where to get them?

Start with your formal and informal mentors. Ask them if they have examples of recent successful applications, or unsuccessful applications if they are willing to share them and to discuss why they think they were unsuccessful. Ask your collaborators and departmental colleagues if they have been funded by the organization you are targeting. Ask them if they know anyone else who has. If that fails, or in addition to those opportunities, most organizations post the names of those they have funded. I recommend looking at that list and finding anyone with whom you have a connection—you were both once at the same institution, you have friends or collaborators in common, anything. Then, contact those people one by one, pointing out your common links to help establish a connection. In addition to really recently funded projects, you might also want to target people who were funded a few years ago, especially if you don’t know them well. With such “older” projects, the work is likely to be well underway and the PI is less likely to feel vulnerable sharing their nascent work. When you send that cold email, state clearly and at the beginning why you are writing, point out your connection, and assure them that you understand that you are requesting a confidential document and you will not share it.

If you can’t find anyone with whom you have a connection, just try asking. You can say something like, “I am planning to apply to X organization. I am looking for examples of successful proposals to this organization and noticed that you are funded by them. Congratulations! Would you mind sharing a copy of your funded proposal or even just some sections of it with me? I understand that this is a confidential document and I will not share it with anyone else.” Sometimes what you really want is an example of a specific type of required abstract or section of the proposal, so just ask for that. Most people remember what it is like starting out in their academic careers or applying to a new agency and are willing to help. Most people are also flattered that you’ve noticed their funding success, which will likely make them more willing to respond to your request. However, everyone is busy and inundated with requests, so allow plenty of time and if you don’t hear anything, ask again in a week or two.

Proposals that have been funded by the federal government are available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This should be the last resort for obtaining a copy of a proposal. Exhaust your other options first, including cold-calling (emailing) multiple people. Just asking people for what you want will almost certainly yield results, and probably much faster than a FOIA request. When you submit a FOIA request, that request along with your name is sent to the PI. Science is a small world and like other professions, much of your professional success will depend on relationships you build with others. If you receive a FOIA request for one of your funded proposals, this will likely bring to mind several questions, like: why didn’t this person just ask me for the proposal? The proposal probably would have been shared and the requester would have received it faster than waiting for the FOIA request to be processed. The proposer might have removed some sections with personal information or work that is still preliminary, but they might at least attempt to do that anyway in responding to the FOIA request. Some personal information is removed automatically by the agency, too. Then one wonders, what is this person’s agenda? If the requester is another faculty member, are they intending to pursue research that I proposed? If the requester were a private individual, corporation, or certain type of foundation, those suspicions about an underlying agenda would have been even deeper. In general, if someone asks me directly for a copy of my proposals, I send the requested information and offer to read a draft of the requester’s own proposal to try to offer feedback. By submitting a request through a third-party, the requester likely misses an opportunity to build his/her professional network.

Good advice! What do you think? Share in a post or comment. You can follow this blog by pushing the +Follow button and typing your email address. I will try to get back on the blog-writing wagon as I come down from the manuscript/grant writing one.

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