Friday, May 20, 2011

NSF Bows to Blog Pressure (Tongue-in-Cheek)

As some of you may recall, I accused the NSF of being "misguided" in changing its graduate fellowship policy to effectively disallow teaching.  

So I was please to get home tonight and see that some students had forwarded me the following e-mail from the NSF:

Dear Colleague:

The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of recent developments
in the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).   There was a
recent change in policy that NSF has decided to reconsider.  In
particular, the policy concerns what can be expected of Fellows during
the three years they receive NSF funding (on tenure).  NSF has decided
to reinstate the previous policy with respect to this issue while
further study is conducted to inform this and other GRFP policies.
The policy that will be in effect during the 2011-2012 Fellowship Year
is an updated version of the one described in the 2009 Guide (NSF
09-62), which is as follows:

Each Fellow is expected to devote full time to advanced scientific
study or work during tenure. However, because it is generally accepted
that teaching or similar activity constitutes a valuable part of the
education and training of many graduate students, a Fellow may
undertake a reasonable amount of such activities, without NSF
approval. It is expected that furtherance of the Fellow's educational
objectives and the gain of substantive teaching or other experience,
not service to the institution as such, will govern these activities.
Compensation for such activities is permitted based on the affiliated
institution’s policies and the general employment policies outlined in
this document.

You can refer to the 2011 Guide (NSF 11-031) at for
further information about teaching, research, and other work
activities during tenure years.

We apologize for confusion these changes may have caused, but look
forward to working with you to ensure the GRFP is as effective as
possible in helping to ensure the vitality of the U. S. scientific and
engineering workforce.


The Graduate Research Fellowship Program Office
Division of Graduate Education
Directorate for Education & Human Resources
National Science Foundation
Now of course I wouldn't want to claim that this about-face was all due to my blog post.  I'll just let you draw your own conclusions.

More seriously, I'm glad they're pausing and getting some more input on the issue.  As I like to repeat often, the NSF is a wonderful institution, and it's nice to see them showing willingness to revisit this issue, given my opinion that their new policy was questionable in terms of its benefit to students.  I imagine many institutions encompassing large bureaucracies would never manage to reconsider a decision like this, so it is to their credit.


Unknown said...

This is democracy in the making. It doesn't matter if you were right or wrong or if it was your opinion that changed their minds, but that a government authority considered a civilian's proposal.

Anonymous said...

This is a blog, not a column in an ACM/IEEE periodical. If you want to write something tongue-in-cheek, I say you should just go for it -- no disclaimers needed.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anon 2: In spirit I agree; in practice, there a surprising number of people online who cannot recognize a joke or tell one properly. Rather than take the risk that I'm in the second camp, since I don't want anyone actually thinking I'm taking credit for this, I disclaimed.

AnonProf said...

Does anyone know what NSF means by "similar activity"? Is that limited to teaching activities, or does it also mean that it's OK to give NSF Fellows research supplements?

Background: It used to be that schools could supplement NSF Fellows' salaries by giving them a research appointment. Also, it used to be that NSF Fellows could teach, and their teaching pay would be on top of the fellowship pay. As Michael had previously pointed out, a few months ago NSF announced that neither of these would be allowed any longer. The most recent announcement from NSF clarifies that NSF is going back to the old rules for teaching. But what about research appointments/supplements? Are we back to the old rules, or are those prohibited?

Claire Mathieu said...

Congratulations! Good work, if you had anything to do with this!