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Workshop on Access By Minority Investigators
to NSF Extramural Support

Emory University, Atlanta - November 6, 1999

I. CONFERENCE PURPOSE AND PARTICIPANTS

Both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggest that African American investigators are underrepresented in the pool of successful applicants for NSF support. To discover the reasons for this phenomenon and to devise strategies to reverse existing trends, a workshop was held in Atlanta on Nov. 6, 1999. Participants in the workshop were:

George H. Jones - Emory University
Agnes Day - Howard University
Vassie Ware - Lehigh University
Sandra Murray - University of Pittsburgh
Ernest Moore - Northwestern University
Lena Austin - Howard University
Bruce Jackson - Boston University
Jill Bargonetti - Hunter College
Gwenith Jones - University of Virginia
Andrew Campbell - Brown University
Fedora Sutton - South Dakota State University
George Hill - Meharry Medical College
Maryanna Henkart - NSF
Thomas Smith - NSF
John Browne Clark Atlanta University

II. TOPICS CONSIDERED BY THE CONFEREES

  1. What features characterize the applications process for minority applicants? Do they solicit input from colleagues about the application process? Do they contact appropriate persons at NSF for help and suggestions prior to writing a grant? If so, is the feedback NSF provides helpful? Do they ask colleagues to review their grants prior to submission?

  2. What sort of institutional support is provided to this group of applicants? Does the institution provide advice regarding the writing of successful grants? Are there specific ways in which institutions might be more supportive of NSF applicants in the application process? Might NSF, for example, assist investigators in identifying appropriate collaborators or consultants? Could some formal program be established, sponsored and funded by NSF, to pair minority investigators with potential collaborators or consultants?

  3. What else can NSF do, perhaps in cooperation with the institutions, to facilitate the process of grant writing and submission? Are there databases that NSF might maintain that would contribute to greater success rates for African American and other minority applicants? What else can the institutions do?

  4. What are the "grant histories" of African Americans who have submitted proposals to NSF? If they submitted an unsuccessful grant, did they resubmit? If so, what was the outcome of the resubmission? If they were successful the first, second (or subsequent) time, what factors may have contributed to that success? If they did not resubmit, why not and what could have been done to encourage them to do so?

  5. One of the factors that contribute to the absolute number of successful grant applicants is the total number of applicants. What more can NSF do to increase the number of minority scientists?


III. SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

A. GRANTMANSHIP

  1. It would be useful to have NSF Program Officers visit institutions to the extent possible to encourage applications from minority investigators and to assist them in developing such applications. Institutions that might be targeted (at least initially) for such visits would be HBCU's and other institutions with significant minority enrollments and numbers of African American and other minority faculty.

  2. NSF should conduct workshops (e.g. regionally or nationally) for minority postdoctoral fellows and for junior faculty to assist them in developing grant writing skills. These workshops should provide assistance to the participants in all phases of the grant preparation process. One element of proposal preparation that should be emphasized in such workshops is the need to provide substantive evidence that it will be possible to conduct the proposed research at the applicant institution.

  3. A mechanism should be established to ensure that junior faculty have the opportunity to have their proposals read by experienced investigators. One way to facilitate such a process would be to establish a web site listing funded PI's who are willing to read draft proposals and to provide feedback and assistance with their refinement (see further below).

  4. NSF might provide copies of appropriately expurgated grants that have been funded to junior investigators for use in preparation of their own submissions.

  5. The workshop participants were unanimous in the view that support from NSF should be connected to a commitment by potential PI's to actually submit proposals. While such a commitment could not be required, perhaps it could be stated, e.g., as a condition of acceptance for participation in a grantsmanship workshop that the participants are expected to submit a proposal to NSF for the next available application cycle.

  6. As an essential adjunct to the suggestions above, NSF needs to keep accurate records of the outcomes of the application process for minority investigators. In addition to success rates, it is essential to be able to determine: (a) whether an unsuccessful applicant re-applies; (b) what the outcome is for applicants that do re-apply; (c) if they were successful the first, second or subsequent time, what factors may have contributed to that success? (d) if they did not resubmit, why not and what could have been done to encourage them to do so?

B. SUPPORT OF MINORITY INVESTIGATORS BY MINORITY (AND OTHER) INVESTIGATORS

  1. As indicated above, a web site listing potential grant readers might be established under NSF auspices. This site might also list minority (and other) investigators who are willing to serve as mentors, collaborators and as supporters generally of junior faculty.

  2. Such a web site might be linked to other extant sites, e.g., those established by journals, scientific societies and perhaps some "popular" science sites, e.g., Discovery. Such a site might be developed as an offshoot of the Just/Garcia/Hill site developed by Dr. Robert Dottin.

C. CHANGING THE CULTURE

  1. It was apparent from the discussion that many of the workshop participants had received written reviews of their own submissions to NSF that reflected reviewer biases that were totally inappropriate to the scientific review process. Indeed, some members of the group had participated on NSF panels where such biases were in evidence. One manifestation of such biases specifically discussed by the group was "pedigree discrimination." Program Officers need to be especially sensitive to the possibility that such prejudices may arise in the review process, even when the intent is not malicious, and the PO's must ensure that such prejudices are not allowed to affect the outcome of a scientific review.

D. SUPPORT OURSELVES, PART II

    1. The workshop participants were unanimous in their view that the time is right for the creation of a national organization of Black biologists. It was suggested that an initial meeting to explore the creation of such an organization be held in conjunction with the 2000 annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. Although the national organization would include biologists of other ilks, the Cell Biology annual meeting would still be an excellent locus for the initial organizational effort.

    2. It was agreed that Drs. Browne, Ware and Murray would contact the umbrella minority affairs committee of the FASEB societies to broach our suggestions with that group and that Drs. Okpodu, Day, Sutton, Jackson and Jones would serve as a steering committee to organize the initial convention of Black biologists at the ACB meeting in 2000.

     

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