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Workshop on the Changing Environment for the Biological Sciences

Portland State University
March 3-4, 1996

The Workshop at Portland State University was attended by faculty members and administrators from several institutions in Oregon and Washington, including Washington State University at Pullman and its metropolitan campus WSU-Vancouver; U. of Washington; Portland State University; Oregon State University; U. of Oregon; Willamette University; Pacific University; University of Portland; Lewis and Clark; and Mount Hood Community College.

The purpose of including this broad range of institutions with a range of missions was to facilitate the exploration of how institutions in a single geographic region can interact with each other to create a supportive environment for research and instruction in the biological sciences at the K-12 level and at undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral level, as well as in the conduct of collaborative research.

The discussion was shaped by a set of questions prepared beforehand with the particular mix of institutional types in mind:

  1. How can research and education be integrated by faculty at diverse types of institutions? Exactly what does this integration mean? How does it differ, if at all, at large institutions and small liberal arts colleges; at urban universities, state universities, and land-grant universities?

  2. How can diminishing funds at the private, state, and federal levels be leveraged to keep the biological sciences enterprise in this nation outstanding? What will be the major needs of the colleges and universities over the next 10 years? Do these needs differ at different types of institutions?

  3. How can support for research at colleges and universities be leveraged to improve undergraduate and graduate education?

  4. How can faculty best be supported as their roles change in response to the changes in colleges and universities, especially to offer mission-specific curricula and to address significant societal issues, especially at the local level?

  5. What are the best ways to utilize faculty resources in a time of limited research funding? Some possibilities: consortium/cooperative grants; long-term awards; grants that require non-federal matches.

  6. What are the best ways to encourage and facilitate cooperative research efforts with other public and private agencies and institutions and with business and industry?

  7. What emphasis should be placed on mechanisms to improve US-international cooperation? What should these mechanisms be?

After an overview of the changing climate for research funding in the United States by Dr. Mary Clutter, the members of the workshop divided into smaller discussion groups to consider the issues developed in the background paper and to raise additional questions and suggestions. What follows is a summary of a rich and stimulating discussion.

The Basic Mission of the Directorate
There was general agreement that the Directorate must continue to emphasize support for individual investigators, collaborative work through RUI and REU grants, and the investment in research infrastructure such as equipment and facilities. The current program mix is successful. It is possible, however, to introduce additional elements that can increase the ability of NSF to achieve its broad mission, while at the same time providing support for maintaining our world leadership in the biological sciences. The recommendations can be arranged in three broad categories: Faculty Development (Careers); Collaborative Strategies for Teaching and Research; and Curricular Change.

Faculty Development (Careers)

  1. In funding faculty development awards, encourage an institutional resource commitment or match in order to promote a relationship between the scholarly agenda of the award recipient and the priorities of the institution in research, policy studies and curricular innovation;

  2. Consider supporting collaborative research projects conducted by teams of faculty and students from undergraduate and community colleges and research universities;

  3. Provide a supplement to multi-year grants that will permit the interpretation of the principle research findings for public audiences such as policy-makers and industry partners;

  4. Create and fund a scholar-teacher program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the biological sciences that will provide experience with significant university-industry partnerships, curricular innovation, collaborative research, or policy studies;

  5. Design and offer a symposium sponsored by the Directorate on the integration of research and education that includes a discussion of good project designs that meaningfully incorporate high school and undergraduate students in the conduct of research, the development of effective criteria for evaluating the quality of both the research and the educational experience, and a review of the longer term consequences of the increasing involvement of undergraduates in research. On the basis of the results of the symposium, consider providing support for longer term projects to design and test new evaluation strategies that will guide the introduction of additional research-education initiatives into Directorate-funded research projects;

  6. Create a mechanism for members of the BIO Advisory Committee to interact with the chairs of departments of biological sciences to discuss (a) the integration of research and education; (b) curricular reform and the introduction of research opportunities for undergraduates into sponsored research projects; (c) the monitoring of the longer term impact of changing curricular and research; strategies; and (d) faculty development and rewards and the role of NSF in supporting a broader scholarly agenda that permits the achievement of the overreaching goals of NSF as defined in its strategic plan and that responds to the changing environment on college and university campuses;

  7. Offer a mid-career fellowship that would encourage faculty who have spent significant time in other science-related activities such as curricular innovation or who have had heavy responsibilities for undergraduate teaching to develop a new research agenda and become active investigators again.

Collaborative Strategies for Teaching and Research

  1. Provide more explicit funding for collaborative models, both intra-institutional and inter-institutional;

  2. Build a formal component into the review of research proposals that effectively evaluates any educational component. This might be accomplished by a jointly-funded panel that links the Directorate to the Division of EHR or by the creation of panels that include reviewers competent to evaluate projects that include collaborative components, community outreach, the involvement of diverse institutions, or interdisciplinary projects or teams;

  3. Encourage the development of new research models that incorporate learning goals for students, such as the Harvey Mudd senior projects that place undergraduates in community and industry settings to work on specific community-sponsored projects;

  4. Study the fiscal and time implications of collaborative work which require the coordination of diverse faculty and students, infrastructure to support collaborative work, and a significantly greater commitment of faculty time for program management and support. Introduce different criteria for budget review of collaborative proposals based on the experience of successful collaborative projects;

  5. Since smaller institutions often cannot afford to release faculty time for collaborative work, consider different funding strategies that will permit departments to release faculty for this purpose;

  6. Fund a long term study of the impact of significant involvement of students in research upon subsequent career choices of the students, on the quality of the research conducted, and on the attitudes of students toward basic research and toward science and mathematics in general.

Curricular Change

  1. Facilitate curricular change and public outreach by providing an opportunity for supplementary funding for research grants that lend themselves to these activities. Consider the REU supplement as a model;

  2. Provide workshops and professional support to facilitate the communication of research findings to members of the media, legislators, and local groups by providing specific training for faculty, graduate students and undergraduates in how to interpret the significance of their work to various constituents;

  3. Involve representatives of industry, government and the science-based professions in the review of proposals that involve community-based, collaborative, or educational components in order to reflect the scientific needs of policy-makers, practitioners, and employers;

  4. Offer a "transition package" to allow traditional researchers to participate in curricular reform in mid career and then successfully return to research. Provide summer project funds that permit faculty to participate in collaborative curricular development projects and collaborative research.

Prepared by: Judith Ramaley, March 1996

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