NSF’s uphill road to making prestigious early career award more diverse

Science | AAAS | 4/26/2017 | Staff
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Diversity wasn’t on the agenda in 1955 when NSF’s first director, Alan T. Waterman (front left), joined other scientific leaders to announce plans to build the country’s first satellite.

Increasing diversity within academic science has been a priority for France Córdova since she became director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014. Within a year she had launched an initiative, called INCLUDES, that challenges universities to do a better job of attracting women and minorities into the field. Now, Córdova has turned her attention inward in hopes of improving the dismal track record of NSF’s most prestigious award for young scientists.

Decades - NSF - Rules - Candidates - Years

For decades, NSF rules required candidates to be either 35 or younger, or within 7 years of having received their doctoral degree. Those ceilings made sense when the typical academic scientist was someone who “went straight through school with no debt and no family commitments, and who could focus on research in their late 20s and early 30s without distractions,” says Karan Watson, provost of Texas A&M University in College Station and chair of the Waterman selection committee.

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Watson - Caps - Anyone - Career - Family

But Watson says those caps penalize anyone whose career has been slowed or interrupted by family, finances, or physical challenges—a group likely to be disproportionately female and members of underrepresented minority groups. So Córdova pushed to raise the ceilings to age 40 and 10 years post-Ph.D.

“We hope it will level the playing field,” says Maria Zuber, chair of the National Science Board, NSF’s oversight body, which approved the change at its November 2016 meeting. (The change, announced last week, applies to the 2018 competition deadlines arriving this fall.) Zuber, an astrophysicist and vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (MIT), compared it to “stop-the-clock” policies at MIT and other...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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