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NSF Extends Program Funding Interdisciplinary Research of Mathematical Scientists

1 December 2014 314 views No Comment
Steve Pierson, ASA Director of Science Policy
Advice for Those Submitting Proposals
ASA staff members have been meeting with NSF officials from across the directorates regularly to make the case for how statistics can make science better and gain advice to pass along to the statistics community. NSF officials regularly encourage statisticians to submit more proposals. We also hear potential applicants should speak with a program officer before submitting a proposal to be sure the proposal is a good fit for a particular program and, when submitting a proposal, applicants should suggest reviewers for it. Finally, to really understand the NSF process and its priorities, statisticians should consider being a program officer or, at the minimum, serving on a panel reviewing a proposal.

When seeking potential reviewers for the Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate, Carolyn Cuff—professor of mathematics at Westminster College—made the following comments:

    Looking for a rewarding challenge over a short period of time? Consider reviewing NSF proposals. It’s been an interesting experience that I recommend. Reviewing proposals offers opportunities to develop professionally, to move the field forward, and to give back to the larger scientific community. Each review consists of reading descriptions of approximately 10 projects (usually 15 pages each), pursuing supporting documents, discussing each project with colleagues, and writing recommendations to the NSF staff and principal investigator (PI).

    Reading through the range of proposals suggests ways to improve your own grant requests. NSF staff create a diverse discussion group for each review, called a panel. The diversity of the panel reflects the particular NSF division. For example, for the Division of Undergraduate Education, panels are composed of faculty from major universities, regional comprehensive institutions, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges. The panel discussions have given me a rare opportunity to discuss projects across this wide spectrum of institutions, as well as across mathematical disciplines.

    Enjoying playing in everyone’s backyard can be taken one step further. As a reviewer, I’ve seen the backyard blueprints, commented on construction, and offered suggestions for improvement. And then I got to go home, watch the new backyards develop, and know I had a small—but statistically significant—part in some of them.

    Statisticians are needed to review and potentially, through that review process, improve project study and evaluation designs. A good project may become a great project with a better design. As a reviewer, you have the chance to enhance the design. NSF panels need your expertise. To be considered as a reviewer, visit the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education and click on the link for Reviewer Recruitment Form.

The National Science Foundation’s Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) has extended its Mathematical Science Innovation Incubator (MSII) Program through fiscal year 2015 (FY15), which started September 1. Launched in FY14, the program is meant to support the interdisciplinary work of mathematical scientists across the NSF directorates.

Mathematical scientists who submit a proposal to a National Science Foundation (NSF) division other than DMS are asked to send an email to DMScofunding@nsf.gov with the NSF proposal ID and names of the mathematical scientists on the proposal. Assuming certain criteria are met (including the area being new for mathematical scientists), DMS will contact the other division about potentially co-reviewing and co-funding the proposal.

The MSII program announcement best summarizes the rationale for the program:

The ideas, tools, and language of mathematics and statistics play important roles in every area of science and engineering research supported by the National Science Foundation, and it is widely recognized that interactions between the mathematical sciences and other fields catalyze developments in both. The Division of Mathematical Sciences wishes to foster the participation of more mathematical scientists, from every area of mathematics and statistics, in such important interdisciplinary work. In support of this goal, the MSII activity provides funding to catalyze the involvement of mathematical scientists in research areas where the mathematical sciences are not yet playing large roles.

For FY15, interdisciplinary research in national high-priority scientific research is likely to be given preference. The program announcement lists 20 solicitations covering the topics of advanced manufacturing, clean energy, global climate change, informed policymaking and management, information technology (which includes Big Data), and biology and neuroscience.

MSII funding amounted to $3.8 million for 22 awards in FY14. The Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate Office of Multidisciplinary Activity provided $1 million of this funding. They are hoping to increase this amount in FY15 and encourage greater community involvement.

Two statisticians received DMS funding through MSII in FY14. Bret Larget of the University of Wisconsin was funded for his proposal, “Improved Bayesian Phylogenetic Inference Based on Approximate Conditional Independence,” to the Division of Environmental Biology in the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Liam Paninski was funded for his proposal, “Naturalistic Computation and Signaling by Neural Populations in the Primate Retina,” to the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

There are two statistics program officers for MSII: Gabor Szekely and Xiaoming Huo. The ASA encourages the statistical community to participate in MSII, since it is an ideal way to have the interdisciplinary work of statisticians both funded and recognized.

For the perspective of a mathematician on how a DMS panel is run, read “Applying for an NSF Grant.”

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