Thursday, June 23, 2011

Overview of the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency with an annual budget of nearly $7 billion (2010), funds roughly 20% of federally supported basic research carried out at U.S. colleges and universities.

A Director, Deputy Director, and members of the National Science Board (NSB), all of whom are appointed by the U.S. President, oversee the agency. The NSF is organized much like an academic institution. There are seven directorates (analogous to colleges within a university), several divisions (think departments) within each directorate, and many programs within each division.
This schematic illustrates the organization of the NSF:
The Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP) in the Directorate for Engineering exemplifies the breadth of NSF funding initiatives. Within IPP, there are several programs targeting industry members and investors, K-12 educators, and not-for-profits. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program provides seed money for high-risk, high-reward ventures, while the Industry University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) develop long-term partnerships among industry, academe, and government. Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) promote innovation by interfacing academia, state and local government, nonprofit, and private sector firms to work collaboratively on a research topic. At the NSF, funding opportunities exist for scientists at all career stages, in a wide variety of job sectors.

Currently, there are more than 2,000 employees working at the NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Slightly more than half are permanent employees, while roughly 200 scientists from research institutions are on temporary duty (e.g. professors on sabbatical) and 450 are contract workers.

The NSF hires scientists, engineers, and educators on rotational assignment from academia and industry to strengthen the agency’s ties with the research community. The Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator (VSEE) Program and the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Program are the primary programs through which rotator positions are established. These assignments are 1–4 years in duration, affording science professionals an opportunity to review and evaluate grants and initiate new funding programs, among other things.

Obtaining a permanent senior position at the NSF (e.g. Program Director) typically requires six or more years of professional experience after having completed a PhD. There are other paths that lead to employment at the NSF, namely internships and fellowships, such as the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program or the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships. More to come on policy fellowships… stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Diversifying Academia and Beyond: Exploring Careers in Science Policy

This winter, BioAIMS officers Anjali Shastri and Cecilia Sedano, in collaboration with the Genetics Diversity Office, organized a Career Development Trip to Washington, DC: “Diversifying Academia and Beyond,” the first of its kind at the Stanford School of Medicine. Six Biosciences PhD students (myself included) traveled to Washington, DC to meet with scientists working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), State Department, and Congressional Offices.
Anjali Shastri shares insights from our trip to Washington, DC:

Anjali Shastri is a third-year Immunology PhD student.
In a nutshell, it was amazing! We had the chance to visit a host of agencies, as well as government offices across Washington, DC. We met a diverse group of people, from a variety of science backgrounds, all of whom are making distinct contributions to science and society.

One of the most significant things we discovered was the plethora of ways in which science-related issues are being addressed and supported in our government, and how that goes about happening. There is of course the direct funding for our PIs’ grants, from agencies like the NSF and NIH, but these agencies do much more, including actively devising and implementing programs aimed at promoting science education at all levels, from elementary school through grad school, as well as supporting innovation in science, such as through the NSF’s ‘Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships,’ which supports students, postdocs, and PIs who have novel ideas and want to collaborate with industry to implement them. The AAAS, which focuses largely on putting out science publications (like Science), also participates in revamping the science curriculums in schools, studies the interface between science, technology and human rights, and helps institutions promote ‘research competitiveness.’ The State Department is using science for Diplomacy, working on initiatives to promote the education of women in the US and internationally in STEM fields like the Biosciences. And ultimately it is Congress that holds the purse-strings, and so determines how much of this can actually get done.  

There are many more programs and initiatives like the ones I described, and many ways that Bioscience PhDs can contribute, both from within academia, as grad students, postdocs, and PIs, as well as through pursuing careers at these institutions. I think I can speak for everyone who went on the trip in saying that it was an eye-opening experience, and we are really looking forward to sharing all that we’ve learned with BioAIMS, SBSA, and the Biosciences community.

The six of us who traveled to Washington, DC will participate in a panel discussion to share what we have learned from our experience in DC. If you'd like to know more about careers in science policy for PhDs, you won't want to miss this!
WHEN: Thursday, June 23rd at 5:30PM

WHERE: Alway M-114

WHAT: Pizza and a Panel Discussion

WHY: A unique opportunity to learn about career paths for science PhDs and how to pursue them... and free food!!

RSVP here.

“Diversifying Academia and Beyond” received generous funding from the Genetics Diversity Office and the Stanford School of Medicine.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Explore Courses Outside Your Field of Study

As spring quarter is just around the quarter, consider taking an elective course. The Explore Courses feature of the Stanford Bulletin allows one to browse courses by name, instructor, title, or keyword. If you’re not sure where to begin, allow me to suggest some starting points.

The School of Medicine offers a category of courses called “Medicine Interdisciplinary,” or INDE. Course titles include “Medical Mandarin,” “Human Health and Disease,” "Career Transition Planning,” and “Managing Difficult Conversations.” These courses are excellent for professional development.

The Center for Teaching and Learning offers several courses aimed to improve oral communication and teaching skills. Find a complete list of these courses entering the code “CTL” in the Explore Courses search field.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( offers hands-on lab courses that expose students to the creative process of design. Enter “design institute” to find a complete listing of courses on Explore Courses.

The Vice Provost for Graduate Education (VPGE) has compiled a list of “Outward Facing Classes” categorized by Home School/Program.

If you’re interested in what other Stanford students thought of a particular course, visit Courserank. Additionally, Stanford medical students have compiled a list of courses and reviews on Medipedia (Life Inside → Pre-Clinical Years → Interesting Electives). Both require SUNetID and password for access.

Feel free to comment or email with course recommendations!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Science Outreach Opportunities

If you’re interested in serving the local community through teaching, tutoring, and/or mentoring, this post is for you. The Office of Science Outreach (OSO) provides a wealth of information on outreach programs offered through Stanford. For your convenience, I’ve grouped several excellent programs into three categories: teaching, tutoring, and mentoring.

Stanford Educational Studies Program: SPLASH!
The Science Bus
49ers Academy Teaching Team
Stanford at the Tech

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring (EPATT)
Closing the Gap

Haas Science In Service
Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance (SUMMA)
Stanford Medical Youth Science Program (SMYSP)
BioMASS Mentoring Program

This is by no means a comprehensive list. On the OSO website, you can search for outreach programs by audience or discipline. Go ahead, start your search now!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

For the Entrepreneur Enthusiasts

Nestled in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Stanford University fully participates in the entrepreneurial spirit. A great place to start is the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP). My favorite aspect of STVP is the Entrepreneurship Corner, or eCorner. You will find more than a thousand free videos and podcasts* featuring local and international business leaders, who impart their wisdom and advice on all things entrepreneurial.

If online videos and podcasts aren’t your media of choice, check out the live version. The Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar (MS&E 472) is a weekly seminar series offered year-round.

*eCorner videos and podcasts are also available on iTunes U.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On the NSF and Broader Impacts

As a follow up to the Fellowships 101 post, I’d like to share some advice specifically pertaining to the NSF. Just to be clear, I’m referring to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Mainly, I want to emphasize the importance of the “Broader Impacts” criterion.

I have encountered a number of extremely intelligent graduate students who applied, but did not receive an NSF award (or at least not on the first time around). In every case, the reviewers praised the Intellectual Merit aspects of the application, but cited a failure to fulfill the Broader Impacts criterion.

If you’d like to win an NSF fellowship, do yourself a favor: demonstrate in every way possible how and why you have and will continue to fulfill the Broader Impacts criterion.

To that end, here are some suggestions:

1) Read and study this list of Broader Impact Representative Activities

2) Think of one or two ways you’ve exemplified each item listed under the Broader Impacts criterion (e.g. encourage diversity, broaden opportunities, and enable participation of all citizens in science/research, benefit society, etc.). Include abundant examples, especially in your previous research and personal statements.

3) In your previous research statement, emphasize the significance of your research, as well as how it benefits society. Where applicable, be sure to mention that your work has been published and/or presented to an audience.

4) Investigate volunteer/tutoring/teaching/mentoring opportunities within and around the Stanford community*. Consider joining and/or participating in an organization or activity. If you don’t have time, mention an organization or two with which you’d like to become involved in the near future. Reviewers appreciate a continued interest in outreach and community service.

*Check back for upcoming posts on science outreach opportunities.

One final comment. Make a case for why you are perfectly positioned to carry out your proposed plan of research. In other words, be very clear that you have the appropriate background training, access to the best mentors and laboratory equipment, and that you are passionate about your work. Leave the reviewers thinking "It would be a mistake NOT to fund this candidate."

Best of luck writing about what an amazing, dedicated, well-rounded scientist you are!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Graduate Research Fellowships 101

Applying for fellowships is an integral part of the graduate experience. Some (but not all) Stanford Bioscience PhD programs require their first- and second-year students to apply for outside sources of funding. Whether it’s required or not, there are many good reasons to apply for research fellowships.

Winning a nationally competitive fellowship is a highly prestigious accomplishment. This recognition will follow you for the rest of your scientific career. Having your own research money can afford more flexibility in terms of choosing a graduate program, research lab and/or project. Fellowships often provide funds for lab supplies, conference fees and travel expenses. As tedious as it may seem, the application process is a good exercise in grant writing, an extremely important skill to hone as a scientist. As long as you meet all of the applicant criteria, there’s really no reason not to apply for a fellowship.

Nationally competitive fellowships awarded most frequently to Stanford Biosciences graduate students are the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP, or simply NSF) and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG). Having said that, there are countless research fellowships from which to choose. At the end of this post you will find links to fellowship databases as well as a link to a list of fellowships available to minority students.

Here is some general advice relevant to the fellowship application process:

Getting organized
-  Research fellowships, decide to which ones you’ll apply
-  Make note of deadlines
-  Generate a timeline by which materials must be submitted
-  Become an expert on the fellowship philosophies and agendas (e.g. Broader Impacts carries a lot of weight in the NSF fellowship application)
-  Develop an organization system for you applications (i.e. directories/subdirectories on your computer)
-  Don’t procrastinate!

Requesting letters of recommendation
-  Make sure you understand the recommendation letter criteria of the fellowship(s) to which you apply (e.g. how many are required?)
-  If possible, ask for recommendation letters from the same people who wrote letters on your behalf for graduate school applications
-  If you feel your current Stanford rotation advisor knows you well enough to write a recommendation letter for you, don’t hesitate to ask
-  Be very clear in communicating what’s required of recommendation letter writers for any given fellowship (how/where/when to submit letters, required forms, etc.)
-  Send a current CV/resumé to those who agree to write letters for you
-  Send polite email reminders to your letter writers one or two weeks before the submission deadline

Obtaining input from peers and colleagues
-  Read and learn from award-winning fellowship applications
-  Have your parents, friends, classmates, etc. (as many people as possible!) read your personal essays and statements
-  For more technical research proposals, have classmates, older grad students, postdocs, and/or advisors read your proposal(s)
-  Ask for advice from anybody who has been awarded a research fellowship*

*Philip Guo is a Computer Science PhD student at Stanford who has written an informative article titled Advice for applying for graduate science fellowships: NSF, NDSEG, Hertz. If your goal is to win a research fellowship, I HIGHLY recommend reading this!!!

As mentioned previously, BioAIMS is hosting a ‘How to write an NSF’ workshop next week. Students who have been awarded the NSF fellowship will share their advice and provide NSF applications of past award recipients. If that’s not enough to entice you, there will be free lunch!

Fellowship Databases

Stanford offers a number of gradate fellowships. These will be the topic of a future post. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.