By Ryan Garcia
Texas A&M University Relations
The National Science Foundation (NSF) will award more than $5 billion this year for outstanding research but the competition will be as fierce as ever, noted Dennis E. Wenger, director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Infrastructure Systems Management and Hazard Response Program, who spoke October 27 at Texas A&M University's College of Architecture.
Wenger, who keynoted the college's fifth annual faculty research symposium, “Research on the Built and Virtual Environments: Global Symposia Presentations 2003,” noted that on average only 17 percent of all proposals to the NSF are awarded grants. Analyzing this highly selective process, Wenger recommended to potential submitters the best ways to go about securing funding for their research, including capitalizing on what's “hot” — namely interdisciplinary research.
“Currently, NSF has the following priority areas: biocomplexity in the environment, information technology research, nanoscale science and engineering, mathematical sciences, human and social dynamics and workforce for the 21st Century. All of these are multidisciplinary in nature,” said Wenger, who is also the founding director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M and a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M's College of Architecture.
Among Wenger's suggestions for improving chances for funding were volunteering to serve on NSF review panels, making contact with individuals who are directing the specific research programs that pertain to a proposal, recognizing that funding is more likely to be granted towards the end of NSF's fiscal year, making sure proposals are clearly written and understandable to researchers who may not be in the same field, and sending proposals to colleagues prior to submission.
In addition to his recommendations, Wenger assured faculty that the decisions affecting their proposals would not be made by politicians.
“NSF is possibly the least political federal agency in the government,” Wenger said. “What goes on at NSF is dictated by research communities and scholars - not by politicians, members of Congress or administration officials.”
“NSF believes that no one is better prepared to determine the future direction of basic research in a field than the research community that is doing it,” Wenger said. “Furthermore, no one is as competent to evaluate the quality of that research than the peers in the field.”
Wenger said all proposals are evaluated against only their intellectual
merit and their broader impacts. Information not eligible for
discussion includes the home institution of the investigator,
where the investigator earned his degree, the political affiliation
of the investigator's congressional representative and the budget.
All NSF activities, he explained, are classified as belonging in one of three categories: people, ideas or tools.
People, he said, refers to projects that invest in a diverse, internationally competitive workforce, such as education and training programs and investments in students. Ideas are the heart of NSF and the essence of a mandate to push discovery across traditional frontiers. Tools, Wenger noted, are the research and educational tools produced by NSF-sponsored projects.
“About half of all the available funds are spent on ideas, 25 percent on tools and about 21 percent on people,” he said. “Of every $100 that is given by Congress to NSF, $95 is dispensed to researchers across the country, and administration costs are actually less than five percent.”
The daylong research showcase features a series of faculty presentations previously delivered at scholarly venues around the world. This year's symposium featured 40 presentations on research initiatives in areas such as energy and conservation, construction technology, architectural theory, past, present and future practices, history and historical preservation, health design and issues, urban planning, hazards and planning, visualization and the arts, computers and design, sustainability, and education.