Where we’ve been: Attending the Fall NSF MPS Advisory Committee Meeting ?>

Where we’ve been: Attending the Fall NSF MPS Advisory Committee Meeting


The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences advisory committee met last month to go over division updates and to strategize on how to effectively partner with outside organizations.  During the first day, Jim Ulvestad, acting assistant director, provided the committee with directorate updates.  The second half of the meeting covered external partnerships, with representatives from the NSF’s other six research directorates providing feedback and lessons learned.

We learned that Anne Kinney, chief scientist at the W.M. Keck Observatory, will be taking over as the assistant director for the MPS Directorate. The division of chemistry will also see a change with Angela Wilson, the current director, ending her rotation and returning to her institution, Michigan State University.

In April, the Office of Management and Budget released a memorandum calling for federal agencies to develop a “comprehensive plan for reforming the federal government and reducing the federal civilian workforce.”   This memo required all federal agencies to develop reform and reduction plans in response to President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request.  Ulvstead, however, said he didn’t feel that the reduction would have a large impact on the NSF.  The majority of the agency’s budget goes towards extramural activities and both appropriations proposed in Congress neglecting to reduce the agencies operations budget which may indicate that a workforce reduction at the NSF may not occur.

View the MPS update slides here.

Wilson provided an overview of the division of chemistry’s investments, with emphasis on individual investigator programs.  Wilson also highlighted the division’s involvement in the NSF’s Big Ideas, ten long-term initiatives that will focus investments at the agency towards targeted research discoveries.  She said the division’s investments will focus primarily on The Quantum Leap and Understanding the Rules of Life, the latter of which is being led by the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

In response to Trump’s FY18 proposed cuts to the NSF, the division of chemistry set out a potential investment-reduction plan.  According to the President’s budget request, the division would see a 10.3 percent, or $25 million, decrease in funding.   As a result, the divisions’ individual investigator program will be reduced by 8 percent, or $18.5 million, and the CAREER awards funded through the division will decrease by $2.7 million.  In fact, all of the division’s core programs will see a reduction in their budgets, including the instrumentation centers supported by the division.

View slides from the division of chemistry presentation here.

The second day of the meeting focused on the directorate’s increased efforts to foster external partnerships.  MPS officials said they are looking to forge better relationships with industry, scientific societies and philanthropic organizations to connect graduate students to potential careers and better educate the community on new initiatives at the agency.   Representatives from other directorates presented on lessons learned and provided advice for how MPS can move forward.  James Olds, assistant director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, highlighted that, while BIO doesn’t focus on industry partnerships, it does have close relationships with other federal agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, and international analogs to the NSF. One of the major hurdles that MPS will have to overcome, Olds said, is ensuring that the NSF brand and role isn’t lost when forging partnerships with agencies and organizations that are more easily recognized by the general public.

Last spring, members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee met with representatives from both BIO and MPS to discuss issues of importance to ASBMB members and to begin to foster a better relationship with the NSF.  Moving forward, the PAAC hopes to increase its advocacy for the NSF and better support the efforts of the research agency.

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