Something had to give, they concluded, and the ax fell on DDIGs.
“In a word, it’s a workload issue,” says Paula Mabee, head of DEB.
At the same time, they acknowledge that the additional work stems in part from insufficient resources.
“I’ve had nine students who have had them,” says Hoekstra, who boasts that at one point her lab enjoyed a “100% success rate” in nabbing the awards. As a graduate student, she recalls, she explored the evolution of sex chromosomes in mammals while her adviser worked with birds.
Although both were doing population genetics, she says, “My project was completely independent of his work.” A DDIG gives students the freedom to chart their own scientific path, says Hoekstra, who studies the genetic basis of adaptation in wild mice and other vertebrates, “and that’s a big part of what makes doing science so much fun, right?
“We think it’s a very sound investment,” says Thomas Baerwald, a senior science adviser within SBE’s division of behavioral and cognitive sciences.
“It has allowed us to support high-quality work, and we see top-notch papers appearing soon after the students complete their dissertation.” Baerwald says that he’s made grants to “four generations” of scientists in the 29 years he’s worked at NSF, which he regards as testament to their lasting value.The small awards help support work, typically field studies or large-scale data analyses, by students pursuing graduate degrees.The agency said managing the program had become too labor intensive and was making it harder for program officers to do other parts of their job.“The number of proposals in DEB has doubled over the last 10 years, and there’s been no growth in staffing for more than 20 years,” Mabee notes.“We’ve done all the streamlining we can do without compromising the quality of merit review.” NSF’s abrupt announcement has left the ecological community scrambling to find a way to address the workload problem without sacrificing the dissertation grants.His 2003 DDIG laid the groundwork for research that, 8 years later, helped him win NSF’s top award for young scientists, and he now encourages his students to apply.“They may be small amounts of money, but they can have an extraordinary impact on someone’s career.” In a letter yesterday to directorate officials, the 10,000-member Ecological Society of America, based in Washington, D.Biology’s decision to pull out of the long-running program—the funding mechanism remains in place for students in the social and behavioral sciences—has raised a hue and cry throughout the ecological community.“This program generates one of the greater returns on investment of anything NSF does,” says Casey Dunn, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University.In the last 2 years DEB has handed out nearly the same number of DDIGs as full awards, roughly 130 a year in each category.The time needed to manage the DDIGs has impinged on the other things program officers are expected to do, say NSF senior managers, including staying abreast of developments in their field, developing new research initiatives, and remaining active scientists.