What was rumored in March was made official earlier today. President Obama announced that he will nominate Subra Suresh, dean of the MIT Engineering Department to become the next National Science Foundation Director (H/T ScienceInsider).
The resignation of former Director Arden Bement was effective Tuesday, but known since February. Even without the announcement, Dr. Bement’s term was due to expire this year, so I’m a bit disappointed that the administration was not out in front of this departure. They did pretty well in naming people for posts right around the time they took office, but they have fallen off noticeably since then. Of course, the resistance of Congress to doing its job and voting on confirmations doesn’t help, but there’s plenty of blame to go around here. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Suresh will get to start work before Congress breaks for the mid-term elections.
In it’s May 27 issue, Nature has two pieces on the broader impacts criterion mandated by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Frequent readers should remember that I’m a fan of encouraging research that acknowledges, if not embraces, broader impacts, so I’m happy to see the editorial and news article covering the criterion and encouraging further development of a support infrastructure for facilitating the connections between research and broader impacts.
Do read the pieces, because I think the point about developing the infrastructure to support research on broader impacts and the implementation of those broader impacts is a necessary step. With a support system in place, researchers may be more inclined to take the criterion seriously. With infrastructure better able to measure impacts, science advocates may have better data from which to advance their causes. While I don’t think broader impacts should be exclusively the responsibility of institutions, building such a capacity in universities (and in funding agencies – an NSF Broader Impacts Office could be of great use) helps their outreach and service missions, and may provide additional career opportunities for all those Ph.D graduates that won’t get tenure-track jobs.
While there was some mention of efforts in the U.K. and the European Commission to do similar work in making more explicit the connections between scientific research and broader impacts, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more effort to make a stronger connection of lessons learned both for other countries and for the U.S. This is particularly true if new U.K. Science and Universities Minister Willets goes through with a campaign promise to give the Research Excellence Framework a more thorough review.