DeCoursey Lecture Essay Contest (12/4/2010)

All full-time, undergraduate students currently enrolled at Trinity are invited to participate in the 2009-2010 DeCoursey Essay Contest. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners will receive awards of $500, $250, and $100, respectively.

The DeCoursey Lecture Series at Trinity University brings renowned scientists and humanists to Trinity University to give a lecture and interact with the campus community. The 2009-10 DeCoursey Lecturer is Dr. Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, and recipient of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. On February 1, 2010, Dr. Diamond will give the DeCoursey Lecture, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” in Laurie Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.

Each participant will submit an essay, written in response to or inspired by Diamond’s 2005 book, Collapse. One hard copy and an electronic WORD file of the essay are to be submitted to Dr. Diane Smith, Northrup Hall 410K, no later than 5 p.m., Friday, December 4, 2009.

The essay must be in 12 point Times New Roman Font and double spaced with 1” margins. The maximum word count is 3,000 words. The essays will be reviewed by Trinity faculty members who will narrow the pool to three essays, which will be forwarded to Dr. Diamond for his review. He will select the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, who will be announced at the beginning of the DeCoursey Lecture.

Questions? Contact Dr. Diane Smith, 999-7656 or dsmith@trinity.edu

Student Opportunity: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (12/31/2009)

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is soliciting applications for the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE).  The research opportunity is part of the Department of Energy’s Global Change Education Program.  Opportunities are available in Atmospheric Science and Biometeorology, Earth Systems Modeling, Atmospheric Boundary Layer Modeling, Atmospheric Radiation Measurement, Atmospheric Science, Terrestrial Carbon Studies and Ecosystem Research, and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.

The approximately ten-week SURE program generally begins in early June through mid-August. Fellows attend a one-week orientation and focus session that includes a series of lectures to provide a detailed overview of all research areas within the BER global change mission. Fellows also receive more focused information on the specific areas in which they expect to conduct research. Following the orientation and focus sessions, SURE fellows travel to their nine-week research assignments at national laboratories or universities (or other participating DOE funded contractors) to conduct BER-supported global change research. Each Fellow has a mentor who directs and monitors his/her summer research experience.

The deadline for the submission of applications is December 31, 2009; transcripts and Letters of Reference will be accepted via U.S. Mail, email or fax through 11 January 2010

BENEFITS:  $475 weekly, plus travel. Fellows are responsible for their housing arrangements and costs, food and transportation while at their research facility.

NSF and Political Science

The New York Times reported yesterday on Senator Tom Coburn’s opposition to continued National Science Foundation Funding for research in political Science.  The article points out that NSF was a significant funder of the 2009 Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom and that political scientists are called upon by policy makers in the U.S. and abroad for their expertise.

Update:  On October 14, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Coburn invoked the practice of waterboarding in describing the federal debt that would be accumulated because of NSF funding policies.  “I have five grandchildren… You know what—we are going to waterboard them. That is what we are going to do… We are going to flood them with debt.”

Book: “How Professors Think”

The book “How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment” by Harvard sociologist Michèle Lamont offers a peek inside panel review sessions of grant-making agencies in the humanities and social sciences, including:

One of the stated goals of the book is to “open the black box of peer review and make the process of evaluation more transparent, especially for younger academics looking in from the outside”  (p. 12).  However, the book is not written as a “how-to” manual.  It is an ethnography of the world of these closed evaluative sessions, drawing on sociological theories of knowledge and of group dynamics.  The conclusions are based on observations of panel discussions as well as interviews with many of the panelists.

Alex Golub, of the anthropology blog Savage Minds, thinks that chapter 5 should be required reading for new scholars, particularly those looking for funding for their dissertation research.  This chapter details how panelists arrive at definitions of quality or “excellence” and the extent to which these criteria vary by discipline.

There is nothing terribly new here.  For example, Lamont finds that panelists favor proposals that are clearly written and polished, and that use theory and methods appropriately.  These insights don’t add much to the conventional wisdom about proposal evaluation.

One area that I did find somewhat novel was Lamont’s discussion of panelists’ propensity to divine the “morality” of the proposer when reading submitted text.  “Panelists” she writes, “privilege determination and hard work, humility, authenticity, and audacity”(p. 195).  Of course, applicants have only limited control over how well their proposal and letters of support communicate their worthiness according to this criterion.

The section I found most useful is the discussion in chapter 6 of how reviewers view interdisciplinarity.  One of the panelists tells Lamont “There is a… way of doing things in which you use your knowledge of… the things outside your discipline, more as a rhetorical strategy than as something in which you really steep yourself” (p. 208).  Interdisciplinary proposals are risky.  Authors must demonstrate competencies in multiple areas while not seeming too ambitious.  The potential to impact multiple disciplines is nearly as important as the ability to use them.

Chapter 1 of the book is titled “Opening the Black Box of Peer Review”.  However, the book opens the black box only to reveal a multitude of differing attitudes and approaches that might be overwhelming to inexperienced proposal writers.  Lamont devises useful typologies to classify and analyze divergent approaches to significance, originality, diversity and other key ideas.  Faculty hoping to use the book to guide their preparation of proposals will need to dedicate considerable time and thought to figuring out how to apply this analysis to their own work.

Related Links

Lamont summarizes the book on Huffington Post (April 30, 2009)
Review from InsideHigherEd
(March 4, 2009)
NSF Interview with Michèle Lamont

Funding Opportunity: APS Sabbatical Fellowships (Deadline 10/15)

The American Philosophical Society offers stipends of stipend of $30,000 to $40,000 to mid-career faculty in the Humanities and Social Sciences who have been granted a sabbatical/research leave, but for whom financial support from the home institution is available for only part of the year.  This year marks the last time this fellowship will be offered by APS.