Issue Date: May 14, 2012
Remembering Research Corporation
The article on Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s 100th anniversary nicely captured the foundation’s history and accomplishments (C&EN, April 9, page 30). It omitted, however, two leadership activities that influenced early-career scientists no less than the grants themselves: the unannounced campus visits and the provision of detailed feedback on proposals. As both a grantee and, later, one of four regional directors (RDs) in the then-named Research Corporation (RC, which it will always fondly remain for me), I found these services extraordinarily useful.
The visits allowed grantees and RDs to get to know each other, potential applicants to understand the application process better, and RDs to learn the larger institutional and departmental framework. That visits were unannounced permitted RDs to get an unvarnished sense of the setting. Consequently, RDs could assist the review process by overlaying onto a grant application knowledge of the individual, the physical environment, and the importance of research to the department and institution, especially in predominantly undergraduate institutions. During my three-year period as RD, I visited probably hundreds of campuses, some for hours, some for only a few moments, depending on the circumstances at the time. Perhaps one of the most intriguing was an 8:30 AM visit to a liberal arts college, where the only person available was the president. A biologist, he and I had an extended conversation about science, his institution, and the role of research in that setting.
Clearly, more-traditional structured visits were useful in certain cases, but on balance the drop-ins were highly revealing, often as much for what was not happening as for what was. RDs wrote detailed reports on their visits that were distributed to all staff so that everyone could benefit from each other’s experience. For a variety of understandable but, in my judgment, regrettable reasons, these visits were later discontinued.
Proposal feedback was key to RC’s success. Because most proposals are declined, we offered a constructive “no,” devoting much time in writing and by telephone either guiding and encouraging unsuccessful applicants through the thickets of creating more-competitive resubmissions or directing them elsewhere. RC received more appreciation for these tutorials than for the grants themselves; early-career scientists also deemed them highly valuable in applying for support from larger funding agencies. I continued this approach after moving to another foundation. I trust RCSA is still doing this.
Thanks to RC for its devotion to individuals, and for its impact on my own career.
By Robert L. Lichter
Great Barrington, Mass
- Chemical & Engineering News
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