NSF Fellowships

Hong Ma in Delbruck mah at CSHL.ORG
Wed Mar 23 14:58:04 EST 1994

I have a few comments about the NSF fellowships.  Although I was not an NSF
fellow myself, I know several personally.  I think the Plant Fellowships have
been very important in supporting young scientists at their early stages of 
scientific careers.  I believe the requirement of changing fields was design to
encourage people with diverse backgrounds to work to advance plant molecular
biology.  As far as I know, this rule was applied relatively liberally, so that
people working in one area of plant biology have got awards to work in a different area.  Of course, people working with animal and microbial systems have also
benefitted from this program.  Since plant biology is fast evolving, and 
expertise from other fields will continue to benefit plant molecular biology
as a field, the spirit of thie rule should be maintained.

About foreign experience, I think most people don't dispute the value of such
an experience.  And I can see the point from the critics of this rule.  I can
see that sometimes it is difficult to arrange a laboratory which is willing to
accept a candidate.  Not all collaborations and exchange can happen as one
wishes.  It is perhaps reasonable to encourage such experience, and do not 
make it an absolute requirements.   Maybe this is already the case, since 
I have never applied myself, I don't know whether this is required to the letter.

About the level of funding.  This should be left to the applicants.  There is
always limited amount of funding, and if individual awards are increased, then
there will be fewer awards.  If one has alternative means of support that is
more generous, one can always decline the offer.  The amount of monies, should
be in line with the avaerage amount for a post-doctoral fellowships, which I
think the NSF ones have been.  The institutional allowence is more complicated.
It varies with institutions.  It may be possible to specify a few uses of the
funds, have the institutions agree to them.  

In conclusion, the NSF fellowships have been a very good thing for plant bioployg(biology), and it should be continued in some form.  The details of the 
requirements are reasonable, although in some cases, exception to the rule may
have their merits.  As far as I know, there have been exceptions.  

I would like to add one another comment about the support from the lab where the
research is to be conducted.  It is important for the applicant to know whether
there will be support for the post-doctoral research.  However, it is always
(I mean NOT always) clear to a graduate student that such information is 
important, or how to discuss this with the advisor.  One often assumes that is
not a problem.  But these days, it is increasingly frequent that grants don't
get renewed.  So, at least in the NSF application kit, there should be information 
regarding this matter, and a requirement of grant supporting in the proposed
area would be reasonable.  However, availibility of grant support should not
be grounds to deny a fellowship.  The applicant should be advised that 
inquiring into lab support is wise and not impolite.  

Hong Ma
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Cold Spring Harbor,  NY  11724

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