10 March
2009

I was part of the NSERC Computer Science Grant Selection Committee again this year. Like last year, we met in Ottawa for a week of grueling but interesting reviews of grant applications on computer science research from all over Canada. There are two CS committees (330 and 331) but they are in the process of being merged and this year I was part of the review committee for a diverse set of projects. In some cases, there were proposals from people whose work I was familiar with, but in most of those cases I was not part of the processes, and often not even allowed in the room, due to both the vagaries of the semi-random selection process combined with the stringent conflict-of-interest guidelines.

For several decades the core of the scientific granting system has been the Discovery Grant (formerly the Operating Grant) that is awarded in a per-investigator basis. Most front-line active science researchers in Canada have one of these, and the modest funding levels were determined by annually making small adjustments to the researchers previous grant. For active performers, this meant a gradually increasing funding level over the course of one's career. All in all this system worked extremely well and, despite limited amounts of funding, it provided stable effective funding for Canadian research and training. In the last decade or so, however, limitations on the amount of available research funding have prevented a few researchers from "ramping up" as fast the the organization would have liked. As a result, a drastic new process was instituted last year in several areas (despite concerns from many of the GSC members), and came this year to Computer Science.

As of this year, award levels have been largely decoupled from past funding and, in fact, the GSC members vote on scores for the grants without really knowing in advance either who will get funding, what scores assure funding, or what the final cutoff will be. That is, the GSC awards various scores, but the translation of these scores into actual dollars is only determined later. Apparently this new system produces largely acceptable results, but as a member of the GSC is was quite disconcerting to be evaluating a proposal without being able to explicitly vote that it should be funded. Also, although past performance is going to be directly coupled to funding, there is, in principle, the potential for less stability in the funding rates. This will certainly cause trepidation on the part of researchers (and could thus lead to very conservative behavior the year before a renewal is requested). All in all, I will be very interested in how well this works and what changes in funding result. I suspect some strong junior researchers may experience big increases in funding while some more senior researchers may get an unpleasant surprise.

NSERC GSC 331 members
NSERC GSC 331 members



By Gregory Dudek at | Read (3) or Leave a comment |    
Comments
Re: NSERC GSC (grant selection committee)

fascinating post. thank you.

i was in the 331 pool, and got transferred to another gsc, and this was quite unfair. i have a MUCH stronger research record now and I am closer to 331 than before. the whole debacle of being sent to a poorly funded gsc that can't assess my area resulted in a significant cut to my funding levels.

this is deeply frustrating, so much so I could leave the country. for example, i have seen a grant in my area that was 10 times larger in the uk.

is there any hope to appeal my transfer from 331?

Posted by: anonymous at April 17,2009 21:13
Re: NSERC GSC (grant selection committee)

I have been underfunded significantly as well by another committee. I have reviewed the profile of some committee members in that GSC and most of them are not really active researchers. How can they judge others when they do not have a good track record themselves?? I know other colleages with similar situations. This is very unfortunate for the future of research in Canada.

[ Your claim that "most of them are not really active researchers" is not accurate. The big issue is that NSERC itself is underfunded. -gd ]

Posted by: Mike at May 04,2009 19:55
Re: NSERC GSC (grant selection committee)

There is a recent public letter about troubles with the DG program in math/stats (Section 1508) posted here:
https://nmlc.math.ca/blogs/NSERC_Liaison_Committee/

For a summary of developlments, take a look at:
http://nghoussoub.com/2011/05/23/the-top-40-pieces-of-mind/
and
http://blog.math.toronto.edu/colliand/

Have things for CS improved since this post?

Posted by: James Colliander at May 26,2011 10:12
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NSERC reports peer review structure updates

NSERC posted a press release yesterday providing an update on the changes to the peer review structure for the Discovery Grants program. The new “Conference Review” system will come online for the 2010 competition (so we have one more year ...

Posted by: Harms and Company Consulting at March 16,2009 14:59
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