NSF Director Discusses Outlook for NSF in the New Year

Subra Suresh, NSF’s new Director, met with numerous scientific society and university representatives on January 18, 2011, to share his thoughts on NSF’s direction and to answer questions. A primary concern of those in attendance pertained to funding for science.

Suresh was asked about the implications for NSF-funded research if funding levels were dropped to 2008 levels. He pointed out that there was an appreciation for NSF “on both sides of the aisle,” but that funding cuts were still “very much a concern.” Suresh noted that cuts of this magnitude would be “devastating,” but he was hopeful that the excitement in prior years about doubling NSF’s budget would help sustain adequate funding levels.

FABBS Executive Director, Paula Skedsvold, asked specifically about proposed cuts to SBE funding by some Members of Congress. Suresh stated that NSF needed to “continue to articulate why [SBE research] is important for NSF,” highlighting the importance of psychological research in “reverse-engineering the human brain” and of the SBE role in large-scale databases and the development of metrics.

Suresh described the need for a long-term view of NSF research, noting that NSF cannot fund “only those things that give us tangible output in three years.” Basic research, he said, is important for the nation’s economy and our national security.  The NSF Director described his interest in broadening the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, and in ensuring that there is “healthy funding for young investigators.” He stated that there would be a “huge impact on the future of scientific output of the country” if young people have difficulty getting funded. Likewise, scientific progress would be affected if young women, who comprised 72% of the valedictorians in the country in 2009 and represent an increasing number of PhD’s in science and engineering, leave the workforce.

Suresh described the need for the Education and Human Resources Directorate to “be fully integrated into the educational activities of other Directorates,” noting that education and research should not be divorced. He also spoke of the importance of “breaking down silos” or disciplinary barriers and integrating the sciences, including the social sciences, pointing out that the “intellectual issues are not that different.” Regarding FY 2011 funding, Suresh said that there had been no elimination of programs yet, but that they are “proceeding cautiously” until March 4, 2011, when the current Continuing Resolution expires and he knows what the funding level for the remainder of the fiscal year will be. Meanwhile, the President’s budget for FY 2012 will not be released for a couple of weeks, so Suresh could offer no insights into the Administration’s plans for NSF in FY 2012.