If you are a female PI on a proposal that requires text about "Broader Impacts" (to use the NSF term), which may include the extent to which the proposed research activities increase (broaden) the participation of underrepresented groups, and if you are a member of an underrepresented group in your field, do you explicitly mention in the proposal that you are a broader impact?
Or, if this fact is obvious, do you not mention it and focus instead only on other examples of how your research will fulfill the Broader Impacts criteria?
I get asked about this a lot.
Last year I wrote about how I got blasted by one proposal reviewer who was extremely disgusted by my inclusion, at the end of a list of all my proposed research's broader impacts, that the project would support the research of a female scientist. I don't even know why I mentioned such an obvious fact; I was mostly just being systematic about going through the possibilities.
The NSF program officer put a line through these hostile reviewer comments and said they were ignored, but the overall review, including that reviewer's ranking, was considered. It was the only negative review but it was enough to sink the proposal out of the fundable range.
That was an extreme example, but I have seen cases in which male PIs who write about how they will involve female students in their research get higher marks for broader impacts than female PIs who are broader impacts. Some program officers view as inappropriate the criticism that female PIs are using their gender as a grant-getting tactic, but if one or more reviewers knock their ranking down a notch (or two) in anger about female-PIs-as-broader-impacts, the overall consequences for a proposal can be dire.
Of course there is more to "broader impacts" than involvement of underrepresented groups. And female PIs have to do more than just be passive "broader impacts". As is the case for any PI on an NSF proposal, we need organized and serious plans that recognize the importance of educating and training students and postdocs, that enhance connections with industry or government agencies, that promote the communication of scientific results to the public, and/or that benefit society in any of a number of other important ways. In my research, a significant broader impact typically also involves my close collaborations with international colleagues and students.
I am on board with all that.
I am curious, however, as to whether female PIs (or other members of underrepresented groups) deliberately mention/don't mention themselves as a broader impact. Owing to the lack of women in my field, I seldom review proposals by other women, so I don't know what others typically do. I now leave it off my list of broader impacts in proposals because (1) it's obvious and (2) it might be a magnet for the hostile women-have-an-unfair-advantage reviewers.
1 year ago