It's interesting how the policies of funding agencies can have a pervasive effect on our thought processes. I am thinking of a specific example: broader impacts.
When BIs were first introduced as a required component of proposals, they were commonly an afterthought or just a statement of what PIs were already doing (advising grad students). With time, the BI component of some proposals that I reviewed became more interesting and innovative; some involved more outreach, e.g. interaction with K-12 teachers or the public, and some demonstrated a sincere commitment to increasing diversity of various sorts. Not most, or even many, but some did.
Perhaps there have been studies of the impact, if any, of the broader impacts proposal requirement on outreach, education, and so on. The effects might be hard to measure, but it would nevertheless be interesting to know if there has been any observable change in academic culture.
The BI requirement has had one observable effect on me, as demonstrated by the anecdote that motivated this post.
As I've written about before, I (and many of you) often receive invitations from random people to do random things that, in some cases, I can't imagine wanting to do, and, in others, I can't imagine having the time to do. Now and then something worthwhile comes along, but these are rare.
But: I recently got an e-mail with a request for me to do unspecified things involving communicating about some aspects of my research that might somehow inspire a contemporary dance project and/or a project involving children, literature, and culture by someone I don't know. I was about to delete the e-mail, having absolutely no idea what this person was asking me to do, but then I paused and thought "Hmm... broader impacts... might this be considered an interesting and innovative type of outreach?"
Is that thought totally corrupt or creative?
9 months ago