better serve its intended purpose and have a wider impact, consistent with the original design of the program.
Recommendation 2: Clarify the goals of the VIGRE program and emphasize scientific quality in making awards.
As discussed in Chapter 2, the committee found considerable confusion over the goals of the VIGRE program, in part because they have shifted over time. Although initially it was not seen as a workforce program, in later requests for proposals (RFPs) it appears to have become one. In order to maximize the impact of the program, the committee believes that a clear, concise, consistent set of goals should be established.
While the goals of the VIGRE program have evolved over time, the following four seem to have been part of the program since its inception:
Vertical integration of mathematics education and research,
Greater breadth in the mathematical education of students,
Improved communication skills for graduates in the mathematical sciences, and
Increased exposure of students in mathematical sciences to disciplines that require mathematics.
The committee believes that these goals were responsive to the studies that led up to the creation of the VIGRE program and that they are still relevant for the mathematical sciences community. Whether these are the goals that capture the expectations of the National Science Foundation for its program at this point is not for the committee to decide. However, the committee believes that NSF should establish a clear set of goals for the program and emphasize them in future publications and RFP solicitations.
Finally, the committee could find no specific reference to the scientific quality of the proposed activity as a criterion for selecting VIGRE awardees. In the committee’s view, this serious omission should be corrected. The goals of the VIGRE program will best be met in the future if funds are granted to individuals and departments that set a high standard for quality in their disciplines.
Recommendation 3: While retaining the VIGRE program’s distinctive focus on projects that span the entire spectrum of educational levels from the undergraduate through the postdoctoral associate levels, allow greater flexibility in proposal design by encouraging VIGRE projects that address some, but not necessarily all, of the goals of the VIGRE program.
Although it is a worthy aspiration for VIGRE program RFPs to call simultaneously for vertical integration from undergraduate education to postdoctoral research, for department-wide change across all subdisciplines, and for simultaneous and significant change in a department’s undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs, this should not be seen by NSF as the only path to achieving the goals of the program or to realizing the recommendations of the national panels referred to in Chapter 2. The committee has seen many examples of benefits to education, breadth of experience, and culture from interactions across some vertical divisions, such as postdoctorals mentoring graduate students or graduate students mentoring undergraduates. The experience of the committee members is that there are benefits to connectivity; but no evidence has been presented that all of those elements of vertical integration need to be present in a department in order to see any benefits. NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) has moved recently in the direction of making its workforce programs, such as Research Training Groups and Mentoring Through Critical Transition Points, broader and more flexible. DMS