Example of a successful NSF GRFP application

The other day, I posted a tweet offering to share my old National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program application materials with anyone who was planning to apply this year. Dozens of people have messaged me asking for a copy, and it has become clear to me that there is huge demand for examples of successful fellowship applications.

In the hope of making science just a little bit more open and accessible (and to avoid having to reply to everyone individually), I’ve decided to post my application materials online. They’re available on Figshare for anyone who is interested in reading them. I’ve also added them to the Open Grants project, which acts as a central repository for publicly shared grant and fellowship applications.

I’ve also written up a couple of notes about the application process.

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The Science of Students Swapping Sections

The Problem

This semester, I am responsible for leading discussion sections for an undergraduate cognitive neuroscience course. These sections consist of ~30-40 students at a time, and are in addition to two weekly faculty lectures attended by the entire class. Smaller groups give students a chance to interact with the course material more directly than is possible during the lectures, which are given to an audience of well over 100 people.

As a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI), one of my other responsibilities is coordinating with students who want or need to change which of the six discussion sections they attend (3 on Tuesday, 3 on Thursday). Requests to change section are often due to time conflicts with other classes. As instructors, we don’t care which students end up in each section, just that the class numbers are balanced and do not exceed the pre-set class size.

While we initially asked the students to work out swaps amongst themselves, it quickly became apparent that this would fail to resolve most of the conflicts. In a perfect world, every student seeking to switch out of one section and into another would be matched with another student seeking so make the opposite switch, resulting in everyone getting their desired discussion section. In this course, that kind of bi-directional swap was only possible for one pair of students, leaving 8 people stuck in discussion sections that don’t work for them.

The table below contains all requested discussion section changes. The only possible pairwise swap is between students H and I.

Being a nice guy, I started thinking about the swap requests for the remaining students to see if I could figure out a multi-person swap solution. After a few minutes, I realized that this was actually quite an interesting problem, and one that I’m sure others have tried to solve before. So I went online and did some research.

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Crossing into the US on your way to (or from) OHBM 2017? Know your rights.

I seem to be developing a habit of only writing blog posts related to conferences I travel to. It’s not that I don’t have other things I want to write about; I’ve got a whole list of ideas. It’s more that it can feel hard to justify time spent writing for enjoyment when I have so many other things that need to get done. On the other hand, it’s good to be in the habit of writing at least a little bit every day… but I digress.

Less than a week after taking office in January, President Trump (ugh, I want to vomit just typing that) signed his infamous (and immoral, and illegal) “Muslim ban”. Although implementation of the ban is largely on hold for now thanks to the courts (and the tireless work of lawyers and activists), that hasn’t stopped border agents from making life difficult for people trying to enter the country.

As an organization which rightfully values diversity and inclusivity, OHBM quickly denounced the ban, and the council voted unanimously to remove US cities from consideration as hosts for the 2020 annual meeting.

Although the meeting is in Canada this year, I suspect some non-trivial number of international attendees will end up transiting through the US on their way to or from Vancouver. Even those of us who are US citizens or permanent residents are now subject to increased scrutiny at the border, especially when it comes to digital privacy.

In light of these facts, I’ve gathered together a few resources on what your rights are when attempting to enter the United States:

Stay strong, my friends, and I hope to see you in Vancouver.

The Decline of Frontiers?

Frontiers InDorothy Bishop has a good blog post discussing her lack of faith in the quality of Frontiers journals. I’ve heard other people express similar views recently, and I’m starting to share their concerns. While there are certainly still solid articles published in Frontiers journals, there are often an equal number of studies whose scientific rigor is questionable (and sometimes even obviously lacking). I am a big fan of Open Access publishing, especially journals such as PLOS ONE which emphasize quality science over subjective novelty. Unfortunately, Frontiers seems to have gone wrong somewhere when it comes to striking a balance between inclusiveness and quality control. Bishop suggests this may be due to financial incentives to publish articles that would otherwise be rejected, and I wonder if it may also be due in part to the “Community-run” journal model of Frontiers which essentially creates multiple independently-run journals under the Frontiers name, potentially each with their own particular standards and policies depending on who the editors are. Hopefully the leadership and Frontiers will start to recognize these issues and act quickly to resolve them, because it would be a shame to see such a big supporter of open science be relegated to the scientific dust bin.