Young scientists concerned about leaked plans of Dutch Research Council about talent grants
Research funder the Dutch Research Council (NOW) wants to drastically change its talent program, according to a leaked note. Some young scientists are greatly concerned. Fiddling with the Veni, Vidi and Vici grants might endanger the future of Dutch science, they fear.
The talent program with the popular science grants has existed since 2008 and according to NWO it’s time for reflection. The organisation has written a report and is now gauging the opinion of researchers, directors, and the ministry.
When gauging so many people, notes tend to leak. That happened last Tuesday on the news website ScienceGuide, where a group of 95 young scientist, mostly from the medical field, reacted with concern.
Fiddling with the talent program will endanger the future of Dutch science was their message. According to them, the good position Dutch science is in is partly because of the Veni, Vidi and Vici grants.
In its report, NWO names the problems with the current system. The grants have become too important for the career of researchers, which has created a rush on the grants.
‘The huge growth of the number of potential applicants is no longer in proportion to the available funding options within the NWO talent program, which have remained the same for years,’ the note says. ‘Because of this, the system to assign competing research funding has become increasingly more expensive and time consuming.’
The grants should once again become less important for a researcher’s career, NWO thinks. The research institutes should be responsible for a researcher’s career, not NWO. Furthermore, there are also European grants, that overlap with the Dutch talent program.
If NWO continues on the course they’ve set out, researchers will have to apply for European grants in the middle of their career, while at NWO there will be more room for PHD students with a temporary contract.
Acknowledging and appreciating
This is part of another discussion. How should researchers be assessed? You should ‘acknowledge and appreciate’ more talents than just research talent, is the current trend in Dutch science. Education, leadership, and outreach are also important. NWO is also committed to the accompanying change in culture.
The advantage would be that researchers will become less dependent on research grants. But it will only have a chance to succeed if universities and other research institutes have enough many, which means extra investments by the government.
Because of ‘acknowledging and appreciating’, NWO puts less emphasis on ‘output’ such as publications in prestigious magazines. They prefer to assess researchers based on a ‘narrative resume’. This is the wrong direction, according to the 96 researchers, who speak of a ‘essay contest’. NWO should focus on research, they think, and not on other talents. ‘And yes, there are good researchers and lesser researchers. And yes, this is partly reflected in internationally accepted and measurable output indicators.’
NOW has already published the note online, because ScienceGuide apparently did not summarise it correctly. The research funder also emphasises that no decisions have been taken yet. They want to know what others think of, for example, researcher’s resumes, the role of NWO in talent policy, and the relationship between the talent program and European research programs. ‘As far as NWO is concerned these are open questions.’
The young scientists are not the only ones that have their doubts about ‘acknowledging and appreciating’. On Monday, top scientist Hans Clevers, former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, warned for the ‘disastrous consequences’ of ‘acknowledging and appreciating’.