From the Executive Director

The door is re-opened at NSF

After APA’s urging, NSF reversed a decision rendering some psychology students ineligible for Graduate Research Fellowships.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

In the February, 2011 issue of Monitor on Psychology, I called attention to a major change in policy at the National Science Foundation (NSF).  In the Graduate Research Fellowships competition for 2011-2012, students pursing graduate training in clinical and counseling psychology were judged as ineligible.  NSF had slammed shut the door on a community of graduate students who had previously been eligible for the Fellowships.

In that column, I pointed out the logical inconsistency of NSF’s new policy.  In every other field of science, graduate students are judged as eligible as long as their proposed plan otherwise falls within the scope of NSF-supported fields.  In 2011-2012, that was no longer so for applicants in clinical or counseling psychology.  The program announcement was quite clear in stating that students in those areas, “…are ineligible even if the proposed graduate research may be classified under one of the NSF-supported fields of psychology.”

We could not understand how this new language could be reconciled with the continuing assertion from NSF that the graduate research fellowships provide support for graduate study in all fields and programs of science and engineering otherwise supported by NSF. It appeared that psychology now represented a special exception.  Equal, but not really equal. Valued, but not really valued.

As I promised in February, APA expressed its concern to NSF.  We continued to press the agency to support psychology in the same way it supports all other fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

NSF listened.  NSF has reversed its illogical change in policy.  The door has been re-opened, and students in clinical or counseling psychology are once again eligible to apply.

The old exceptions and exclusions are still in place.  Research and programs of study with disease-related goals are not eligible.  Also excluded is support for students enrolled in practice-oriented professional degree programs.  NSF has further clarified how these exceptions might apply to students in clinical and counseling programs.  In particular, students pursuing training in patient-oriented research and in the study of disease-related interventions are not eligible to apply.  But the all-out exclusion and the special footnotes and warnings of last year’s announcement are gone from this year’s announcement.

Students in clinical and counseling psychology still have a special burden to demonstrate that their proposed graduate training will focus in a field of science otherwise supported by NSF and falling within the agency’s mission.  But at least NSF now remains open to considering such students for support.

APA spoke, and NSF listened.