NS Notes on Officers Techniques

  • ::Most of the piece is concerned with human interactions::
  • ::Unwise and naughty are both underrated words::
  • ::This is the tricky thing about figuring out a program before the program has funding::
  • A few scholars are very good salesmen for their projects. Some are very effective and also very reasonable in their proposals. Some are unpleasantly insistent and pushing, whether the request is for so little that we should not be concerned, or for so ex- travagantly much that they should be ashamed. Other scholars are very poor salesmen for their own ideas and needs - shy, or modest, or reticent, or uninterested in money and inexperienced as to v/hat it can do for them, or in extreme cases even sullen and pugnacious over the idea that some person with a vulgar lot of money is presuming to take up a scholar’s time and tell him what to do.
  • The RF officer must train himself to disregard both good and bad salesmanship, except for those cases where the same personality traits that explain the salesmanship would handicap the project.
  • When Rob Millikan or Jim Angell used to show up, in their prime, we would lock the safe, throw the key out the window, and put cotton in our ears: and then afterwards study the written proposals very carefully and try to do the right thing.
    • What is the correlation between great scientists and being great fundraisers? A specific kind of science? Is this just an artifact of the system?
  • This requirement [to get written approval from administrators] is based on experience. The RF must meticulously avoid any act which could be interpreted or even misinterpreted as an attempt on our part to force support on an institution in order to accomplish purposes which we seek, but which are not part of the genuine internal interests of the institution. This rule is not merely protective; it has a positive aspect. It is essential in helping assure that our activities serve the broad, integrated, purposes of institutions.
  • And explained declinations always bounce back.
  • If you decide to leave Chllombia, the present grant cannot be transferred.
  • Diaries of interviews and Visits It is an old, proven, and treasured tradition of the RF that officers write diary accoimts of all interviews of any importance, and of trips. It is not necessary that these observe all the niceties of elegant grammar. Succinctness, clarity, accuracy, and completeness of essentials are more important than Johnsonian sentences.
  • Ask a man what he is interested in and give him a real chance to answer. Don’t tell him.
  • *The coat of arms of the Foundation officer bears the motto “Solvitur Ambulando.”
  • It took years really to convince the public that the founders and officers of this institution treat the available money as a serious public trust. ::Need to go out of your way to show that you’re doing publicly useful things::
  • If it can be arranged tactfully, get a chance to talk with the younger investigators alone - that is, with the Herr Geheimrat not present. ::Importance of tenuretrackless folks::
  • In other words, the average person is neither very critical nor very frank about written recommendations. He assumes that the backers of other candidates will keep still about faults and limitations, and will use pretty rosy adjectives. So, in fairness to his candidate, he does the same.
  • The remedy for this involves a lot of time and patience and energy. It involves slowly building up a relationship of close confidence with a large number of shrewd and hardheaded scientists;
  • RF interest lies in propagating a field, and less in individual genius researchers
  • This same general point explains why we think it is necessary and proper to be interested in the personal qualifications (as contrasted with the intellectual qualifications) of fellowship candidates. I know of a man who is almost surely the best expert on the genetics of oak trees in the world; but he doesn’t take baths, and he swears so much and so violently that most persons just won’t work with him. As a result he is living a frustrated and defeated life; and he not only doesn’t have any students - he doesn’t even have a job. ::This seems like a clutch decision point - people or systems::
  • We also, less frequently, appoint men to “training fellowships,” these characteristically being used to add biological training to previous training in the physical sciences, or vice versa.
  • Where, in making our selections, should we draw the line in this intermediate group?” We have always claimed that the mere asking of this question reveals an unfortunate philosophy concerning fellowship selection. For we would say: “Deal exclusively with the first group of unquestioned excellence. Draw the line before you ever get to the intermediate group. That is, the question’ May I have this fellowship?’ ought to be like the questions ‘Is this egg fresh?’ or ‘Do you love me?’ .” If you need to hesitate at all, the answer is surely no. ::This is one argument against pouring more money into the NSF — same pool of people::
  • But there are, of course, other and more serious difficulties connected with the concept of a permanent endowment. It is essentially impossible to forecast, for any long period, either interest rates or costs- Even more disruptive, however, are the irregularly occurring “but apparently inevitable crashes which wipe out or at least decimate capital values.
  • . Were it not for the periodic leveling of values by catastrophic financial events, a single dollar invested at only compound interest in say 500 A.D. would now amount to nearly three thousand billion dollars ::We don’t talk or think about this very much anymore::
  • ::Interest rates can discretely change strategy considerations::
  • At regular intervals someone is sure to ask (and it is a perfectly proper and important question): Why should the RF, which has almost unique power to do great things, “bother with chicken feed? What justification is there for officers to take up valuable time investigating and studying small grants? HS thinks that these questions have wholly convincing answers. Great things are very seldom - like an unbroken hen’s egg - perfect in completeness essentially indivisible, and wholly developed at first appearance. Great things are usually formed of small parts: great things usually grow from small things. If our thinking and investigation does not keep us in accurate and realistic contact with the actual operative details of science, we are not likely to be very wise about the larger plans.::Seedling experiments::
  • Our answer is: “If you feel that it is to your own advantage or interest to do so, we will not object to a brief and simple statement; but as far as we are concerned, we would somewhat prefer that such statements not be made.” ::this feels archaic::
    • ::Try to minimize fanfare::
  • nevertheless we are actually junior, ::Always remember to be humble and secondary::
  • This organization is under no compulsion to show/quick results. It doesn't want to be lethargic, or stodgy; but it doesn’t like “being hurried.::A research management organization should never be late, nor should it be early; it should arrive exactly when it means to, Frodo Baggins::
  • In one large and important case ~ Biological Abstracts ~ we helped solve the problem by kicking the child out of our warm bright living room, into the dark snowy night outside. The child braced up, threw away its fancy clothes, got a good suit of jeans and a job, and proceeded to earn an honest living.
  • Remember that a new journal is desired by almost every scientist whose interests have become very narrow and special
  • Once in a while the opposite of specialization operates - a man wants a journal which will be about everything in general.
  • Many institutions are almost compelled “by circumstances to minimize, if not indeed to cover up, their mistakes. A State university president is not very likely to include in his report to the state officials, a section which “begins “It must be agreed that the money spent over the last ten years in an attempt to “build up a Department of Polish has “been wasted.” And yet educational institutions (and foundations) do make mistakes, and ought to profit “by them.
  • Indeed it can “be persuasively argued that the RF ought to make mistakes. If it does not, it has almost surely not “been as imaginative and as adventuresome as it should have “been in ferreting out hard and important problems and in attempting their solution. Although we have certainly made some mistakes which we never should have made, it seems probable that we have, on the whole, made too few mistakes - or at least, too few good mistakes.
    A “good” mistake, I take it, is one which is recognized and profited by; and which represents a bad outcome of a situation which (though somewhat risky) contained really important promise. The moral is that an officer should be alert, imaginative, and flexible; and should not be too afraid - too desperately and paralyzingly afraid - of maiking a mistake.* And when one is made, we should do a good thorough autopsy, and find out what the patient died of.




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