Assessment

The impact of the CIFellows Project cannot be accurately measured until the CIFellows have progressed further in their careers. However, a qualitative assessment by SRI International, completed in May 2011, concluded in part (emphasis added):

The results of this evaluation suggest that the design of the program helped to provide the CIFellows with the foundations for productive careers as research leaders and principal investigators. Confirmation of this outcome will not be possible, however, until the subsequent careers of the CIFellows can be studied...

The CIFellows Project appears to have achieved its short-term objectives of providing interim employment to early-career computing researchers, at least some of whom might have left the field without such support [based on interviews with the CIFellows].

Perhaps most importantly, the CIFellows have been afforded a unique level of independence and flexibility, as compared to their counterparts in traditional postdoctoral positions. As SRI International wrote in its assessment:

[There is evidence to support that] the CIFellows Project provides an experience that is more likely to prepare postdoctoral fellows for careers as independent, innovative researchers, in contrast to typical postdoctoral training.

...Individuals involved in the Project argued that most postdoctoral positions in science and engineering require the postdoc to conduct whatever research his or her mentor requests. For postdoctoral positions [that] are funded through a specific research grant, the postdoc is expected to perform the research activities required under the grant. In contrast, the CIFellows are expected to pursue independent research under the guidance of [their mentors]. The CIFellows themselves have reported that the support of the CIFellows Project enables them to act in a manner different from other postdoctoral fellows at their host institutions; they have far more independence and flexibility than even colleagues in their labs. Based on their responses to the survey, the CIFellows noted that they have been involved in a wide range of activities beyond conducting research, including:

  • Authoring scholarly articles (95% of respondents)
  • Collaborative research with colleagues at the host institution (77%)
  • Collaborative research with students (71%)
  • Advising students or junior staff (68%)