Between a rock and a soft (money) place May 20, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, science.
Tags: funding, proposals, reviewer comments, soft money
I’ve been cogitating on another comment that showed up on a proposal review. The general complaint was that we were funding too many staff and not enough students.
I could see this…except for the fact that all but one of the people involved is on soft money. This proposal was already being trimmed left and right to make it fit into budget constraints, and our choice was to fund 1 or 2 months for each of these five staff (including myself), all of whom are in different disciplines and contributed to the development of the project concept and writing of the proposal…or I can fund another grad student for a year. Of course, if I had no facilities costs to worry about…
I suspect this is a drawback of doing interdisciplinary research: you need expertise in a variety of fields, and so it may look like a situation of “too many managers, not enough peons.” On future proposals of this nature, I’ll have to make the point that each of those people is essential and none can be replaced by a grad student.
It’s also leaving me wondering if there is something that explicitly needs to be said about funding arrangements. For most professors in engineering or science, I imagine they have 9 mos of salary paid, so they often only take a couple weeks to a couple months of summer salary under their grants. Also, most of them have teaching duties and therefore need to have grad students to do most of the work. I imagine the reviewers may assume that people applying for funds are probably working under a similar arrangement where they have a base salary and anything coming from the proposal is ‘extra’.
But what about people who are in a situation like I am? I’m in a soft-money position and I have no teaching obligations (unless I choose to). Given the choice, I’d rather have a couple months more salary than hire more grad students (assuming there are any available, which is not always true). If I only get one month salary from a winning proposal and my funding rate is 10% (and I don’t know if it is yet as I’ve only written about half a dozen proposals), then I have to write about 120 proposals to fund myself for a year. Even if I was physically capable of doing that (I’d like to meet someone who is), I doubt the proposals would be of the quality that would get funded, anyway.
Admittedly, different funding agencies will have different expectations…but not radically so. Maybe my readers are more knowledgeable about I am on these points. If so, I’d appreciate it if someone would enlighten me.