Friday, July 4, 2008

Catch 22

I’ve begun applying for grants. Actually, I began sporatically a few months ago, but I really began on a regular basis recently. I haven’t heard back on any yet – but that will be the subject of a different post. Really my topic this time is about how writing grants relates to recruiting grad students.

From what I can tell, the time from grant submission to receiving grant funds is about 12 months. This obviously varies depending on the agency, but for the sake of this post, let’s use this number – and assume that the grant being written actually gets funded the first time. Both of these are assumptions, the former being closer the truth than the latter.

As most grants have a life expectancy around 4yrs, this gives me two options: 1) split the research being performed between two grad students (use the money to fund the last couple years of one grad student and the first couple years of another) or 2) write the grant before I’ve even met the grad student who will perform the research. To be honest, I’m not too happy with either option. Ideally, I would like each grant to have enough research in it that it would form the perfect thesis – a single topic, perhaps with a few side studies.

Splitting a single grant between two students is disruptive to both students – one student has to stop a project that is just beginning to get interesting while the other is picking up a project mid-story. That student doesn’t have nearly the vested interest in it.

On the other hand, writing the grant before the student arrives so that the money and the project is ready and waiting is rather risky as well. What happens if the student doesn’t like the project (though that can happen in the previous scenario as well)? What happens if the money doesn’t come through?

What would be truly ideal would be if the student could have some say in the writing of the grant – ie in their thesis topic. I want them to love their research. But for this to happen, I also have to be able to get funding in those areas in time for them to pursue that research area. With the 1+ yr turnaround, that just doesn’t seem feasible, at least not for their whole PhD, which is frustrating to me, but I’m sure is even more frustrating to them, since they just see me as an even dictator telling them what they have to research…

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