Saturday, May 30, 2009

Takes a village

I may have mentioned last summer that despite the fact that I was new, I had been assigned an equally new staff person to handle all of my stuff (grant applications, purchases, etc). At this point, I told my assigned mentor that this was probably not a good idea. The blind leading the blind concept. But it continued. Problems ensued - grants getting bounced because things were done wrong. POs not getting paid. Students (and me) not getting paid. Essentially, chaos.

Obviously, I don't want any of these things to happen. And obviously, the staff person is not just assigned to me - she is assigned to a group of profs. While she has made some of these mistakes with the other professors, they have also caught many of the mistakes in time, and rectified them (grant-related mistakes). I haven't been as lucky.

So, now it is May. This has gone on for almost one year. The other professors are looking for the person's head on a plate. I just want to be re-assigned to a more senior person - which may sound like the same thing, but it really isn't. I don't think the person is malicious, I think they just need more time. Granted, the job isn't that difficult and they do seem rather lazy, but at the same time...

Anyway, the point was just to emphasize that your staff is crucial. Just as your grad students and post docs are crucial, your admins and budget analysts and grants and contracts people are just as important. I'm hoping that this whole situation is going to be rectified soon - the head of HR is now involved, so my chair and assigned mentor (who in reality is really powerless) have pretty much been taken out of the equation.

The other profs have been really good about leaving me out of this. They have focused on their issues, which are more than sufficient to get a new person in, without dragging me into this. They are all full profs, so they don't have anything to lose by making a big stink. I obviously do.

I think one reason why there has been such a delay moving forward, at least in the department, is that she was hired by the chair - not transferred into the dept from another dept. So, if she is proven to be ineffective, it falls on our chair. This would be a sign that he made a mistake. Who wants to admit that?


RnS said...

I'm an engg grad student at a reputed university in the US, and am considering whether I should go into academia (or even continue for my PhD!). Your blog gives a remarkably honest perspective of life across the faculty interviews table. Keep writing!

FemgineerPhD said...

One thing I wish I had more exposure to as a grad student was the grant writing process. I think many grad students don't have the first clue of the ins and outs of what a faculty member does. Sure I've helped prep classes, review refereed articles, etc., but I wish I had been more involved with grant writing, wooing our industrial collaborators, etc... the things that make the difference in whether you have enough money to run your lab. Now that I'm older (maybe wiser?) I've told my postdoc adviser that I'd like to be more involved in the grant writing process, not because I'm a sucker for time-consuming work, but because I'd rather not have something so important be a nebulous, far off concept. Is there anything else you'd recommend postdocs and senior grad students definitely try to get involved in before they apply for academic positions?

AsstFemaleProf said...

The proposal writing process is definitely important - but the process of finding funding opportunities is also key. There are many funding sources other than the federal government that you can tap into - foundations, companies - and learning about them on your own is really time-consuming.

Also, learn to negotiate with vendors - which I'm sure you already do. If you plan to purchase a lot from a single vendor - either a one time purchase or on a consistent basis (chemicals, etc), you can often get a discount rate which is higher than the standard academic discount.