Friday, September 12, 2008

Coals to Newcastle

That's TWO fellowships/grants that I've come across recently that would be perfect for Geekman or me to apply for, except that one of the eligibility conditions is either that the applicant have a full-time ongoing academic job, or that the university is able to offer him/her one at the end of the grant period.

What the fuck is the point of that?

People who have full-time ongoing academic jobs do not need fellowships as desperately as people who don't.

This especially makes no sense when the grants are aimed at "early career academics", and/or designed to help increase the number of researchers staying in/coming to Australia.

I THINK the point of this eligibility requirement for one* of the grants, at least, is to give an incentive to universities to open up more permanent positions: it's saying, "If you make more jobs available, we'll pay the costs for the first four years." But universities aren't dumb. Hah, that's pretty much the POINT of universities, right? Not being dumb? If they don't have the funds to provide for the ongoing costs of these positions after four years, they aren't going to sign something promising to do so.


* This is the one where the requirement is phrased as the university promising to continue to employ the researcher after the end of the grant. The other grant has the requirement phrased as a pre-condition, i.e. the researcher already has to have a full-time ongoing academic appointment in order to apply in the first place.


Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson said...

A similar deal is one of the reasons (getting my moved paid, being paid in EUR instead of USD, having a landed grant on my CV and getting a little bit more money being the others) I would want to land the German Postdoctoral grant I've applied for. The thought, as far as I can tell, is not so much geared toward making you more attractive to the University as it is geared toward getting you a running start: on the fellowship, you'd do less teaching during those initial years - so you could get on with doing all your Magnificent Research instead, so that once the University foots the bill, you'll have had some time to get results in first.

Tom said...

Universities not dumb? Are you sure about this? Where a dollar sign is involved most universities will do just about anything, and hope for the best in the future.

You're exactly right about the reason. It's to try to blackmail universities into creating permanent posts rather than letting new staff languish on 3 year grant contracts for ever and ever. And it can work. My own position is funded on more or less that basis. There is a 50% funding body contribution to my salary for the first 3 years, on condition that my position is tenured (it's supposed to be about building capacity in my discipline in Scotland). The university is gambling that I'm going to be good enough at getting grants that they won't be out of pocket after the first three years.

The effect of this, though, is that there is no real difference between a tenured position and a three year contract research position. The pressure to find new external funding is exactly the same.

I haven't yet told my department that I'm going to resign (probably at the two year mark) and go back to government policy work, having decided that an academic career isn't actually very attractive. I suspect that they will be very annoyed, since I am unlikely to be replaced by the university, and the department will therefore lose a lectureship post. I feel rather guilty about this, but can't see any way out of it.

StyleyGeek said...

Good luck, Mikael! That would be a wonderful running start.

Tom, I'm impressed that your university took the plunge, but I think ours is far more cautious. I think it's because most Australian research grants specifically do not allow funds to cover the applicant's salary if they are already employed, so except in fields where the equipment and resources required for a project cost hundreds of thousands, the university is still quite out-of-pocket even if researchers do get plenty of grants.

Also, I'd debate whether the pressure to find external funding is really "exactly the same" in a three year contract position vs a tenured position with high expectations of grant-getting. If you have a grant dry spell, the three year position person is not going to be renewed, whereas the tenured person might just get an unfavourable performance review and a bit of a stern talking to.