Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Should have seen this coming

This time last year:

Hey! Here's a new thing! The university executive (Vice Chancellor and friends) would like to know about issues affecting the 'man on the ground'. Specifically, early career researchers. What would improve our lives? They encourage us to form a group to brainstorm improvements and promise to consider them. For example, they say, maybe early career academics would like to have more bright colours in their offices to make things more cheerful?*

* Not the actual example, but I don't want this to be too googleable.

Early this year:

We have a working group. We discuss all the issues that specifically affect early career academics. We are unanimous that the number one problem is lack of job security. We brainstorm ideas. We approach the executive informally to sound out how they would feel about providing some 'safety net' funding to support young researchers for short periods between successful grants. Yes! They say. That sounds excellent. This is exactly the sort of initiative we would support! There is lots of money for that sort of thing right now. And specifically, maybe we could support people with brightly coloured offices?

(We should have listened to the subtext here.)

After months of discussions, budgeting, meetings, etc, we flesh out a proposal and deliver it to the executive. They call us in for discussion. "Hmm..." they say. "This might actually cost money."
"But you have a lot of money right now," we remind them.
But apparently they have just decided to spend 45 million dollars on bringing in international academic superstars.
"We will get back to you with our official response in a few days," they promise.

After a few days. Today, in fact:

Dear early career researchers,

We have considered your proposal to provide a safety net for early career academics who are on external funding. It seems like a great idea. We would just like a few minor changes to your plan. Specifically, instead of providing funding, we would like to provide some bright paint colours. And instead of this funding employing people, we will make department offices more cheerful. Although this may not solve the underlying problem you have identified (lack of job security), it will cost less money. It will also be a good test case. In 12 months we will check back and see whether, as your proposal suggests will happen, more young fellowship holders have been attracted to our university, and if they have, we may consider providing more funding to your initiative. Please reword your proposal so as to implement these minor changes.

Best regards,
Your friendly Vice Chancellor.