Various Lies

Monday, April 5, 2010

For the father? Nothing.

Usually, a new Faculty member has a percentage of her salary guaranteed. This is known as hard money. The university is promising you, for example, 9 months salary support for the first 5 years of your career (that's the tenure track). The rest is made up by our new TT prof securing grants and picking up courses to teach etc. and that's the soft money. That's the bit that sucks because if you can't get a grant funded your salary is only 75% of what it should be. And if you're a postdoc, for example, on someone's R01, and it isn't renewed, you're fucked because 100% of your salary is soft money.




GHM.jpg

a young professor joins the tenure track and tries to negotiate his start-up with the dean...




There are as many variations on this funding structure as there are academic institutions. I have a friend who is a non-tenure track assistant professor who has 9 months of support, and is primarily in a teaching position. He can't write large grants to pick up the other 25% of his salary because he doesn't run a research program. So he picks up as much extra teaching as he can during semester to add to his pay check, because summer is hard to get through when the money dries up. What he wasn't told until after he joined his institute was that he isn't allowed 'unexcused' absences for longer than a few days, and even though he isn't getting paid for the summer, he still has to be there. So his dreams of traveling or working on his book during this time are scuppered by having to be present on campus.

My position, indeed my entire Unit is funded by a budget that is neither hard, nor soft. We could call it flaccid money. We're funded by State dollars while we vie for a large institutional award from the National Institutes of Health. (The NIH are the paymaster general to which most of us beholden, in case there are any non-scientists out there.) being funded by State dollars was great while we were the golden child of the program. Money was always there, we generally got what we wanted, when we wanted it, and we've used the beneficence of our administrators to grow in new areas. However, we just got our grant review results back from the Great Paymaster General in Washington, DC and things are not looking so good suddenly. Our latest application was, to all intents and purposes, shit all over by the review panel. In my opinion (worth less than one whole internets dollar) they missed a lot of the great stuff we're proposing and can deliver, and instead focused on the few tiny, insignificant negative aspects of the application. Like not having enough experienced leadership, or a good enough marketing plan for some of our 'products' and 'deliverables'. Like I say, mere details! Look at teh awesome science bitchezz111!!!q1

Anyway, suddenly working here has become less secure. Our studly and tumescent budget is beginning to wilt, friends are not returning phone calls and I kind of feel like the guy who gets caught punking the principle's office. Everyone is laughing and joking and offering encouragement until he walks in the room and suddenly you are very, very alone and friendless...

The work my unit does covers areas outside our direct scientific remit and we offer a lot of support to our administration, forming a kind of 'academic computing' division. I'm told we're probably OK for year, and the administration will support us for at least one more budget cycle while they try and figure out what to do with us all. This is great, if true, because I am nominally in charge of a team of 8-12 people and now trying to cover my ass while looking out for them too is already starting to tear at my nerves.

Right now we're waiting to hear from the Grand Poobahs at the Top of the Stairs about our budget. I think this part is the hardest because I don't know if anyone will get cut in the next month or two (myself included). I am working on the assumption that we're going to be OK for one more year (budget year, not calendar year). Once I have a budget I can develop a timeline and come up with some ideas on how to save my staff. I'm hoping that some can be saved as a whole and move to another institute in town that is looking to pick up the pieces of the pie we dropped. Some I can likely get into our IT division as we try and combine all of the IT services on campus.

As for me. I'm exploring a few different options, but I think my time here is drawing to a close. I can visualise several options and outcomes for my team over the coming months, but I am reminded of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam warning to the Lady Jessica, at the beginning of "Dune".

"The boy may be worth saving, but for the father, nothing!"

15 comments:

microbiologist xx said...

I am so sorry to read that you didn't get your grant funded. That totally fucking sucks. I can't imagine the stress of worrying about staff. I think that would certainly be the most stressful aspect of the whole process. Are you throwing around any crazy ideas for yourself? You know, chuck it all and become a sheep herder, start an evil conspiracy (that would of course, require a handlebar mustache), start wearing strange sweaters and showing cats professionally...

chall said...

MXX: Sheep herder might be hard, I did mutter things about "going to be a horse girl in Montana" ^^ when things looked grantless for me.....

Tiddles: I'm sorry. sounds stressful indeed. I hope things change to the better. It's lke that I guess, the grants are fickle, the uni is more fickle and then there is you trying to sort out your future.

Wish you the best, as always!

(And I really don't think you would think that they care about the great science now, did you?! because then you've lost some of that tiddles cyncism..... )

Professor in Training said...

That sucks, dude.

Prof-like Substance said...

Not good, but there are other grant cycles in the next budget year, no?

tideliar said...

@MMX: I quit science once and spent a year dossing around playing drums and getting into mischief. It was hard getting back into the swing of things, so I know if I did it again it would be a one way trip. I also have to worry about visa issues. I don't have the liberty of working at any old job if I want to stay in the US...

@Chall: The cynic is alive and well :)

@PiT: cheers

@PlS: Yeah, there's another submission in October/November but there isn't enough time for us to recruit the kind of people we need. neither do we have the guaranteed budget we'd need. On a smaller note, we're written in a line items of a half dozen grants right now, and we might see some support from those, but it's too fucking slow. I have an R21 going to AHRQ in June, but no one gets funded first time so the earliest we'll see any money is mid/late 2011. Too late for me I fear...

balanced instability said...

Wow. That is really shitty. Good luck

tideliar said...

Thanks for the good wishes. I just had a goddamn fucking panic attack too. This is not cool.

i might officially sulk.

Genomic Repairman said...

Best of luck man. Our institution is fucking shaking in its boots as it may loose a core facility grant in the not too near future.

tideliar said...

Bloody tough times indeed. We have enough State money to keep most things going AFAIK, but independent labs and flaccid groups like mine are scared...

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Sorry dude, this sucks. I'm in a not entirely dissimilar budgetary position myself and am just trying to stay as useful as possible so my boss will want to find a way to keep me if/when the funding dries up...

BTW one of "my" PIs did get an R21 funded on the first attempt (his first ever NIH application, actually), so don't lose hope, it can happen!

tideliar said...

I don't hold out much hope for my current position, but I do think if I make myself useful I might be able to transition within my institute. I need to be careful of what I do though because I'm reaching the end of the 'any move up is a good move' phase of my career. I need to be a lot more tactical in what I do, who I talk with and what offers I consider/give weight to.

So the R21, while not really adding to my security directly, adds indirectly by showing I can write/manage good research plans.

And congrats to your colleague. The lucky bastard ;p

Balancing Act said...

Not that it means much, but sorry to hear about your currently over-the-top stressful situation. Hang in there!

tideliar said...

@BA: Thanks for stopping by! All good wishes are most gratefully received, seriously :)

Dr.Girlfriend said...

Not much to add, just my good wishes. Hope things get better, or not get worse. Hang in there.

tideliar said...

Thanks Dr. Girlfriend. I was chatting was a chum of mine at UCSF today and he pointed out "welcome back to the world of non-TT research dude".