Rookie Rocky: Show me the money!

Posted on behalf of the Rookie Rocky

I still remember most research institutions that I interviewed with told me that my job would be 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service. What they did not manage to convey though, is that actually another 200% of the job for a junior faculty member goes to grant writing. A perfect example is this, the second semester in my rookie year as an assistant professor: I am off teaching duty. However, if you think I have one more free minute than last year, think again. Actually, don’t think again – I don’t have time to wait, because another grant is due tomorrow!

The reason for my long absence from the Sceptical Chymist is purely because my time is almost all caught up by non-stop grant writing, revising, re-writing, and submitting in the never-ending grant application cycle. As most starting academics do not have large amounts of external support (this may have started changing, as some lucky ones do have a significant amount), junior faculty members tend to apply for everything they can find because (1) the competition is so keen, and you never know whether your proposal might wow a particular group of reviewers, and (2) the amount of such support usually is relatively small. Thus, even if you get some grants funded, each one does not help that much in paying your bills. This results in many short proposals built on similar ideas with only slightly twisted applications or directions. On the top of that, the effort to put together even one of these small grants is extensive. I’m not sure what people with larger groups do; in a public school like mine, I have to collect over twenty different forms and files for a small grant application, including a budget, justification, CVs, letters, research plans, approvals…etc., etc. You keep navigating among ten different offices on campus and talking with people who are in charge of contracts, IP, safety, budgets… Toward the end, getting the grant out of the door becomes the only goal. Is there anything else that makes you feel better than finally sending these 100-page paperweights that you have read and modified a hundred times to someone else and making it his/her burden?

Well, getting a phone call saying your effort actually paid off would definitely be better. Keeping my fingers crossed…