Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Grants 101 (aka shaking the cup for science)

Eli's life, such as it is, if you could call it one, has been dominated over the past month and a bit with grants, reviewing, writing, submitting. While not in the class of the most successful, over the years the bunny has kept Ms. Rabett from complaining much about his lying about doing nothing* and he is foolish enough to think that he has some useful advice. The targets for this series are both those starting out to shake their cups for science and the general public, who might benefit from understanding. Besides which, as has been written elsewhere, pretty much everything has been said in the climate blogging game and it is more fun agitating the denialists on their own sites. This is going to be US centric and Rabett Run welcomes input from the rest of the globe, but that's the part Eli knows best.

Let us start at the beginning by describing the players. People who write grants can be divided into faculty, research faculty, folk at independent research institutions (SRI International, Desert Research Institution), folk at for profits and contractors and civil servants at government laboratories. You at the back, did I leave you out?

Faculty come in a few varieties, including the obvious ones, full, assoc. and asst., research oriented schools, and non-research oriented, bio-medical and others. Except for deans and chairs, they have 9 month appointments, which means that the family budget depends on hustling a quarter of their salary from summer school, summer research fellowships, consulting, grants or contracts. That is the strong motivation for becoming a Chair or Dean

At this point Eli needs to introduce the institutional base salary (IBS). This is the yearly (9 month) salary that the institution guarantees to pay a faculty member. Part of it can come from grants or contracts. Biomedical schools and a few of the higher rated research institutions demand that faculty externally fund a substantial portion of their academic year salary. Mount Sinai, for example, wants a 35/65 split. You can guess where the 35% comes from, or you could follow the link.

IBS is adjusted each year and most often has fixed and variable components. It's sausage, except for your own salary, you really don't want to inquire about how it is made, but to generalize the variable component is connected to the external support that you brought in in the previous year.

The need to bring in 3 or more months salary is a strong motivator, but what about research faculty? They need to bring in 12 months salary, and if they don't they are either out the door, or in part time status (which usually negatively affects their fringe benefits). Serious places have a bridge funding bank where the number of weeks that you can be paid without external support is related to the amount of time that you have had previous support, but it rarely goes beyond a year. Lots of places have a swinging door. This is the buzz saw that our friend Pat Michaels ran into when the State Climatology gig was up.

At independent research institutions, and for profits, EVERYONE is in the same position as research faculty and their entire salary comes from grants and contracts. The same is true of contractors at government labs. The general run of things is that you come in as a post-doc, serve as a co-Investigator as you move up to junior status, and start writing your own grants. Most of the technical staff at government labs are contractors, essentially everyone at all the DOE labs and JPL, which are run on contract. Civil servants have protection but are assignable to projects.

Tomorrow the playing field.

* We know, comments?

1 comment:

John Mashey said...

Hey, everyone has to get grants, like Fraser Institute begging funding from BAT.