Thursday, May 21, 2009

I just want to do research

I have started writing grant proposals. Everything is soft money around here, and grants are the only way to advance. Suddenly speaking this language of grants (why didn't I learn earlier?), everything makes more sense in conversations between colleagues.

At a recent conference, I spoke with a person I went to grad school with (who was a TA of mine but PhD was in a different department) who is coming up for tenure now. I asked about the requirements for grants. Some places, even hard money places, have an unofficial requirement that you need at least one major grant to get tenure. It turns out his department only wants a publication record. I never thought that I would say this, but "publish or perish" is so generous. Now that my new norm is "eat what you kill."

As a friend of mine said, "When I would hear faculty members say that they just want to do research, I always interpreted that to mean that they didn't enjoy teaching. Now that I know about grants, I understand."

I just find it unbelievable that people speak in academia as if all it takes is good ideas. Just pursue what you like. As if that were enough. If I could do it over again, I would make a list of the research areas that operate on 100% hard money and choose grad school and research topics only from those areas. Now that I'm at the job stage, I would apply only for jobs that operate on 100% hard money. But most jobs seem not to list that crucial crucial fact.

Starting collaborations

At a conference I spoke with a grad school classmate of mine who was in another PhD program but with similar interests. He is in the first year of a faculty job, and I asked him he was able to get any research done while teaching. He said that he had and even gotten some new collaborations going.

I confessed that I had some difficulty starting collaborations, so I asked him more details about them. One of the two is still in the "looking for collaborators" stage. The other collaboration is with a faculty member at the same university in another department. He's contributing expertise to the project. I asked more details how he met this person --- did this person come to him or did he come to the person.

"Well, I came to them and they came to me." He paused. "Actually, it's my sibling."

Whew. Glad to know others have just as much difficulty as I do starting collaborations. Still he has a guaranteed salary for the next few years and gets to teach and come up for tenure.