Thursday, 18 November 2010

Art & Si

As longtime readers know, every once in a while I venture out of Science World and interact with colleagues who inhabit different parts of the academic planet. Most of these interactions are very interesting, educational (for me), and fun. Some are disconcerting. Like this one:

During a meeting to discuss research funding, including for students, a professor from a discipline in which grants are rare thought that a professor in a rather more grant-rich field had put together an unrealistic budget for research involving a grad student. Let's call the first professor "Art", and a committee member, from a similar field as the professor who constructed the budget, "Si".

Art, pointing to the budget line for the student's salary, said: Look at this! The budget has a month of salary for the grad student to do field work in the summer!

Si: Yes.. that looks reasonable.

Art: What?!?! Why does the student need to be paid? It's for field work, so presumably the professor is paying for the student's food and travel and whatever. The field work is even for the student's own thesis research, so the student has to go on the trip. Why does the student need to be paid?

Si: Umm... because the student will be working and the student is not a slave?

It was big news to Art that many of us pay our graduate students to do research in the summer: to work in the field or in the lab or in an office in front of a computer. It somehow seemed excessive to Art that students would get their travel paid AND also get a salary while doing research that benefited their own thesis.

Art thought that we paid our students a research assistantship only for research that is unrelated to their thesis research. The scientists and engineers on the panel were stunned that anyone would think that.

Some of the things we learn from each other on these multi-disciplinary panels make us all feel good, as if our intellectual boundaries have been stretched. This was not one of those times. I felt strangely sad that it was news to Art that we pay our students to do thesis research. I was glad that faculty summer salary from grants was not an issue in our deliberations.

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