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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2011

More grant woes

Dr. Robert Latta’s thoughtful commen­tary, “Grant system squeezes researchers, grad students” (CAUT Bulletin, April 2011), voices what many of us were already thinking about NSERC’s bean-counting of HQP (Highly Qua­l­ified Personnel). It’s pretty gutsy for someone to state publicly that he chooses to resist the incentives for “salami training.”

For those of us in smaller and/or newer institutions, the scale of our graduate research programs is less a matter of personal choice. There are fewer ways of supporting our students, apart from external grant funds. I am constantly amazed by the resourcefulness of my colleagues in helping their students to do excellent work on a shoestring. But creativity and enthusiasm aren’t enough to succeed in the HQP numbers game. So we’re going to see a further widening of the gap in NSERC success rates between larger and smaller schools.

This caught up with me this spring when my Discovery Grant renewal application failed. Although it was rated as “strong” in the excellence of researcher and merit of proposal categories, what sank me was a “moderate” rating for HQP. But I wasn’t surprised. When we already have to work hard to attract students to less visible places, we’re more vulnerable to the inevitable potholes faced by any supervisor when, for example, an incoming student bails just days before the field season, too late to be replaced.

As Dr. Latta observes, the beatings are continuing. But the people whose morale I’m most worried about are our current and potential graduate students. They’re astute and observant enough to see what their professors’ lives are like. Despite our best efforts to shield them from some of this, I’m sure they’re wondering if they have a future in research in this country. And I’m really not sure any more what to tell them.

Paul Sanborn
Ecosystem Science & Management Program
University of Northern British Columbia