Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Humanities People Like Money, Too!

I volunteered for a new university committee and, gods help me, they accepted me.

Here's what it is: the "University Research Advisory Council." They've put out a call for two faculty members (for all I know, we are the council), and I felt strongly that the Humanities needed to be represented. So I volunteered.

Here's my backstory: when I went to apply for my big fellowships, I had to go through this process that involved, among many other offices, the Office of University Research, and I quickly discovered that that office had no freakin' clue when it came to Humanities grants. I first had to convince them that, as a medievalist, I probably didn't need to go through the Human Subjects paperwork. Once that was done, there was the process of the grants themselves. I was told that the university probably wouldn't support anything but "high-dollar" grants. Again, fifteen minutes spent convincing them that they shouldn't hold their breath for me to find some mythical $100K grant for Humanities research. It was then suggested that I only apply for "high-profile" fellowships. An actual quote: "If you got a Guggenheim, we'd support it," followed not two minutes later by, "So... What does 'ACLS' stand for?"

Now, if you're not a Humanities person, I don't expect that you'd know what all these things mean, nor should you. But if you are the designated person to help faculty navigate the grants process, here are some randomly-selected things you might be aware of:
  • Guggenheim fellowships are not something that a junior scholar working on their very first book just goes out and gets. They tend to go to people working on second or (more often) third books, and to scholars who already have an established record of grant-getting.
  • ACLS is kind of a big deal.
  • $30-40K for a junior-level humanities fellowship is a lot of money, and you should please not tell faculty members that they are "wasting their time" in applying for these.
If these are foreign concepts to our university's research office, then what other potentially damaging areas of ignorance might be lurking out there? I decided that I needed to actually see if I could do something about this.

So here I am, half of a faculty advisory council, and here's my preliminary mission:
  • Increase awareness among University Research Office personnel about the research money available, and about what constitutes a good investment, and most importantly, about why scholars in the humanities (especially those with high teaching loads) need to be supported when they apply for time to research and write.
  • Get someone in the office who knows Humanities funding, and who can help faculty identify and apply for funding -- and not just NEH funding.
  • Make the application process more transparent and easy to navigate: if you want us to fill out a form, don't just e-mail us a spreadsheet with no instructions or guidelines and then tell us you are doing it to "empower" faculty.
  • Finally: Eradicate, once and for all, the odious term "grantswinsmanship" from all university materials.

There's probably more to do, and I'm sure I'll figure it out. But dammit, this is important.

39 comments:

Belle said...

Oh god yes. I've heard this stuff for so long. In fact, as I've been experimenting with various teaching practices, I've been asked again and again if I need to get the human subjects protocols in place. Folks, if we had to do that to change our teaching styles, nothing would ever get done.

I do envy you your Humanities tag though. We've wanted for years to be in Humanities vs Social Sciences. Our biggest obstacle is that we'd have to give up our superb Admin Assist and go live with the Humanities AA, who is nice but not nearly as good as the SS AA. Is that sad or what???

Eileen said...

I once attended a workshop for humanities and social sciences graduate students on how to write grant proposals and budgets, and we were told to "round up to the next 10k if you're not sure, and add an extra 10k to your budget just in case." Uhhh . . . what? The one other historian and I were made to feel very unwelcome when we asked how much to budget for buying microfilm. I hope you can enlighten some people.

Anonymous said...

The fourth point of your mission makes it clear to me that you are a good person.

--Anonymous Classics Graduate student

Comrade PhysioProf said...

"grantswinsmanship"

For realz????? Odious is putting it mildly.

And yeah, if there are grants for humanities scholars, it is malpractice for your institutions grants office not to have experts who know what the fucke they are doing in that arena.

Nadia said...

This is so important! I'm completing my doctorate this year and have been attending info sessions on applying for grants and such, and they're ALL aimed at the sciences. Now, these are general information sessions and there are science folk there too who no doubt benefit from these presentations, but surely they can do better than completely ignoring half the university? Yes the sciences are better funded and get more funding per grant overall, etc., but that doesn't mean there should be NO information on how us lowly humanities folk should go about getting funding.

I've submitted many complaint/feedback forms at the end of these presentations pointing out the gaps in the information provided, but what you're doing is far more useful. Us students can complain, but if nobody's listening - or worse, if they simply don't know what we're talking about - it's not going to do much good.

Digger said...

I'm going to be looking heavily for social science grants in the near future, and this has sort of freaked me out. Better forewarned, though.

I'm totally on board with Anonymous Classics Graduate Student.

WorstProfEver said...

Good on you for trying to help. My former university had a great grant advisor (so I know what ACLS means) and it made a huge difference. Although it's pretty damned clear that the university shared that same attitude of 'Well, grants under $100k hardly seem worth the effort, do they?' I fear this will not go away any time soon, at least as long as universities continue to cry poverty (which, while true in many cases, was definitely not true in this case).

Daniel Goldberg said...

Speaking as the most junior of scholars here, and one who is particularly sensitive to these issues because I am a humanities scholar working in a medical school:

Grants for humanities scholars are important, but what is equally important is their relative nonexistence.

I read a comment at IHE recently noting that the total annual budget of the NEH -- which I have tremendous respect for -- is just over $100 million, which is approximately what most universities spend on building or renovating their football stadia.

The conclusion, of course, is that as a society we have apparently decided to deal with the thorny problem of how to support humanities scholarship and research by declining to do so.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I should note here that my university is not a research university, so if you're a faculty member or grad student at one of those, you'll probably have a grants office that is a bit more knowledgeable. At my grad uni, we even had a separate Humanities Institute that had a dedicated person for researching grant possibilities for Humanities faculty and helping them through the applications process.

And if you're a grad student, your advisor may be able to help you out.

What seems to be at issue at my university is an identity crisis: We were founded as primarily a teaching-focused institution, but we've been trying to raise our research profile. Yet there seems to be a lack of awareness that Humanities (and to a lesser degree, Social Science) faculty need funding, too. For the sciences, it's obvious: they need lab equipment, they need to fund researchers in their labs, and all that stuff. Is there an impression that Humanities faculty do all that thinking and writing in their spare time around their 3-4 course load? Is there perhaps an impression that "everything's on the internet these days," so we don't need to make research trips to gather the raw materials?

More insidiously: High-dollar science grants bring money into the university. Humanities research funding generally just breaks even, or maybe turns a marginal profit. So it may be that the focus on science is a strategic decision. If so, then that's a whole 'nother issue to deal with.

Susan said...

If you eradicate "grantswinsmanship"
you will indeed have done a noble deed.

And NEVER EVER buy the notion that big science grants provide money to the University. The overhead rarely covers the university's actual overhead, so whenever someone has done a serious analysis, it turns out that we humanists are a profit center for the university. Harumph.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Actually, Susan, our Foundation reserves the right to skim over 40% off any grant it wants to. So a big NIH grant? Damn straight they pocket some change there.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Our grant office understands these things and is very helpful to humanities people, but I'm not so sure about the administration. I once went to a ceremony honoring faculty who'd got grants, where the provost praised, fulsomely, those who'd brought in 100K or more; my measly 4K was clearly chopped liver. But nourishing chopped liver, for me!

tenthmedieval said...

I didn't know what the ACLS was, but now that I look, I can't see that it would ever have done me any good knowing, at least not except when once I interviewed for a post in the USA. But these are important missions, especially point (4) of course but generally. Is the place to begin this attack perhaps not just with your Office of University Research, but also with the people near the tops of the various humanities disciplines? I don't know how bad things are in the USA but I assume that the humanities are in crisis everywhere, and every one of those departments must surely want to look as if it brings in external cash. So with a bit of coordination you ought to bring quite a lot of pressure on where it might count, rather than lead the Crusade alone. (Though that would nearly make you Eleanor of Aquitaine, which could be a lot worse in some ways.*)

* Yes, I know it's only a story, but it's such a good one.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Actually, Susan, our Foundation reserves the right to skim over 40% off any grant it wants to. So a big NIH grant? Damn straight they pocket some change there.

I'm not sure what you mean by your "Foundation", but no grant awardees "reserve the right to skim" a percentage of grant receipts just because "it wants to", and they are not "pocketing" any grant receipts.

Entities that award grants have the right to restrict the uses to which the funds they award are put, and the "right to skim" you refer to is more accurately known as recovery of indirect costs. These are the costs of research incurred by the entity that hosts that research but is not encompassed by the direct costs of a grant. Direct costs typically include salaries of personnel directly involved in the research, supplies, equipment, travel, publication costs, user fees, etc. Indirect costs include institutional overhead expenses such as facilities expenses, administrative expenses, regulatory compliance costs, and the like.

Entities that award grants and entities that receive grants *agree* on what costs are allowable as direct costs, what costs are allowable as indirect costs, and what the indirect cost recovery rate will be (generally computed as a percentage of direct costs, and what you refer to as the "skimming percentage").

In the case of the National Institutes of Health, the costs that are allowable as direct costs and the costs that are allowable as indirect costs are established by the Office of Management and Budget in a document called OMB Circular A-21. Each institution that receives NIH funding has its indirect cost recovery rate established by a detailed negotiation between institutional officials and officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (parent agency of NIH). As part of that negotiation, the institution has to lay out a detailed financial justification for its desired indirect cost recovery rate, based on an accounting of actual allowable indirect cost expenditures.

The important point is that indirect cost recovery is far from the arbitrary "skimming" process you describe: (1) indirect cost recovery supports real expenses of faculty research that have to be justified and is not "pocketed", (2) establishment of the indirect cost recovery rate is by agreement between the granting entity and the recipient institution, based on detailed justification of actual indirect cost expenses.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hi Comrade, and thanks! This is all important information for me to have, and I'd love to have a more detailed off-blog conversation with you so I can understand the process better. I think it just looks like "skimming" to me because the grants I have brought in have more than covered the expenses incurred (salary and benefits for a part-time lecturer) by letting me take them -- at least, as far as I understand it. But knowing how these things operate across the board will help me do a better job.

Whaddaya say? E-mail me sometime this weekend?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I'm happy to share my knowledge with you. E-mail me at your convenience:

physioprof@gmail.com

WorstProfEver said...

Gotta leave one last comment: as those in the humanities know, reality is often much less important than perception -- and when it comes to perceptions, I must forcefully re-iterate that to the highest higher-ups, parents, and boards of regents, the potential for 'skimming' overhead, not to mention the sheer dollar amount, makes grants look remarkably like a corporate-style profit.

You ask whether the focus on science is strategic. Indeed it is, or at least it was where I was employed, and that is the underlying issue that needs fighting. Over and over our admins said grant amounts didn't matter, but on the other side of the their mouths they did just what the Dame described above, publicly lauding only the most 'profitable' looking grants. Seriously, which side would you believe?

Now I think it would be a fine thing indeed if you were to combat this notion, but forewarned with the reality (albeit one the uni simply won't admit) is forearmed -- so consult with your Comrade and fight the good fight!

Katrina said...

During one of my stints in University admin, I worked in the research office. My job involved helping faculty members apply for grants, and managing the software that applied the fixed-cost rates for the university, so these could be included in the application.

What Physioprof says is exactly right, but the lack of awareness of how it works is pretty widespread. When I told one fellow grad student (I was at the time still dissertating, so I was seeing the grant app situation from both sides) that I worked at the Research Office, she said "Oh, so you're the ones who take half our money!!".

Research offices haven't done a good job of explaining to faculty exactly how overheads and other costs work. The people who tend to know are dept administrators for lab sciences where grants are very common. In the humanities, faculty members apply for grants much more rarely (even at research universities) and are often quite uninformed about how it works.

This doesn't really help when the posters at the university about grants all feature a picture of a cell, or DNA or something, and sell the "science grant" model. As Nadia and Eileen mentioned, the lack of focus on humanities is a real downside, as is talking about humanities grants as though they're peanuts.

Working there gave me the opportunity to read lots of grant applications, which was a real learning experience, and definitely helped me when I was later putting in my own proposals.
(apologies for long comment!)

I have never heard the term "grantswinsmanship", though. UGH.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Katrina --

No need to apologize. I'm also in the middle of an off-blog conversation with comrade physioprof, trying to figure this all out. As you say, there's a communications breakdown between the Foundation/Office of University Research and the faculty.

So, since you worked in the Research office, you're in a good position to inform (at least in a general way): what are the indirect costs associated with an off-campus humanities fellowship? The math doesn't seem to add up -- especially with a grant that doesn't allow budgets.

Okay, I'm starting to think this is another blog post here. but if you've got an answer for me, can you post it here.

And yes, this is a sincere request. I really am trying to understand this.

Katrina said...

When you say "off-campus" do you mean funding for a period at a library, for instance?

Every institution has their own specifics, but in general there will be a formula for how much it "costs" per faculty member on campus (this includes building maintenance, electricity, security, everything you can think of). In addition, there may be the general running costs of the university (including even shortfalls in tuition) that are broken down per capita into an amount per faculty member, which would be included.

For the kind of small grants I think you mean (something like Visiting Fellowship at the XYZ library, giving you a stipend of $1000/mo or whatever?), generally overheads are not included (and some funding organisations specify that they will not pay any overheads).

But the kind of grant you bring to your dept, that maybe pays your salary, or research costs, and perhaps pays a research assistant: these generally have to include overheads. Your research office will have the formulae to work out the precise amounts.

Digger said...

Thanks Notorious for keeping a lot of the nitty-gritty discussion here in comments.

Sounds a lot like overhead and loaded rates in consulting-land. What my employer charges clients for my labor is way WAY more than I get paid per hour, but includes money to cover my benefits, etc. There's also a general overhead rate that gets slapped on at the end of any proposal that covers things like rent, heat, internets, phone, equipment, budget overruns, and my boss' wages. The amount tacked on for overhead (which is on top of the loaded hourly rates for staff) shocked the hell out of me.

Does the grant process work similar to the proposal process I describe? You come up with how much it will cost to do the job, and then that is multiplied by an overhead amount determined by the U and the granting institution?

I'm looking forward to more on this.

Katrina said...

Digger: I think it will depend. But the kind of grants I was handling involved the specific costs of the research (salary, materials, etc). Then the University-formulated overhead rate was applied. This total was then put on the application to the funding body: they had no say in how much the overhead was.

There were some groups - as I mentioned before - who specifically said they would not pay any overheads. Universities are not as fond of them.

Digger said...

Katrina: Interesting; at work (I'm currently working for a cultural resource management company doing archaeological consulting) our overhead rate is submitted for approval for federal/state government contracts.

Thanks!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hi Katrina --

To answer your question, the kind of fellowship I'm talking about is where a humanities institute or private foundation somewhere pays for a faculty member to spend time utterly elsewhere, researching, writing, or a combination of both. So most of the time, the home university's facilities (office space, electricity, library lending privileges, etc) don't really come into it, as the faculty member is likely spending the year far, far away. We don't generally have research assistants or staff of our own. My salary and benefits remain the same, so that's zero-sum.

I recognize that someone has to be paid to cover at least some of my classes while I'm gone, and that comes out of the fellowship money. Likewise that lecturer's benefits. And someone in the university has to process my paperwork twice (once at application, once at acceptance) and make sure I get sent an I-9 form a the end of it. In a perfect world, the rest of the money from the fellowship would go to my department and get spread around there a bit. But other than the half-time lecturer salary, we don't get any of it back.

Help me, Katrina! You're my only hope...

(side note: in case someone thinks I'm being sarcastic or baiting anyone: I'm not. I really want to understand where the money goes. If I could have a logical explanation, I'd actually be a much happier person, as I'm a consensus type by nature.)

Ruth said...

At Big State Research University, our College of Liberal Arts understands and supports humanities research, runs interference with the central grants office, etc.

However, once you get to the University level, although there is a professed awareness of the importance of research in the humanities and social sciences, there is a very unsettling tendency for the Dean of the Grad School, science faculty, and administrators to use "research" and "science" as synonymous. I also was in a meeting with the Dean and some of his staff, and it was news to his assistant that some departments run graduate programs without having big research or training grants that support their students. She thought this was the funniest thing she ever heard--actually laughed in my face at the idea of running a grad program where the students are funded mainly by TAships. Yes, she was inexperienced and ignorant, but she shouldn't have been in the position she was.

Katrina said...

I have a couple of longer things to say about humanities and grants, but I think that will be a post on my own blog!

Notorious: That kind of grant raises a lot of questions. Firstly, your benefits: is your employer still paying your health insurance, 401K, etc, while you are at this other location? Are you still legally their employee while this is going on? (so, if you were injured at work, you could claim compensation?). The workers comp issue seems abstract for those of us in the humanities whose most dangerous activity is lifting a microfilm reel! But these are real factors.

I think (and others may come in with other perspectives) that the overheads would still be there as you are still a permanent employee of that university. Your job is still there for you to return to, and the running costs of your employer continue. The fact that you are physically somewhere else doesn't matter (to give a clear example, an ecologist who goes to the Amazon for a year, still pays overheads).

The overheads are not just about how much electricity, or bandwidth, or toilet paper you personally use, but about you as a number in the university as a whole.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Point taken, Katrina. But the university is paying that money out of the same line that they would be paying whether or not I'd gotten the fellowship, correct? Or, to put it another way: faculty member A gets a big fellowship sometime in her first ten years as a university employee. Faculty member B does not. (Both are reasonable expectations in a Humanities department; no one here is seen as falling down on the job by not bringing in grants, as they might be in the sciences, where running a lab is a part of teaching). The university pays the salary and benefits of both during this time -- again, both are doing the jobs they've been hired to do. Faculty member A does not cost the university anything extra by being on leave for a year.

You see where I'm confused here?

Katrina said...

Oh, I totally see why you're confused. In many ways the system is counterintuitive. Particularly for those of us in the humanities, who are thinking "all I need is a library carrel and access to JSTOR, I'm not using a particle accelerator or something, why do I have to pay overheads?".

The understanding I came to with it (I spent my first days at the research office with my head practically exploding!) is that you are able to get this grant because you are a faculty member at that university. (Yes, I know independent scholars can apply for things too, but the basic principle, and the way the University sees it, stands). You applied for this grant as a faculty member. And this carries with it responsibilities that you are claiming money on behalf of the university. This is why universities champion people who bring in lots of grant money, because it helps the university too.

I'm not advocating for this system, I'm just trying to explain how I came to understand it myself.

Ruth said...

Well, I have held an NEH, an APS, and an ACLS (the NEH while at my former job, the other two while at my current position). In no case did the institution attempt to collect ICR, overhead, or anything. These grants are just salary support. ("Just," she says.) The application does not have to be routed through Grants Administration. For the ACLS the payment was routed through Grants Administration because that way the University would pay TIAA-CREF on all of it, but that was my choice. I don't think my experience is unusual here: these granting agencies just do not pay overhead, and universities live with that. It's treated as a salary buyout.

Now, some universities may say "You're on your own; if you want to take leave without pay and live on your grant, fine, but don't expect benefits." Others may say "We need you in the classroom, so you can't accept the grant and still have your job to come back to." But they don't get to say "You can only have 30% of your grant because we're charging the rest for overhead." For the ACLS, the university had to sign something that said the full amount of the grant would be paid to me.

The university may make money when a faculty member gets an outside grant, because they save that person's salary (even if they still pay benefits) and hire a graduate student or an adjunct to teach the class at a lower rate. At my uni there is a fixed percentage, I think maybe 25%, of the faculty salary that the college keeps, and gives the other 75% to the department to pay for replacement teaching.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hi Ruth! Hm... I think we know each other...

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Notorious--this may have already come up in your emails with CPP, but for we humanists it's important to distinguish between grants and fellowships.

Fellowships, in my experience, usually permit direct costs only and are often paid directly to the recipient, or if they are paid to the institution, for accounting purposes, the institution has to pass on the funds to the recipient. My NEH Fellowship was deposited directly into my checking account.

Grants, on the other hand, usually permit indirect costs and are paid to the institution where the PI (Principal Investigator) works--again, at least in my experience.

There's a conceptual distinction, too. Fellowships often buy release time from normal university duties. Grants are intended to cover the cost of research activities, which might include the PI's salary, but it's not conceptualized as release time (though it might involve reassigning time from teaching to research). Of course faculty in the sciences at research universities often teach far less than those in the humanities--one or two courses per year isn't unusual.

There are some exceptions to the terminology, e.g. the Franklin Research Grants from the American Philosophical Society, but the categories are distinct.

wini said...

To expand on Brian's excellent distinction, here is an example from my life (as a humanist):

I applied for an ACLS Fellowship. It would have released me from 2 semesters of teaching.

For the ACLS: I had to submit the application by myself (which befuddled OSP). The money would have been paid through the university, but all the funds from it (plus the University benefits plus the extra salary that the ACLS can't cover) went to me.

I am applying for an NSF Grant. I would get *no* teaching release. BUT, it would pay for my summer salary, a grad student, and research funds. It is not a Fellowship, it is a GRANT to pay for my research. It would go through OSP, and the U would take indirect costs.

Be wary of what administrators tell you about indirect costs. The formulas are very different at every institution I've been at, which alone should tell you what a black box they are.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for keeping this going, folks -- and thank you for your careful reading of the post and the comments before you chime in. A post like this could easily devolve into "I only had time to read the first two paragraphs of the post and none of the comments, but you have no idea what you're talking about." The fact that it hasn't is a testament to the bombsauce that you all are.

A couple of responses (and my apologies for not commenting on all your comments, but I am reading them all):

@ Brian: I knew that there was a difference, but since I haven't always understood that difference (AND since, as you point out, some entities use them interchangeably) I'm a bit sloppy with my terminology. But this is a nice concise way of explaining it, so thanks.

@ Wini & Ruth: a couple of really good stories that illustrate how very diverse outside funding can be, even within the Humanities (and in Wini's case, even within the research program of a single individual), and the diverse ways that Universities can respond to a faculty grant or fellowship. A good illustration of why we need to start talking, to each other, and to our Universities.

Susan said...

@ Ruth: When one of my colleagues in Chemistry spoke slightingly of a humanist because he didn't want to bring in lots of grad students, I reminded her that we didn't need grad students to do our work, and they frequently took time away from our work. The scientists HAVE to bring in grad students.

susan said...

one other factor to throw in here, which is how we in the Humanities calculate the cost of our own time on grants. At my previous uni, the standard practice had been, especially for small internal grants, to permit faculty to use the grant for the cost of a part-time person to cover a section. So, if I had, say, a project going on developing an assessment technique within the first year writing program, and applied for an internal grant of $5000, the dept could have used, say $2100 of that to pay for a part-time faculty member to buy out my own teaching of 1 course and then I could have used the time to work on the project. Our dean's office said, eventually, no. If you want to buy out your teaching time you have to do it as a % of your full salary (so if 1 course is 20% of my work load, then I buy myself out at my full rate).

In terms of what those small grants were useful for, it was a pain in the neck. But in terms of how we conceptualize the value of Humanities faculty time, an interesting nudge.

susan said...

one other factor to throw in here, which is how we in the Humanities calculate the cost of our own time on grants. At my previous uni, the standard practice had been, especially for small internal grants, to permit faculty to use the grant for the cost of a part-time person to cover a section. So, if I had, say, a project going on developing an assessment technique within the first year writing program, and applied for an internal grant of $5000, the dept could have used, say $2100 of that to pay for a part-time faculty member to buy out my own teaching of 1 course and then I could have used the time to work on the project. Our dean's office said, eventually, no. If you want to buy out your teaching time you have to do it as a % of your full salary (so if 1 course is 20% of my work load, then I buy myself out at my full rate).

In terms of what those small grants were useful for, it was a pain in the neck. But in terms of how we conceptualize the value of Humanities faculty time, an interesting nudge.

Janice said...

My father's a retired engineering prof. My sister's a 100% research scientist at a university. I'm the academic historian. Believe me, I know the range of possibilities, costs and concepts associated with research funding.

Even when I was an undergrad in the 80s, my dad had grants in the many hundreds of thousands. My sister, obviously, is always chasing, and winning grants in the tens of thousands or more. Personally, I've never had a research grant hit five figures.

My father's department, with a comparable number of faculty to the history department I'm in, had multiple staff positions and huge amounts of overhead/maintenance devoted to labs and equipment. My sister has lab techs and staff to manage along with multiple campus offices that play a part in the funding oversight. We have one admin assistant support a dozen full-time profs and all of our research expenses: there are no staff, no techs, no machines beyond office PCs.

My grad students don't work in my lab or contribute to my research agenda at all. I spend most of my time supporting them in, at best, parallel paths. My sister's students work on joint projects and contribute to her program. My dad's many grad students were much the same.

Even at the top of the game in my discipline, grants aren't huge. Maybe a Guggenheim or a MacArthur is getting up there, but the largest national grants you can get as an individual researcher run about 50-60k!

My colleagues in engineering and the sciences have lower teaching loads (in numbers of courses, also usually in students enrolled, almost always in the amount of work/student to assess) but have a much more headache-inducing, expensive (and thus lucrative) lab/grad/research paradigm. Tracking what's paid for by what is daunting work (and it's even moreso the faculty and staff involved in the research).

I see the need for overhead and institutional infrastructure to support and oversee research dollars in the big budget disciplines. But, like Notorious, I know that the same offices don't get or support the research grants we seek, and that making the university all about chasing grants is ignoring the bread and butter of humanities research!

Leslie M-B said...

I'm wrestling with these issues right now, too. I'm applying for a $50,000 grant, and the university will take $19,500 of that for indirect costs--which means I can do the project without paying myself and with only hiring very minimal student help (which means, of course, more unpaid work for me), or not do the project at all. So that kind of sucks. I'm now understanding why my colleagues don't pursue grants very much.

Accordingly, I'm looking into housing the grant with my nonprofit partner, whose indirect costs will be 5% instead of the university's (federally-negotiated) 39%. Apparently such a tactic is not uncommon here, especially when (as will mine) the projects take place primarily off campus.

shane said...

Thank you for hosting this conversation, and I look forward to future posts on the same topic; your commenters have a very useful range of accumulated experience.

I'll toss another issue in here: Indirect costs pay for the labor of non-faculty-status "support staff" like librarians and IT people who, even when they have subject Ph.D.s in the same field as faculty members they assist, aren't usually allowed (by university policy) to apply for grants or fellowships with the university's name or to publish their research with the university's name attached. In many universities, policies don't require that humanities faculty who work intensively with Ph.D.-holding staff members list those support staff as second authors (or even in the courtesy acknowledgements.)

That 25-50% cut of your humanities research grant that goes to the university is increasingly related to paying highly-educated staff-status people for otherwise-uncredited intellectual labor.

That incredibly useful ongoing conversation with the subject-specialist librarian, who has an MLIS and a Ph.D. in your field? The norm in humanities scholarship is that she doesn't get an author credit of any kind, even if you used 5-10% of her working hours for months. Universities treat her job as the faculty's cost of doing business. (Contrast that to the quantitative social sciences, where the staff statistician (Ph.D.-holding SPSS jockey) generally gets a non-lead-author credit for crunching big data sets, plus a salary that's paid out of the indirect-costs fund.)

As the faculty market in humanities gets tighter, I think we're going to see many more would-have-been-faculty-members take alternative-academic ("alt-ac") positions like the (fictionalized) librarian I describe above. Particularly in heavily-digital humanities projects, these issues of professional recognition and staff/faculty status are starting to get rather a lot of discussion, which I'll be very interested to watch as it develops.