Sunday, April 14, 2013

Summer Salary

It's almost summer research time and this year, I think/hope because of the sequester, I'm getting some strange emails from the administration. We've had multiple emails sent telling us to consider student funding and to put the needs of the students first when we decide on how much summer salary to pay ourselves and the latest one says that our requests are being reviewed and scrutinized by a department that is normally not involved in research finance. I don't quite understand what this means.

For those unfamiliar with the process, when you put in a proposal you have to justify your budget, including if you will be paying yourself any salary. There are NSF as well as university limits and rules about how much salary one can get paid. My university is primarily hard-money 9 month appointments and you are on your own to find summer salary. Almost everyone does research full time during the summer, except for a few strange faculty that are out of place and annoying, and these few give faculty a bad rep. Almost everyone does research full time during the rest of the year and also teaches. With the current unwritten limits on NSF grants, you are lucky if you can budget one month of summer salary for yourself, usually it's one half month or even less. So essentially, I'm doing research for free most of the summer because I like research and because I want to get tenure.

So what really confuses me are these emails. Is the administration saying implicitly that I shouldn't even pay myself a little so that I can provide a month or a semester of additional support for a student that I didn't budget for in a project anyway? I know NIH is a bit different and cuts budgets on existing grants, but that doesn't apply in general at my university, and I have no problem adjusting to make sure that a student's stipend is covered if it's scaled back 5-10%, although you would think the university could use its overhead to make up that difference if it really cares. Are there actually people out there that pay themselves more than what they budgeted for summer salary? (Many agencies don't follow up to see what money was used for once the grant is awarded). Am I supposed to voluntarily take a pay cut for what was deemed as appropriate pay for my time for a proposal? Am I missing something here? The administration isn't cutting its salary. This feels like yet another way that scientists and researchers are getting screwed over and taken advantage of when we are already being pushed to our limits.

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