Funding, funding, funding…

I feel like there’s constant talk and discussion and arguments and what not over funding issues. And it’s just getting worse. Between budget cuts straining departments that barely have enough left to hold on and federal research grants being put on the chopping block, having enough money around to do research is just getting harder.

I feel lucky, in some sense, that as a graduate student I don’t worry too much about getting grants. And I’m not involved in actually filling them out. (Of course, there’s always the side worry that I won’t know how when I actually have to do so). But, besides filling out scholarship applications, I have had little to do in order to guarantee some level of income.

However, this is all changing. As my department (as well as others across the university and country), are getting less and less money, and our supervisors are able to pull in less through grants (less grant money means either less per grant or less grants), it becomes increasingly likely that supervisors won’t be able to pay grad students a research stipend over the summer. And, if there are too many grad students, then they won’t all be able to access teaching assistantships during the year. Which can mean no funding, and turning to student loans and other work.

This may seem like a simple solution to a lot of people – the loans and/or other work, but it’s incredibly hard to have enough time to focus on the work needed for your degree if you’re splitting your time between jobs. Or even more stressed than usual over money. And so I really don’t think these are ideal options. Possibly internships, where you just don’t do research for a short amount of time (unless lucky enough to find an internship that aligns really well with your research).

To be honest, I have no idea what a good solution would be. Although, after seeing this paper (okay, abstract, I didn’t read the whole paper), it does make me wonder about a lot of the bureaucracy surrounding money that is given through grants and scholarships. How much more money could be doled out, if we didn’t have so many hoops to jump through? Or how many more people could be helped? After all, shouldn’t the fact that you’ve been accepted into a degree program, are publishing papers, and doing research mean something? 

In fact, as it currently is, most people I know regard one of the premier scholarships for science grad students (an NSERC) as pretty much equal to a lottery – where you hope your name gets drawn, but it doesn’t actually have much to do with your research being ‘better’. And it’s sort of like winning the lottery if you get it – in that you’re going to have much more funding than the next grad student.

As I move steadily towards starting year 5 (5!) of my PhD this coming fall, I worry more and more about my next pay-check  My scholarships run out as of August, and after that I’ll be at the mercy of the system. A system that doesn’t look favourably on grad students past their fourth years, with almost no available sources for funding outside of your direct supervisor. Another reason I can’t wait to be done…

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