First, last Friday, I was at a meeting of coordinators for our university’s graduate programs. Our vice-president for academic affairs was talking about the university’s plans to expand their graduate offerings. Why do we want more graduate programs, particularly doctoral programs?
He said, roughly, “We’ve managed to get some funding from agencies like NIH and the NSF. But there’s a lot of programs that we don’t qualify for because we don’t have doctoral programs.” (That’s not a direct quote, but I remember him specifically mentioning those two agencies.)
Second, a few weeks ago, I was in discussion with someone who was in charge of a a fairly new Ph.D. program in biology (not medical biology). He said that they were going to conduct searches for four new faculty members... whose main responsibility would be to write successful grant proposals to support their doctoral students.
It’s been rare to see such naked admissions that institutions see graduate students and faculty as cash cows.
At the program level, this could well be one reason why we have an over-supply of Ph.D.s in the job market now.
The latter might bother me even more. To hear that indicates to me that those poor souls are going to be evaluated for tenure just on whether they can raise money. That is not supposed to be what academia is about. Students, if you wonder why your professor is an incoherent teacher... this may be why. In a situation like that, why would you invest any time more than the bare minimum needed?
If you’re an advanced graduate student or post-doc, you might not want to fret about landing that glamour mag publication as much as you should be writing grant proposals at every opportunity. Federal agencies, state agencies, scientific societies.
Additional: I like this translation of academic speak by Dr. 24 Hours:
“Establish an Independant Research Program” = Get Grant Money or You're Fired.
The root of problems: How external funding distorts institution’s priorities