Economics, Dean Behavior and Limits on Grant Submission

I took a lot of economics. Mostly forcefed from an economist parent who believed that the logic of cost benefit analysis had some hope of bringing irrational children and adolescents into an adult negotiation. It failed in that end, but some of the logic actually stuck.

We all claim to be generous, beneficent, and Truly Looking Out For The Other Guy. Yet, in the end mostly we do what is in our self-interest. Except when we are irrational teenagers, of course. I’m not interested in arguing either the ethics of that, or defending the empirical nature of those statements. They are my observations.

To expect that Universities, Deans, Deanlings, and colleagues will automatically do something different is foolish. Yes, I have had generous mentors, and I strive everyday to be as generous to my junior colleagues and trainees. Sometimes I actually succeed. Back to the uni administrators. Their priorities, what they look after, is the bottom line. Sometimes they care about quality, sometimes about egregious misbehavior (although reactions to such behavior is usually a knee-jerk response to threats to the bottom line), but usually they are thinking of the bottom line. What will it cost.

[Scientific aside: I know a clinical scientist friend of a friend who works in stroke rehab. She found that offering small monetary rewards during training to recover function after a stroke made huge differences in the rehabilitation].

If Dean/College/University level people get input into which grants get submitted, we can expect a couple of things. The party line will be “we want to submit the best possible grants”, with the subtext, we need the overhead. But choosing, on the margin, between the young faculty writing a 100K R03 or R21 and the BigDogBSD who is putting in the renewal for their 3M R01-23 (ie 23rd year), who do you think will get to submit?

There has been talk about limiting the number of grants that one PI can submit (not get, submit). Or limiting the number that can come from BSD-MRU. Usually this is in the context of reducing the number of grants that the greybeards/bluehairs command. However, I see it as having a more insidious impact: limiting what junior people get to do.

Everyone has lots of suggestions about “fixing the system”. I stand by my view that nearly all of what I have heard will have bad, negative affects on the most vulnerable of the grant-writing population.


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