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Author Topic: Autonomy of the principal investigator?  (Read 11186 times)
dismal_sci
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« on: April 11, 2012, 2:58:01 PM »

Do PIs where you work have control over what grad students they hire?  In my department at a large R1 some faculty get sizeable federal grants and others, including the current chair, get none.  Our admissions committee accepts some PhD students with promises of funding but the interests of those students tend not to match up with the interests of the PIs.   The PIs hire other PhD students who come without official departmental funding but have genuine interests in and talents for the funded projects.   One would conclude that the problem is with the admissions committee, which offers funding without even consulting the PIs.  But instead of suggesting changes to admissions policies, recently our chair announced that PIs can no longer expect to choose they want to hire.  My money can and will go through a unit on campus unrelated to my department, so I will still hire who I want. I feel rather bad for the department that could really use the overhead. Am I wrong to be shocked that a chair would stand up in a faculty meeting and threaten the autonomy of the PI without any awareness of what would happen next?  I'm asking because while I've worked several places where this would never happen, my current colleagues don't appear to be remotely bothered by this.  
« Last Edit: April 11, 2012, 2:59:13 PM by dismal_sci » Logged
mleok
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« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2012, 10:34:44 PM »

While the issue of who to admit to the graduate program is certainly under the purview of the graduate admissions committee and the department, and they are under no obligation to admit a student who you would be comfortable funding, it is also true that you as the PI are not obligated to hire a student just because your department decides to admit the student.

Your chair is clearly overstepping his authority here, and it is the first time I've heard of such an utterly clueless chair at a R1 university. Your department should only be guaranteeing funding to students out of departmental funds, either through departmental fellowships, or teaching assistantships. The awarding of research assistantships is clearly a prerogative of the PI. Like you, I would be appalled if my colleagues did not take umbrage at this violation of PI autonomy.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2012, 10:38:17 PM by mleok » Logged
usukprof
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« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2012, 11:38:44 PM »

+1  The department might also guarantee GTA funds to incoming students.
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mleok
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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2012, 2:09:23 AM »

The only time I've been asked to chip in funding for an incoming student has been when I have expressed an interest in admitting a specific student, and that has typically been restricted to international students who cost the department significantly more to fund. Even in this situation, I am loathe to fund a first year student on a research grant, since they would be spending most of their time studying for their qualifying examinations, and not actually contributing to the goals of the grant.

Honestly, funding a student who isn't interested in working with you on your external grant is almost definitely mismanagement of your grant funding, and you should inform your department chair that it exposes your department to potentially severe ramifications in terms of your individual and collective ability to continue attracting funding. If he doesn't budge, then it's time to talk to your VP for Research (or equivalent), about the potential legal implications for your university.
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anon99
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« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2012, 9:26:09 AM »

I wish our dept would fund grad students.  They do get a GTA, but most of their funding comes from our research grants.  If they want to admit and fund students and then expect PIs to take on those students, the students should be expected to work on the PIs research.  The real losers here seem to be the students.
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polly_mer
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Have you worked on that project today?


« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2012, 9:45:38 AM »

Honestly, funding a student who isn't interested in working with you on your external grant is almost definitely mismanagement of your grant funding, and you should inform your department chair that it exposes your department to potentially severe ramifications in terms of your individual and collective ability to continue attracting funding. If he doesn't budge, then it's time to talk to your VP for Research (or equivalent), about the potential legal implications for your university.

This.  The point of grant funding is to get research done with competent people.

If the department wants to fund random students, then the department has to do that from the overhead on grants or other sources, not the grants themselves.
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shrek
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« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2012, 9:53:34 AM »

In my department the graduate recruitment funds, TA, and RA (from grants) are independent. The admissions committee usually makes recommendations about who to admit. They do this with input from the potential faculty mentor(s) (faculty the applicant is interested in working wtih). If the students is admitted and the faculty mentor agrees to mentor them, there's a match and the applicant is admitted. Then the committee ranks them and the DGS will use available recruitment and TA funds to make them funding offers. The faculty mentor can add to the package by offering to fund in subsequent years; or replace TA funding with RA funding. But, that's their money and their project. They need to hire people who have the qualifications for the goals of the grant.
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geonerd
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Do not take the bait.


« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2012, 10:26:49 AM »

As PI on my grants I am also the "fiscal agent," which means I have to approve all expenses and personnel matters. I would not approve hiring someone who is not my choice.  While a chair may have control over the portion of grant IDC that is kicked back to the department, I can't imagine a chair could control who is hired on someone else's research grant. This is something your dept members should forward to your research and sponsored projects office and the administrator who oversees that office (usually the VP of research) have them instruct the chair that he lacks authority to do this (and is outing himself as an @ssklown).
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ruralguy
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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2012, 4:03:23 PM »

I'm at a SLAC, so I can only speak to this issue from writing LOR's for my undergrads applying to progams in a STEM field.

When I can, I always speak to how the students interests and experiences match those of specific faculty members and groups at the dept. in question. I figured that dept. admissions commitees like to see such things, particularly from stronger candidates who they would like to admit, but for whom they don't have a lot of information beyond scores on exams, and GPA.

When I was in grad school, if you couldn't find a research adviser (or could, but she/he didn' have adequate grant money), you'd become a GTA (save for possibly during the summer). If you turned out to be an incompetent TA, you'd lose that money too, and sometimes folks either left grad school, or paid their way until they found a research adviser with money. There didn't seem to be any implication that an adviser had to take on any particular person, though, of course, for promotion, they'd need to show they can both get grants (that included student money) and properly mentor students up to and including the Ph. D.. So, I can see how this goes: Admissions committee feels that they have to accept SOMEBODY, so they do. Many don't match up with the faculty very well, so you've got people "floating".
Then, some poor schlub who wants to get tenure starts thinking "oh, I better just bring so-and-so aboard, or I'll never have a graduating student!" Then it becomes habitual for all faculty to do such things. 

But if it did go down that way, it would be a sign of a faltering grad program for which student quality (or at very least, student interests) are lagging behind faculty quality and interests.
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skeptical
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« Reply #9 on: May 02, 2012, 12:14:15 AM »

At my uni, the department's admissions committee admits students; we tend not to admit students unless we can fund them as a teaching assistant. PI's with the money to do so, get their pick of the admitted students (as long as the student is in "good standing" according to University and department standards). In theory, PI's could hire research assistants from other departments, but such treachery would be frowned upon. No faculty member, however, can admit a student to the program without the concurrence of the admissions committee.
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