Making my voice heard and getting the funds I need

I've blogged before about my difficulties in getting adequate and unrestricted start-up funds from my university. Where we left the story, I'd been awarded about 2/3 the start-up funds I needed, with an oral promise that I would be "first in line" for money when I arrived. I also had to spend every cent of my start-up funds before I ever arrived on campus, leaving me literally penniless as I tried to get my lab set-up. The net result of all this is that I bought a big fancy piece of equipment (BFPE) and didn't have enough to buy the doojab to actually make the equipment run.

As soon as I settled into my office and wrote my syllabi, I went to my chair to find out about getting the rest of my start-up funds. Chair was somewhat amnesiac and non-committal, but he suggested that I could put in a request to our department's budget and equipment committee. I immediately went back to my office and put in the request, along with a request for all the supplies that I hadn't known I needed until I arrived on campus. I also set to work on a grant proposal that would require lots of analyses from the BFPE and could therefore justify requesting the doojab.

A month later, I talked to my chair again. I told him that BFPE couldn't be run until I had the doojab. He suggested that I put my request in writing to him so that he could bring it up with the dean. I did. Repeat this scenario every few weeks for the rest of fall semester.

Towards the end of the semester, it became apparent that my request to the departmental budget and equipment committee wasn't ranked highly enough to justify the expense. There were other requests that were cheaper and served more faculty. About this time, my grant proposal was also rejected. One of the reviewer criticisms was that I hadn't requested sufficient other equipment/supplies to make my proposal work. Of course I hadn't, I'd had to save significant room in the budget for the BFPE doojab.

At the beginning of spring semester, I visited again with my chair. I repeated that I couldn't produce any data with BFPE without the doojab. I explained to him that while there were manual work-arounds to the doojab, those work-arounds required a full-time technician, and those were a lot more expensive in the long run than a single doojab. I also told him about the grant being rejected and what the reviewers had to say. I made the case that even my granting position was being hamstrung by the missing doojab. And then I made my case almost every time I saw my chair for the next two months.

And suddenly I had an account with just enough money to buy the doojab. By that time, I was so used to needing to make my own case, I had also managed to finagle the dollars I needed for lab supplies and some communal technician hours to get everything up and running.

I am happy to report that BFPE and doojab work very well together and they have been churning out data for a graduate student. I look forward to resubmitting my grant proposal next fall, and being able to knock those reviewer criticisms right out of the park. And one of these days, I'm going to give my chair a tour of the lab, and I'll make sure to point out the pretty doojab I'd pestered him so much about.

The important lessons I've learned from this experience are that I am the one who needs to make sure that my needs are met. Administrators may want me to succeed in a vague, general sort of way, but they aren't really going to look out for me unless I make my case loudly and clearly. I know that it doesn't pay to constantly be the squeaky wheel, but when it comes to things that are really going to make a difference in my career progress or job satisfaction, I will make my voice heard.
This a response to the prompt for this month's Scientiae carnival hosted by Zuska. Her chosen theme is "added weight" - a creative way for us to get thinking about:

How did you let the world know "I am HERE!" Or, if you feel the past year has not been so fruitful in your quest to take up positive space in the world - what added weight would you like to take on in the coming year? How do you want to take up space? How do you want to let yourself sprawl, in your professional or personal life? What, if anything, holds you back from a full-on sprawl? If you are a guy - what's something you've done or want to do that supports women who've taken on added weight, that supports women's right to sprawl in the world? How do you fight the nefarious Nutrisystem universe that tells women they should be small, small creatures of little physical or mental substance? Interpret liberally as seems fit to you.

It's not too late to submit posts - they aren't due until June 6th. More information here.

More like this

oral promise

HAHAHAHAHAHAH! You sure learned your lesson about that the hard way!

For other academics who are reading this: Oral promises in academia don't mean jack diddly shit! Nothing! They won't even be remembered one hour after they are made, let alone be honored.

If you receive an oral promise, and it actually gets honored, this just means that whatever was promised would have occurred regardless of the promise itself. Even written promises are frequently "reinterpreted" or even ignored as circumstances change, and there is basically nothing a lone academic can do about it.

This is why, as Sciencewoman found out, the key to making shit happen for you is to (1) ask for it, repeatedly if necessary and (2) to make a good case that making this shit happen will benefit the person who has the power to make it happen.

At the small level:"If you don't give me {small sum of money} to buy X, then I will never be able to generate the data required to get the grant that will provide {larger sum of money}."

At the big level: "If you don't give me an endowed professorship, 5000 square feel of lab space, and five tenure-track faculty slots, I am taking my multimillion dollar highly prestigious operation and going to fucking Stanford!"

Great story -- thanks for posting it. And congratulations on getting your needs met, barriers notwithstanding!

If a little passive-aggressiveness would be helpful - I find it a good strategy after I've had one of those oral agreement conversations to send a follow-up email, a "Dear [department head, with a CC to his assistant], thank you for our conversation this afternoon. I'm just writing to confirm [whatever it is you agreed to]. Please let me know who to talk to to advance this [w.i.i.y.a.t.]. Thanks again, [you]." This doesn't usually get any response from the chair, but instead sits in your sent email box, and you can follow up in 2 weeks/months with a "as per our discussion on [add as many dates as appropriate], I'm writing to follow up on [w.i.i.y.a.t.]." And copy the assistant again. I find this a helpful strategy. And as you get put off again and again, you add dates to your follow-up to emphasize how much of a problem this is. :-)

For mac users, I highly recommend the Mail plugin called "Follow-up" (available here for free) to facilitate such emailing.

And hurrah on finally getting the doojab!

Sciencewoman, I am so proud of you! Really. So many women I know give up under similar circumstances. I myself imagine that I could have been one of them, and have been in some circumstances (except that I was surrounded by kindness, so I've gotten most of what I needed). I think what you've described is one of the "habits of successful scientists" and we need to be reminded to fight for what we need.

By neurolover (not verified) on 04 Jun 2008 #permalink