Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking out for each other

I think it's important for grad students to look out for other grad students and share what they know about how things work (or don't) within the department, university, discipline, and academia in general. I certainly make an effort to do this and I've been grateful for useful knowledge gleaned from more experienced graduate students. This morning something happened that reminded me of the importance of this sort of informal transfer of knowledge.

One of my classmates mentioned that her advisor still hasn't commented on a grant proposal that she has to submit in two days. Certainly a bummer, since his name is on the application and, as Dr. Isis says, she can't submit without his approval. Last year I submitted a proposal with a similar application process. There's a whole bunch of administrative stuff that the university has to do, most of which takes a long time. Herb warned me about this. I asked if she'd talked to Mr. X, the accountant who actually needs to press the button to submit her application. She said, "Who's Mr. X?" (alarm sirens go off in my head at this point). I told her to go to his office straight away because she would need to promise homemade brownies and probably her firstborn child (to several different people, nonetheless) to get everything set up for her to submit the grant in just two days. It might not even be possible.

There were two major ways that this last-minute scramble should've been prevented:
1. Obviously, my classmate should have thoroughly and clearly read all of the instructions for submitting the grant and asked for clarification if she didn't understand. However, this process is different than most applications that grad students in our department go through, so I'm not surprised that she didn't know and I don't fault her entirely.
2. Her advisor should've given her a heads up weeks or even months ago that she would need to do some additional legwork within the university system to submit this grant. Ideally this should've happened early in the process of drafting the proposal.

If someone else in her lab or office had gone through a similar process, I hope that the students would alert each other to such potential obstactles. I feel bad that she didn't know about the complicated submission process before today, but not as bad as I'd feel if she wasn't able to submit it at all. At least now she might have a chance. What if she hadn't mentioned it to me in passing? I guess she probably learned a tough lesson about grants.

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