Monday, March 17, 2008

Teaching and the Funding Fairy

Funding has been somewhat uncertain recently, but recent news suggests that I will continue my slightly-better-than-paycheck-to-paycheck existence for the foreseeable future.

My department guarantees funding during the school year via teaching positions, but the summer is much more variable. There are TAs in the summer months, but these don't pay that well - each of the three sessions pays well for what you work, but there is enough demand that you're basically only working one month of three, and an your own for the other two. Many of us manage to get RAs over the summer, with our advisor paying us for the actual amount of work we're doing (full time, unpaid vacation time).

My advisor had a nice grant that was fully capable of supporting 3 or 4 graduate students for the summer, with the joys of full-time work covering my student fees during the school year. The operative word there being "had". The grant officially runs out in November (or whenever that Fiscal Year change happens). Two more are in the works, with various levels of acceptance, but nothing official yet. With 4 graduate students and a PRA (lab coordinator), and the potential need for a PRA search over the summer, the possibility of exploring the normal graduate student Ramen-diet-and-indebtedness lifestyle was looming large.

My advisor obligingly crunched the numbers to determine whether we would need to apply for Summer TAs. The verdict is that we will be funding at least at our "minimum" level, of how much we need to make to pay rent and buy groceries, or at the "preferred" level, a more accurate reflection of how much time we'll be putting in to the lab (in terms of weeks worked, not hours per week). This might be stated in the group meeting we have later today, to discuss how "funding will be tight".

I'm guessing that the "funding will be tight" discussion will include comments on how vital it is to our training as mini professionals that we spend some time teaching. Or perhaps a direct statement that we'll all need to Fall TA while the current grant is dredged for lab costs and the new grants (hopefully) get started. I intend to volunteer to TA for the remaining two years of my grad school career.

I didn't want to TA over the summer, partially for money and partially in hopes of getting a lot done for my comps with no classes to distract me. I was desperate not to teach this semester, because last semester was a horror of being given two lab sections with no instructions ("teach them how to do research") while simultaneously trying to finish and defend my master's thesis, and I needed time to recuperate. But I do want to teach in general. I have used that time to attend teaching seminars, ruminate on the experience of teaching a course on the fly, and make plans for dealing with teaching in the future. One simple workshop I taught last week has reaffirmed that my interest in teaching far exceeds my interest in research as a career. I'd want to TA even if my advisor were flush, but the funding talk gives me a reason to ask for it with no expectation of being a strain on the department's ability to accept new graduate students or my advisor protesting my dedication to my dissertation.

I'll also be more willing to ask for full-time funding over the summer if I haven't been a drain on any grants during the school year. I do like my summer "vacation", and making enough money to cover the next year's student fees.

No comments: