As I read a proposal from my research advisor that was just funded, I find myself questioning if grad school prepares us to be research professors. Sure, by the time I leave here, I will know how to design an experiment, analyze the data, write a scientific paper, and understand what the current happenings in the field are. However, as I read this proposal, I question my ability to come up with a new, novel idea, that is also worthy of grant money. The proposal is well thought-out, thorough, but includes information that I don’t know if I would have thought of. On top of that, it involves collaborations with other schools and areas of study that I have never interacted with.
This leaves me wondering, how does one make these connections? Having connections will certainly assist in being successful in my field. Maybe it’s easier than I imagine because every researcher is vying for grant money and needs a good collaboration from a neighboring field to successfully obtain it. On the other hand, what niche can I fill that my advisor isn’t already covering? I have a different background but, in the end, they are training us to be them.
Okay, so all that aside, let’s say I get a grant. Now, I have a team of grad students doing the legwork while I assist them to successful results. Sometimes, while I am carrying out a study now, I come to an issue that seems insurmountable. Now, as the principal investigator, I am supposed to know how to solve those issues. For me, I have a hard time knowing the solution unless I have happened upon that problem before. Maybe, it will happen while I’m in grad school, or maybe I’ll know enough about the area of study that I can figure out how to overcome it. But what if neither of those happens? Now, I have a grant that says I am going to do a thing, and I can’t figure out how to get there.
Okay, now on the flip side, what if I never get a grant or I get small grants? I have pressure from the department to take on grad students, so I do, and now their livelihoods depend on my ability to bring in money. Maybe the department will sustain them for a while but that can only last for so long. On top of having no money to support them, they can’t go to conferences which is important if they plan to go into academia.
Aside from this, I asked if I can write a proposal to gain this experience, and I was told that a student can not get PI status at Virginia Tech (or maybe it was my department?) Regardless, there are also very view grants that allow graduate students to apply as the intended PI.
Are other people in graduate school taught these things before finishing their degree? Or do they learn it after they have gotten a tenure-track position?