Friday, July 28, 2006

Yay for Admin

I’m generally not one to have a kind word for administrators or powers that be, but today they actually did a good thing. As you can see from our scholarships page, the school has offered all the domestic students a 2000 buck scholarship top-up. That's basically a 10% pay rise.

This is a good thing. I suppose I could come up with some sort of statistical analysis to demonstrate the value of students, but this is a blog, not a spreadsheet, so I’ll go with an anecdotal example instead.

Last year, all the PhD students organized a field trip out to South Australia, and spent a week checking out the Ediacaran fauna, salt lakes, and Cryogenian sediments. Normally, the ICP machine that I mind in the mornings is booked out about 9 weeks in advance, but one of the students accidentally booked a day during the field trip, so there was an opening. Usually, free days are snapped up by students before I even notice that they were available, but in this case, that obviously didn’t happen. So, I actually had to go out and pimp my machine.

LL: Hey Prof, do you need any mass spec time?
Professor 1: Have you asked (student)-
LL: No students this week.
P1: Oh. Well, we have a lot of samples to run. Talk to my technician to see what needs to be done.
LL: She’s in Sydney this week.
P1: Oh. Well, I guess we’ll have to let this one go.

P2: ICP-MS time? No, I don’t have anything that is appropriate for that machine. The students are away this week, aren’t they?
LL: Yup.
P2: Sorry, I’ll have to pass.

P3: Free time? Great. I need samples XYZ run. Can you find them and-
LL: Actually, once I get the machine set up I’ll be spending the rest of the day in lab W.
P3: Oh. You want ME to operate the machine.
LL: I can get you all set up, so…
P3: Never mind, I’ve got to finish this grant proposal. I think I’ve got a day coming up next month anyway.

So, for the first weekday in 4 months, the machine was idle.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how far $2000 will go towards actually attracting new students. With the commodities boom, mining companies are showering money on anyone with a pulse. One of the undergrads last year- average kid, nothing special- got offered a starting salary in excess of $80,000 straight out of uni. No work experience, no advanced degree, just a university diploma and a very friendly handshake.

As someone whom students occasionally ask for advice, it is hard to tell students not to go work in industry when offers like that are being made. It is a boom and bust business, so these opportunities generally only happen for a few years each decade. Grad school will always be there. And a student who can pay off his loans and put some cash in the bank with a few years in the mines will be much more secure if s/he does eventually go back to research. And returning students interested in minerals-related research can sometimes get their employers to bankroll their PhD’s.

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