How to fund research properly

Research is an industry. Unlike other industries, it is often almost entirely bound to government funding. Because research takes a long time to bear fruit, people (not equipment) should be the primary concern of decision makers. Specifically, the government is responsible for keeping the research job market healthy, so that talented and productive researchers can remain gainfully employed for many years. Because research is such an artificial industry, it should be possible to predict the evolution of the job market with some accuracy.

Recently, the Canadian government reallocated research funding. In particular, it cut funding to its research arm, the National Research Council. Top-notch researchers are losing their permanent positions and entering an already crowded job market. To compensate, the government will  allocate more scholarships to business graduate students.

I think that the government is misguided:

  • In most fields, too many successful graduate students fall out of the system after graduation. We have to create more research jobs. Reliance on slave labour (such as students) may suit the tenured professors on the short term, but it hurts us all on the long term by making the job market unbalanced. Also, unlike professors, government researchers do not train new Ph.D. students. Hence, government research jobs are essential in keeping the job market healthy on the long run. We should massively invest in government research laboratories!
  • Grant money should not be locked down for equipment when salaries are needed. Currently, some Canadian professors can afford to buy 200 desktops, but pay only for 10 researchers. By preventing professors from converting grants to salaries, it makes the job market worse! Often, we need more post-doctoral fellowships, not more desktops! The government should encourage professors to create more post-doctoral positions.
  • Schools are already rejecting MBA students for lack of space. Diverting science funding to offer MBA students scholarships is almost certainly wasteful. 

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “How to fund research properly”

  1. Thanks for the feedback. I was specifically discussing the Canadian government. The funding described in this article is from the province of Ontario and RIM founder Mike Lazaridis. The Quebec government (where I live) is also funding science more than ever.

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