, , ,

Money — it’s the crux of just about everything we do in science.  Want to bring in a new student or staff member? Money.  Want to do field or lab work? Money. Want to go to a conference? Money. It’s one of the things we expect scientists to be good at (and which is also a full-time profession in and of itself).

I get particularly cranky when I see money used as a barrier to diversity.  I’ll explain with two examples that have recently piqued my interest.

The first is something I’ve discussed before – paying staff. I highly recommend Auriel Fournier’s post on the same topic.  For me, it boils down to a simple axiom: no money = no staff.  You’ll note this is similar to the currently accepted adages “No money = no gas”, “No money = no lab analyses”, and “No money = no milk for the tea room”.  As we approach the (northern) field season’s peak time for hiring, I find it particularly frustrating when I see “opportunities” that are entirely volunteer, or even pay-to-work junkets.  That just ain’t right.

The second is something that’s come up on Twitter recently – spending one’s own money “for science”, by which I mean incurring expenses for one’s research/job and not being reimbursed.  This post by Edd Hind lays out the terrible logic, and the damning evidence.

In both cases the result is the same – science becomes only possible for those who have financial means. And that typically means white men. We need more diversity in science.

I don’t think the ideas I’m advocating are all that radical (we should pay people a decent wage for their work, and they should not have to pay for work-related expenses). And while they alone won’t solve the problem of under-represented groups in science, they’ll go a long way to making it a slightly more even playing field.

If you’re a PI – budget for your staff just as you would your lab ethanol or conference travel. Give your trainees travel advances if they’re going to incur large bills over a short period (e.g., a field season). Learn about central pools of money from the department, faculty, or graduate student union to cover conference travel, training, etc.

If you’re a trainee – discuss funding for staff and supplies with your supervisor. Seek reimbursement for costs incurred, and advocate for advances rather than reimbursement (or direct purchasing by the department/university). And know your department’s/university’s financial regs for reimbursement (or pots of money for conferences); your PI may not be up to speed on these.

If you’re an administrator – push for appropriate financial measures so that trainees aren’t out of pocket. Look at having a central pool of funding for things like conference travel (as a grad student, I got 1 conference/year covered this way).

And don’t just assume that because you could cover the cost that others could as well.