Research Group and how it is important that all members (students, postdocs, faculty) be productive. There are many topics to discuss, e.g.: What are the roles and responsibilities of being the advisor (manager) of a Research Group? What are the roles and responsibilities of being a postdoc? And let’s not forget the technicians, who are essential to the successful functioning of many research groups. I don’t know if I’ll cover all of these topics (and certainly won’t in this post). 1 – Students paid on a grant must do the work they are paid to do. 2 – Students are students who are learning how to do research and who should be given the freedom to do some independent thinking and discovering. The reason these statements are not entirely contradictory is that the phrase “the work they are paid to do” is actually not as well defined as it may seem.
For some projects, there are certain tasks that need to be accomplished. If a student is being paid to do these tasks, the student should do these tasks, even if they are boring, with assistance as required. Even if there are these specified tasks (and for some projects there are not), the student still has the time and resources to explore other ideas. I wouldn’t mind at all if a student ended up doing something different from what the grant proposal described — maybe the student will find a more interesting aspect in the general topic of the project. In fact, I would be thrilled if a student did some independent research, even while paid on a RA to do something else, and came up with something interesting. The student isn’t the only one responsible for research progress. I also do research as part of grant-funded projects, and I take the lead in writing some conference abstracts and papers. Part of being in a research group is recognizing that it is a little community, with all that implies about doing one’s share but also benefiting from the activities and support of others.
I have high (but, I think, reasonable and clearly articulated) expectations for how much ‘work’ graduate RAs should do. And by ‘work’, I don’t count time spent physically in the department but not doing anything. And I don’t actually care when the work is done as long as I see the student once in a while so that we can discuss things and interact to some extent. In many cases my expectations are met, but it is amazing how many times they are not. For example, I have spent what I consider to be an inordinate amount of time advising students (male and female) whose research progress as RAs was essentially shut down for months while they planned their weddings. Most advisors of graduate students can trade stories like this for hours. We also like to talk about our successful students, but in many cases it seems like the successful students were going to succeed anyway. It’s also easier to take the failures and difficult cases personally, so maybe we talk about them more to try to convince ourselves that it wasn’t (all) our fault. And the failures may be more interesting as stories. Whatever the case, there are going to be successes and failures and everything in between. No matter how many years I’ve been an advisor, I’m amazed at the immense number of ways that things can go wrong, and the limited number of paths to success.
As we found in this week’s readings, Economic Growth and Public Policy are directly linked. If you had the ability to affect government policy, drawing from the topics in Chapter 25, what would you do to raise productivity and living standards today? This week I would like you to comment on an idea regarding our taxation system called the “Fair Tax”. There is nothing about this in the book but there is a good amount of information available on the Internet. Take a look at their ideas and let us know how you feel about it and why. Are unions good or bad for the economy? I am not looking for a yes or no response here. I am looking for a comment that is backed up by facts or statistics. Again everyone is entitled to their own opinion based on the facts so we all need to respect that. The final chapter in out text discusses “Six Debates over Macroeconomic Policy”. Which debate you personally have the strongest feeling over, and do you fall on the “pro” or “con” side of the reasoning? Why is this a thought driver for you? Can you share an example of how it may have affected you? Lastly, take the opposite side of the argument, and explain how it could have been used to benefit your situation.