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Re: grad students as cheap labor

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I wanted to offer a comment.  From my experience there is rarely a project
that is truely "university funded".  Virtually all research projects are
funded by outside sources.  In the case of our profession, the "major"
projects (which you might be considering as the "university funded"
projects) are funded by an agency of the federal government (i.e. NSF or
maybe FHWA) or a state DOT or a major techinical/trade/engineering
society/organization (like PCA, AISC, etc).  Typically university funds
are used for the teaching aspects or overall facilities for research, but
no individual projects.

This is not to say that projects are not indirectly "funded" by the
university, because they are.  Typically, new professors (i.e. new hires)
are provided with a "startup" fund that is meant for the purposes of
acquiring some new equipment for their potential research area.  While
this fund is no huge, it can buy some the testing equipment that might be
used in the future (such as load actuators, data acquisition systems,
etc).  Additionally, the university may contribute some overall budget for
the operation or even some initial capital for the creation of a major
lab.  Typically, though initial capital for the creation/construction of a
major lab comes by way of donations from outside sources and possibly some
grant/funding from the government (NSF I believe provided some of the
initial funding for the three regional seismic centers at SUNY Buffalo,
Illinois, and least that is where I THINK they are now).
The university will typically provide some money for the operation of the
lab and also provide money for lab equipment _IF_ it will be used for
teaching/classwork purposes.

Still, many large pieces of testing equipment are purchased through a
project funded by an outside organization.  These projects may seem more
official largely because when you get money from a government (state or
feds) there are typically LOTS of forms to complete.  And I suspect that
the university wants such things proceeding through some official central
research group (so they are at least aware of it).


Ypsilanti, MI

On Wed, 8 Jan 2003, Steiner, Matt wrote:

> As a full time project engineer in a university structural research lab
> and later as a graduate student, I experienced this first hand.  Small,
> back channel, privately funded research projects created and supported
> our lab.  The equipment and test hardware these jobs provided the lab
> would later be used to support official university funded projects.  The
> big official university projects provided test equipment, hardware and
> facilities that made the cost of the smaller private consulting projects
> much more feasible.
> The ethics of this relationship are questionable.  The University was
> unaware of these privately funded research projects and the department
> lab director knew full well what was happening, but claimed ignorance.
> At first these consulting jobs were after hours and weekends and didn't
> impede the university work.  Later, when there were a lot more jobs,
> this outside work happened during regular hours.  Equipment required for
> official university projects was no longer available because the
> lucrative work took precedence.
> The consulting work paid well and was fast pace, interesting real world
> research.  Most of the work stemmed from forensic or product testing
> sources.  Undergrads and grad students worked hard and weren't bogged
> down by the bureaucracy of the university system.  Ultimately, it was
> too difficult for me to deal with the ethical conflicts and the people
> who believed that their private profits were for the benefit of society
> (I guess it was easier to think of it that way).  When I questioned what
> was going on, the people in charge got upset with me and I ultimately
> left the program, or was sort of elbowed out.
> My opinion of consulting work in university research labs is that it is
> a benefit to the university and to the structural community.  If the
> University is aware and formally allows such work, everyone benefits.
> If private work has to be hidden from the University, who ultimately
> supports the infrastructure of the research lab, there is an obvious
> impropriety.
> Matt Steiner, P.E.
> Project Engineer
> 999 Town & Country Road
> Orange, CA  92868

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