When Looking for Washington Money, Personal Touch Counts
As competition for federal funds increases, professors say their calling card often becomes as important as their resume.
Given the quantity of interesting research projects proposed every year, some scholars say an individual's government connections can help when funders are making the cut.
"It's up to the individual professor," says John Shattuck, vice president for government, community and public affairs. Harvard may lobby Washington agencies for general higher education allocations, but not for itself or its professors in particular, he says.
"It's all on a competitive basis," Shattuck says. "We don't lobby for specific projects."
Roger W. Brockett, Harvard's Wang professor of electrical engineering and computer science, says many grant proposals often get "lost in the machinations of Congress."
"What I do see much more clearly is that the processes by which research funds are distributed are becoming much more geo-political than quality-oriented," Brockett says.
And some professors have better contacts than others. Harvard recently offered a tenured post to former MIT provost John M. Deutch, who is known for his government ties and previous experience in various presidential administrations.
Deutch has been offered a post in public policy and technology, a field the Division of Applied Sciences is seeking to expand. Although most federal funding is not oriented towards this area, Division Dean Paul C. Martin '52 says that type of research is substantially less expensive than more lab oriented work.
Still, administrators say connections may not hurt, but they do not guarantee funding. Although some professors bring better reputations than others into the federal grant competition process, Martin says scholars are "still judged on the basis of their qualifications."
"Contacts at government agencies don't do very much good," Martin adds.
But, he acknowledges, for the most part schools don't receive government research funds--professors do. In many instances, scholars who switch univerisities will bring their federal funding with them.
Deutch has not yet responded to the Harvard offer, and Martin would not comment on the matter.