Things are looking up! After last weeks attempt at collecting data for my PhD, I realized how important it would be for the new equipment I requested to be ordered and in my hands the next time I’m collecting data. Unfortunately there’s a process to getting new equipment and despite having funding for my project, there is no direct way to spend the money. Instead there is a winding path you need to follow in order to get equipment in a research lab.
Yep, nothing is ever easy. When I first started my journey I thought funding for a research lab worked like a bank account. Money was put into an account for you from research grants, you spent the money how you needed, and kept proof to show you’re not blowing it on things that aren’t related to your research (e.g., receipts). It made the most sense to me because after all the funding agency is trusting you to do what you said you would do in the proposal to the best of your abilities, so why wouldn’t they trust you with the money too?
Turns out the school gets the money instead. I mean technically in an account for you, but the school holds onto it. For safekeeping or something, it feels overly complicated. So no big deal, right? You can use the money in that account for the things you need. But no, it’s not like that either. You then have to request to the school to purchase the equipment you need and they can say no. I haven’t seen anyone say no before, but there is not one, but several people who need to agree that the purchase you’re making is something you actually need.
The pipeline goes something like this, you first have to get a quote for the equipment. Next, you submit the quote to the school/hospital/whatever, they review it, send it to another reviewer, and this can get passed around like this for several different reviews. Eventually it gets approved and again, I haven’t seen someone get denied, but I have seen issues with orders. What should be, thanks to the internet, a five minute task can take weeks or even months before approval comes and the order can even be placed.
The rest is pretty straightforward, the school/hospital/whatever then places the order for you, you get a tracking number, and eventually you get your nice, new, piece of equipment. So you can see from this that the process is incredibly complex and to do all this people need to get paid so they take a good ~15% or so from your grants to fund this pipeline. From what I’m told the amount varies between organizations, but there’s admin fees that need to be tacked on to your grant applications.
Can you tell I’m a bit frustrated?
So almost a month ago exactly, I got a quote for the equipment I would need for my project since I got the greenlight from my PI to order it. I convinced him that borrowing the equipment we were using was going to be very difficult and I was already running into problems getting it loaned to me for one experiment, much less multiple experiments in the same day. Which based on the scheduling it sounds like that was never going to be an option.
I was keeping my fingers crossed that the equipment would be ordered soon, but I know how frustratingly long this pipeline can run. Well as of a few hours ago the equipment was ordered! Which is good news for me since I really don’t want to have to repeat the events of the first data collection again. I may need to do it once more, but hopefully since the order was placed, we can get the equipment pretty quick.
With COVID still a thing and the supply chain issues just as bad as they ever where, I am not 100% sure when the equipment will arrive, but I’m hopeful that we can gently nudge the company to send us what we ordered ASAP so that I can continue with my experiments. Getting these done is of the highest priority if I ever want to graduate on time. So I’m very lucky that the equipment was even ordered in a semi-reasonable amount of time. A month feels like a long time, but I’ve seen them take far longer, so this was great news for us.
Now I will probably have to share the equipment with the rest of my lab, but that’s not a huge issue since (1) I’ll have priority, (2) not a lot of other experiments are going on that need it, and (3) since I work full-time I will only really be able to collect my data on Fridays and over the weekends, so it shouldn’t impact data collection for anyone else. There is at least one experiment happening on the weekend that could potentially use the equipment I’m getting, but they have some other equipment that they are currently using and switching to the stuff I got will be hard. So for the short-term at least, the stuff will be all mine (hopefully).
Since we just placed the order I need to wait to find out the shipping time frame, but I’ve been lucky this far, so let’s just hope it’s in stock and ready to ship. If that’s the case I could be collecting data as early as next week and that would be a great fit for my timeline.
Lack of trust causes so much tedium. At my workplace, my personal complaint under that heading is “employees can’t have admin rights on their computers.” Which means if you need to modify or troubleshoot much of anything, you have to get the overworked IT department involved. Eventually they made it a little better by setting up a server that would auto-install software for you, but if you need something that’s not on the pre-approved list – even if it’s just a plugin for your text editor or something – you still have to ask.
I’m sure there’s a reason for it; there is that small chance that someone with too much power wrecks their computer, or worse. Just in the past few weeks, someone took down the test lab network by incorrectly hooking up something in a cubicle in the same building. (And it happened twice, so there was even some concern they did it on purpose.) But the price we pay for avoiding things like that is a persistent efficiency tax.
I suppose this purchasing pipeline you’re dealing with is similar – somebody somewhere abused the system and ran off with some money, or politicians setting up science funding were afraid that would happen, and now everybody gets to suffer for it. I wonder if anyone’s run the numbers to see whether the bureaucracy costs more than any probable amount of fraud. It wouldn’t shock me if it did.
Glad you lucked out and got your things ordered quickly. What happened last week didn’t sound fun.
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May 18, 2022 at 10:11 pm
Oh I hate not having admin rights on our personal laptop at work. It drives me crazy! Plus whenever we have problems IT gets short with us and we end up needing to get temporary admin access to fix the problems ourselves. I hate it.
And yeah, I bet there may have been an incident or they were worried about it happening. The school wants money too so it’s beneficial to them to make a system that they can charge us for. I mean 15% or so of a grant is a substantial amount of money. This is why we need to fund education/research better! Blah.
Thanks, yeah last week was awful. I mean the first time is always the hardest, but this was particularly bad. Thankfully the PI of the space we were borrowing was overly polite. I had to bug him at least a half dozen times to get everything working right.
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May 19, 2022 at 1:25 pm