Category Archives: funding

A successful catch

Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers.  Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering.  According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.

Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM.  Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States.  Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Research Obstacles

Jordan and I have slowly been getting fieldwork done here at the Maputo Special Reserve.  A number of obstacles have popped up along the way that have provided us with some learning opportunities, but also have me thinking about the feasibility of continuing research here in the future.  

Field office at Maputo Special Reserve. This is a patch of electrical outlets foraged closest to our base camp.

Field office at Maputo Special Reserve. This is a patch of electrical outlets foraged closest to our base camp.

1. Transportation – this has always been an issue.  The reserve is located on coastal sand dunes and has no paved roads.  4WD is absolutely necessary.  Despite shelling out to repair the car we are using, there is still no 4WD.  We were told this after we got to the field, with the promise that if we returned to Maputo we could get it fixed and then…  Our time is very limited so this is not really an option.  I was also unaware that the vehicle needed repairs until 3 days after we arrived.  So I had not planned for paying or waiting while the repairs were made.  My arrival date was known more than 2 weeks in advance.  The estimates could have been done while I was in the US so that I could have the proper amount of cash ready.  Then the repair work could have been done during the week I conducted a workshop at the university.  Hey presto!  No waiting around an extra week in Maputo for car repairs and spending money out of my own pockets that I don’t have. While we do get use of the car from the university here free in exchange for some of the repair work, any future research trips will require me to either rent or purchase a vehicle.  I cannot take students out with a vehicle that is iffy.

2. Students – As part of the agreement I have with Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, I take the occasional Mozambican student with me to the field for practical hands-on training.  To date, this has been fine but now that I also have my own students coming from Maryland this situation needs to be clarified more.  Conducting ethnographic work requires building rapport with the interviewee and trust with the community.  Having more than 1-2 people in addition to a translator while conducting an interview can make the interviewee uncomfortable and unwilling to participate – when the extra people start asking questions, they can slow interviews and create confusion.  We hit the limit on this trip our first week.  In addition to Jordan, Fatima – a sociology student at UEM – also came out with us.  I have been working with her on her MS research project.  She also brought her own translator.  All 5 of us worked well as a team, but I think we overwhelmed the folks we interviewed.  Between having 5 people sitting in on one of my interviews and then both students needing to collect their own data on top of my research, it was too much.  And so horrible for the shy people I occasionally interview.  There were other issues and additional problems I can foresee if the group was larger.  Any future student training will require advance preparation and paperwork on my part, as well as that of the students.  While I recognize that students may not have the hands-on practice before they come out to the field with me, there are many things they can do in advance to prepare that didn’t happen on this trip.  I cannot be responsible for everything.

Shooting the breeze about elephants and other problems - Jordan Tompkins, Prof. Adriano, Prof. Candido, Domingos Cuna.  Taken at Madjadjane Primary School

Shooting the breeze about elephants and other problems – Jordan Tompkins, Prof. Adriano, Prof. Candido, Domingos Cuna, Joseph Mucombo. Taken at Madjadjane Primary School

3. Costs – Doing research is a funny thing.  Some of the questions I get from non-scientists back home – or both scientists and non-scientists here – indicate that folks really think the US government pays for everything I do in the field.  They don’t.  I am not a scientist because I can make a lot of money.  I am a scientist because I am intensely curious and would not be happy not-knowing what’s over the horizon or why people do what they do and why it is different in one place/time versus another.  I create a budget for my research project.  There are costs that the organization who pays for the research will cover – certain types of equipment, housing, some food, fuel, some ground transport, translators, office supplies/photocopies, airfares – and a whole lot that they don’t cover – some food, “non-monetary gifts” that may be given as thank yous for interviews or other types of assistance, emergency repairs, emergencies,…  Okay, that makes sense.  But then I often have to pay upfront out of my own pocket and then get reimbursed.  Actually, some of this could be paid in advance by credit card, however, most of Mozambique where I do research doesn’t use credit cards.  So I am out until I get reimbursed.  My bank account looks miserable, and every time I go to the field I worry.  I have a mortgage and car payments, but that is the extent of my debt.  Graduate students have it much worse with tuition debt and then often putting everything on a credit card.  Anthropologists have traditionally traveled abroad to conduct research in hard to reach places with significant problems, and I still want to, but I see the advantage in working in the United States.  

Southern entrance on main road between Ponto d'Oro and Salamanga.

Southern entrance on main road between Ponto d’Oro and Salamanga.

4. Communities – I love this place where I work.  The people of Matutuine District are very kind and friendly, and hard-working.  But, based on their comments, they are getting burned out with visiting researchers.  “Many people come Dra. Jenny, like you.  They ask questions and write, but then what?  Where does this information go?  What does it do for us?  We are still having problems.  There is no hospital.  We have elephants eating all our machamba [agricultural crops].”  Jordan has been told flat out that if she were not with me, no one would be answering her questions about malaria.  “That is not the problem.  The elephants are the problem.”  I have been able to rework my questions a little since I am here to ask about environmental change and response – elephants killing people and destroying agricultural fields is a change that requires response.  Yet, tiring people out with constant questioning doesn’t advance our knowledge of how the world works or how we might make people’s quality of life better.  And they need to see the results.  I have presented my work to the community and given them results from past work.  I will be writing a report on this project for the community, the reserve, the government conservation agency, and anyone else who I can hunt down and hand it to.  But not everyone does this.  Publishing in journals doesn’t do anything for the communities where we work.  Governments don’t read journal articles and sometimes other scientists don’t either.  Communities take on many forms.   I will be able to get my research done, but I need to rethink and definitely think larger for the next project. 

The interviews are coming slowly.  We are getting great data though – when we can get people who have a little time to talk.  The PhotoVoice interviews have been fantastic!!!  Madjadjane and Gala have some great local photographers.  We have one more week in the field, my fingers are crossed.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned from working with my friends in Mozambique – be they in Maputo or Matutuine or Maputo Special Reserve – is that obstacles can be overcome, they just require time and hard work and patience.

Jen Shaffer and Domingos Cuna interview local photographer, farmer, and community secretary, Sra. Albertina Mondlwane of Gala, Mozambique.

Jen Shaffer and Domingos Cuna interview local photographer, farmer, and community secretary, Sra. Albertina Mondlwane of Gala, Mozambique.

For want of a nail…

Listserves drive me crazy, even when I have all the posts condensed to a daily digest form.  However, they occasionally bring me important information about what my peers are working on, job, conference, or workshop opportunities, new articles, relevant news, and networking possibilities.  Today I received notice about yet another looming battle in ongoing war against science – in this case, it would be more accurate to say social science –  in the United States.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, introduced HR 4186 on 10 March 2014 – they’re calling it the FIRST Act.  It’s a budget bill that provides funding to the National Science Foundation so scientists can do basic research, discover, invent, and teach the next generation of scientists along the way. Rep. Smith states,

To remain globally competitive, we need to make sure our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth. Our bill focuses taxpayer investments for basic research in critical areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics. Advances in these fields drive innovation, create jobs and keep our economy strong.”

Don’t get me wrong, we should scrutinize how taxpayer dollars are spent so that monies are spent wisely.  But science is more than STEM, and social science is just as crucial to economic growth and the competitiveness of our nation as any of the biophysical sciences, mathematics, or engineering.  New inventions and technologies are great, but real people with different sorts of values, ethics, risk perceptions, vulnerabilities, economic status, genders, ages, ethnicities, etc. have to actually use them, and maybe even understand what they’re for and why they’re important.

HR 4186 targets the Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) at NSF in particular by cutting it’s funding budget 42%.  As highlighted in Nature News Blog, “it seeks to cap SBE funding at $150 million per year in 2014 and 2015, well below the directorate’s actual 2014 budget of $257 million.”  This translates into smaller pots of money available for researchers – both established researchers as well as young scientists applying for funds to conduct their dissertation field work.

As for the proposal peer-review process, Rep. Smith states,The FIRST Act does not change NSF’s peer review process. But it does expand accountability and requires transparency so that only high quality research receives taxpayer funds. Finally, the FIRST Act reauthorizes and streamlines federal investments at the NSF and NIST by funding research and development to address national needs.”  Okay, but how does that translate into reality?  Basically, the SBE would need to justify that every awarded grant is in one of 6 national interest areas: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defense (Nature News, 2014).  Which means that researchers need to provide this in their proposals.  Does that mean we get more than ~15 pages now to explain everything?  Or do we have to cut out some of the hard, important stuff on theoretical underpinnings and methods to make room?   I like that Rep. Smith specifically cites the waste of $340,000 for early human-set fires in New Zealand.  It’s clear that he doesn’t see any connections between fire, changing climate patterns, and what we could learn from history or other cultures.  Again, this sort of change will make it tougher for many social scientists to get funding for research.

Lastly, grant recipients are capped at 5 years and proposals to 5 citations regardless of discipline.   Long-term research and complex projects just got more difficult.  That includes longitudinal studies with different populations and research on human-environment interactions.  And only 5 citations?  Just to repeat, FIVE citations.  WHAT??????  Are they crazy?  I guess that means we have to cut out all that boring, hard stuff on theoretical support for our ideas and methods on how we actually intend to carry out the research.  There’s more problems with the bill being introduced, but I need to cool off a bit.  How does this work in the interests of making sure taxpayer dollars are well spent?  Anything could be proposed.  <snark> I guess we’ve now seen the edge of the universe, no need to stand on the shoulders of giants to look any further. </snark>

Internet rumor has it that George Washington, our first president, once said, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”  As a scientist, and an anthropologist, I couldn’t agree more.

For Want Of A Nail. Scott Gustafson, 2010

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