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As grants run dry, some UI researchers may face furloughs

BY JOE CAVALIERE | JANUARY 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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The UI received almost $430 million to fund research in fiscal 2009. But eventually, that money will run out.

And for researchers, this can mean furloughs, which were the focus of the latest Brown Bag Series presentation, “Been There, Done That.”

The Monday afternoon panel discussion was the second part of a series titled “Everything You Should Know about UI Employee Support Resources.”

When the university receives grant money to fund a research project, officials will typically use it to pay for involved staff members’ salaries. Once the project is completed and the grant money — typically given for a specified period of time — is gone, those staff members may be furloughed.

Furloughs for researchers are different from for those of other staff members. It is essentially a notice the employee will soon be laid-off, said Diana Boeglin, a co-chairwoman on the Education Committee for Staff Council and the organizer of the event. Though it doesn’t always come because grant money runs out, this is a common reason.

Furloughs for researchers happen year-round at the UI, even independent of the budget crisis, Boeglin said.

But the recession may play a role in how much research money the UI receives next year. The National Institutes of Health, which gave the UI $133 million last year, has announced it will not be so generous next year.

The presentation was formatted as a series of discussion questions from Boeglin to a panel of UI staff members who have all received furloughs in the past but have since been re-employed.

Esther Baker, the director of external relations in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the purpose of this event was to “give a message of hope to people that you can come out OK” after receiving a furlough notice.

Nearly all of the members of the panel praised the UI Career Development Center for helping them find new jobs after they received their notice. This organization will typically tailor the employee’s cover letter and résumé to assist her or him in the job hunt.

“I really felt like it had my back,” panel member Harinder Kaur said.

The discussion had low attendance but the event was recorded and broadcast live on the Internet. It can be viewed on the Staff Council’s website.

The presenters attributed the low turnout to both the lack of mass e-mails to inform people of the event and the harsh winter weather.

The furlough process, while stressful at first, has been viewed by some as a positive experience in the long run. Many members on the panel were able to go back into their preferred field when they were re-employed.

“It may at first be a shock, but it can be like a breath of fresh air; it’s been a really great experience,” panel member Martha Hedberg, who works with the Conflict of Interest in Research Office said.


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