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2017 July 12

UCSC iGEM crowd-funding 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:30
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Each year a group of UCSC bioengineering engages in a summer research project in synthetic biology as part of the iGEM synthetic biology competition.  Although they get some support from the University, they have to raise the money for going to the iGEM jamboree (the conference where every team presents its results) by crowd-funding.

The UCSC iGEM team has opened their crowd-funding site for this summer:
UC Santa Cruz | UCSC iGEM 2017: Bugs without Borders

UCSC iGEM 2017: Bugs without Borders

What is iGEM?

The iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition is an international symposium dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology. For over 10 years, iGEM has been encouraging students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. Student teams design, build and test their projects over the summer and gather to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree.

The epitome of undergraduate research, iGEM provides an unparalleled opportunity for talented students to administer their own projects, advocate for their research and procure resources for funding. In doing so, the competition promotes creativity, collaboration and curiosity as students develop the critical, analytical, and independent real-world problem solving skills that are difficult to cultivate within the classroom.

Our Project: Bugs Without Borders

UCSC’s 2017 iGEM team is focused on the shortage of supplements and essential vitamins in third world countries. Affectionately dubbed “Bugs without Borders”, this year’s project aims to engineer a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) microorganism capable of producing a target supplement or essential vitamin in a safe and efficient manner.

Go to their crowd-funding site and watch their video to see what they are planning for this year.

2017 June 15

Petition to ask NIH to limit funds per person

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:35
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I just signed a petition,, that asks that NIH continue with their plan to cap each principal investigator at about three grants.  (Full details at the petition site.)

The idea is that by limiting over-funding for some of the biggest grantees, a lot of money would be opened up for good research that is currently going unfunded—the estimate is that the cap “would affect only 3% of all investigators, and the funds freed up could fund 900 new grants for PIs who did not have other grant funding.”  That sounds to me like a very good idea.  I gave up on writing grants a few years ago, when it became clear that the game had become a stacked lottery, and the expected value of the grant proposal was less than the cost of preparing the proposal (at least for slow writers like me—my salary for the time it took me to write a grant proposal was less than the expected value of the grant, given the very low probability of success).

I’ve blogged before on my dissatisfaction with what has happened to US research funding (see Fellowships, not research grantsSabbatical plans 2, and Sabbatical leave report), but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to add my voice to others in pressing for a change.

I urge others to read the petition, and decide whether you agree with it enough to sign it.

2017 May 19

Baking in inequity in funding

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 08:11
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UCOP (University of California Office of the President) and the UC Regents recently decided to limit out-of-state students at UC campuses.  But they did not do so uniformly across all campuses.  They decided to let UCB, UCLA, UCSD, and UCI have more out-of-state students than the other campuses and to keep the extra tuition collected.

This continues a pattern that has been in place at least as long as the 31 years I’ve been at UCSC of ensuring that UCB and UCLA get more funding per student than the younger campuses.  I’ve seen no evidence that UCOP or the UC Regents have any intention of ever treating the campuses equitably.  Even when they are strongly pushed to do so, they find ways to weasel out and bake in extra money for UCB and UCLA (like the “rebenching” initiative, which was touted as redressing imbalances, but ended up making them worse).

2016 October 23

UCSC athletics “town hall”

A year and a half  ago, I wrote a post, I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, in which I praised UCSC undergrads for rejecting a fee to subsidize the approximately 250 Division III athletes on campus, and last Spring I wrote Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year, when they voted 63% in favor of being asked if they would support a new fee of $270 a year to support the NCAA athletes (about $4.3 million for 16,000 students, or $14,000/athlete for the 300 NCAA athletes).

Last Spring, the Faculty Senate put together an ad hoc committee to report on athletics, but only those who strongly supported athletics volunteered to serve on it, so it came out with a very strongly pro-athletics report that I don’t believe honestly reflects faculty opinion. I particularly object to the claim

Perhaps more importantly, as faculty, we have great concern that the termination of UCSC student athletics, a program that distinguishes itself in the classroom and in competition, would signal to the world that we cannot maintain a first-class university.

That is BS of the highest order—being a first-class university has nothing to do with athletics, certainly not in the world outside the USA.  And even in the USA, a few Division III teams has nothing to do with the perception of the university.

Quite frankly, I find it shameful that the administration is spending $1million a year of unrestricted funds on NCAA athletics—that amount of money would hire instructors for about 100 more classes, helping about 3500 students, rather than 300.  The big advantage of sports on a campus comes from student participation, not being spectators, so funding models that provide facilities for intramurals and club sports that any student can participate in make much more sense than dedicating funding for a tiny number of privileged athletes.

Last Wednesday the Faculty Senate athletics committee had a “town-hall meeting”, ostensibly to get comments from students, but the audience consisted almost entirely of the NCAA athletes and their coaches, so turned into a “how can we get this passed?” rather than having students discussing whether it was a good idea.  The few students there who were not NCAA athletes were probably too intimidated by being surrounded by athletes to raise any objections—though one student did bravely ask what fraction of the students benefited from the student fee (a bit less than 2%).

There were some very strange ideas being passed around—like that students who weren’t athletes were getting sweetheart funding that the athletes should be getting instead (or perhaps as well).  The question was brought up of where engineering students got their funding from (which was not answered).  That one struck me as particularly strange, as engineering students generally end up either self-funding, crowd-funding, or getting funding from grants that faculty have spent years trying to get—they aren’t getting any handouts from the rest of the students!

A case in point: the iGEM project team needed about $25,000 for the 20-member team for the equipment, reagents, and travel to the iGEM conference. They raised this money through a crowd-funding campaign (which means that most of it came from family and friends).  The instructor’s salary was paid out of summer-school tuition (again, paid for by the team members, as there is no general-fund subsidy for summer school).  Rather than getting a $14,000 subsidy per team member like the athletes are asking for, they were paying out thousands of their own money to attend summer school to be on the team, and doing crowd-funding for the rest.  I have no objection to the NCAA teams running crowd-funding campaigns.

There is some industrial sponsorship for a few senior engineering capstone projects (maybe a quarter of all the capstone projects in the Baskin School of Engineering).  That sponsorship comes as a result of many years of hard work by faculty and administrators making contacts in industry and begging for support for student projects (and those projects come with several strings attached, sometimes including ownership of the students’ work by the sponsoring company, I believe).

Funding for student projects in engineering is much more like club sports than like NCAA athletics—essentially everything is paid for by the students involved, either directly or through fund-raising.  The same is largely true of other student groups on campus (theater groups, dance groups, artists, … ).  All the groups can apply for tiny amounts of money from student fees through the student government—only the NCAA athletes seem to feel that they deserve much, much more than that.

Theater and dance groups often need instructors, the same way that athletes need coaches, but there is no built-in funding for these instructors.  For the most part, they are paid for teaching courses, as OPERS coaches are—why should one group of instructors have a dedicated student fee, when others do not?

The NCAA athletes at UCSC are not dumb jocks—they have a higher GPA and graduation rate than the campus as a whole, so they must be aware that they are asking for very special privileges that are not given to other students.  Why do they or their coaches deserve special treatment?

2016 September 4

The Great Mistake by Christopher Newfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:42
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Johns Hopkins University Press has announced pre-orders for Chris Newfield’s new book, The Great Mistake:

The Great Mistake

How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them

Christopher Newfield

In The Great Mistake, Newfield asks how we can fix higher education, given the damage done by private-sector models. The current accepted wisdom—that to succeed, universities should be more like businesses—is dead wrong. Newfield combines firsthand experience with expert analysis to show that private funding and private-sector methods cannot replace public funding or improve efficiency, arguing that business-minded practices have increased costs and gravely damaged the university’s value to society.

The book should ship in October 2016.

I’ve been reading his blog Remaking the University for quite some time, and I’ve found that he has intelligent things to say about how public universities are funded. I’m not sure I’d want to read a 448-page book on the subject with very few illustrations (2 halftones, 33 charts), but people who are interested in what has happened to make public universities so unaffordable in the past decade or two should read at least some of his writing.

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