In PhDeep

The government shutdown and graduate students
by Megan Fork -- October 11th, 2013

You’ve probably already seen lots of sad stories about how the government shutdown is affecting people around the country. This is not a story as heart-wrenching as those of displaced weddings and turned-away children with cancer, but the government shutdown is disrupting the lives and research of graduate students and young scientists here, around the country, and internationally.  These are just a few of the anecdotes I’ve picked up from my own personal friends and acquaintances about how the shutdown affects them:

Because the government shutdown includes the shutdown of many agency websites researchers who use the data hosted on these sites are at an impasse until they are turned back on.  For example, the  remote sensing imagery hosted by NASA or water quality data hosted by the USGS and EPA are largely or entirely inaccessible. Not only does this delay research efforts, but it also impacts our ability to educate students, as these data are often used in teaching skills and examples.

You probably already know that a lot of scientific research depends on funding from government agencies such as the National Science Foundation.  Graduate students typically don’t get very many chances to apply for the fellowships that fund their research.  The deadline for one major type of graduate research funding, the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, would have been on 10/10, but the shutdown means that students aren’t currently able to apply for research funding. Students spend months preparing the applications to grants such as this, and while submitting an application by no means guarantees funding, it’s difficult to not know whether the effort was wasted.  Even if the funding opportunity is only delayed, the downtime and delay in selection and disbursement of research funds can impact the already time-constrained career of a PhD student.

Students who already have fellowships that support their research, tuition and stipends are faced with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they will receive the pay that covers their living expenses.  Students supported by fellowship programs including the EPA STAR and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship haven’t received word about potential impacts to their pay, and they’re unsure if they’ll get the money they need to support themselves if the shutdown continues past the month of October.

Students who conduct research on federal lands (such as within National Parks or National Wildlife Refuges) received emails stating that they would not be allowed to access these areas during the shutdown. This kind of interruption in data collection can seriously hamper research efforts. I also have an acquaintance who conducts research on penguins in Antarctica. For students and scientists who conduct research in Antarctica, the ongoing shutdown may mean not only a lost field season, but thousands of research dollars and additional months of planning wasted.

Of course, these effects felt by graduate students are not among the worst impacts of the government shutdown, but scientific research is by no means coming out of this unscathed, either.  How is your research affected by the shutdown?




1 Comment

  1. Tawnee
    Oct 15, 2013

    Too true, Megan. I feel for anyone whose time-sensitive research hinges on government grants and collaboration. And the folks who’ve wrapped their entire seasons and data records/equipment around the Antarctic program, only to be told they just have to wait, and may not be able to go altogether! Thanks for writing a post showing the many ways in which the shutdown has affected more than just the US government.

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