Astute commenters on yesterday's post noted that effort reporting at universities is another bizarre aspect of grants management. This is so true. I alluded to this in a previous post on summer salary, but perhaps the topic of effort deserves its own discussion.
Back in the day of effort statements that were printed on paper and that required faculty to sign them so that the forms could be returned to some office where they were no doubt lovingly filed and stored in a special room in the financial nerve center of the university, one of my colleagues used to sign his statements as "Mickey Mouse", just to see if anyone noticed. No one ever did, or at least no one ever mentioned it. As an Assistant Professor, I dutifully signed mine with my real name in my best handwriting, certifying that I had done my professor activities in the proportions stated, even if I hadn't.
In my more recent experience, there are two particularly absurd aspects of this kind of 'effort':
- The % effort assigned to each of my job activities has changed somewhat dramatically with time, but continues to bear no relation to my actual effort. As far as I can tell, these numbers were selected by a random number generator in an accountant's computer. The annoying thing about this is that the university accountants insist that I use their numbers in my current-and-pending support forms for grant proposals, even though these numbers are misleading and typically make it appear that I have more summer salary than I do, making it more difficult for me to request what meager summer salary I hope to eke out of my grants.
- Now that effort reporting is web-based, I am asked to certify the effort of my students, including undergrads who do part-time work for me. Because each person gets one effort statement, I am asked to certify all of their effort, even if they also work part time in the dining hall or a parking garage. Then I am asked to check a box saying that I know for a fact that this person did all the work that the statement says they did. I have absolutely no idea if my undergrad research assistants even show up to work in the dining hall or parking garage or wherever.
I therefore refuse to sign off on the effort statement of someone for whom I have only partial information as to their effort. A possible explanation for why the accountants are reluctant to give me accurate information about my grants and budgets is that they are getting revenge for how difficult I am when it comes to effort statements (and a few other things).
Also, once you have been a co-PI with a colleague at the same university and once you have paid a student (grad or undergrad) from a grant, they are never removed from your effort list even once the grant/work is done. If I one day felt overwhelmed by an urge to sign effort statements, I could sign the statements for the department Chair, a number of other colleagues, students who are now in other departments, and all sorts of random people. I have not yet been visited by such an urge, but it could happen (but no one would even care).
The accountants have stopped pestering me to sign the effort statements of people other than my own and that of grad students and postdocs who are funded entirely on my grants, but I did lose the battle to have my NSF budget forms match my actual effort instead of the bizarre university numbers. The university will not even submit my proposals if I don't use their stupid numbers, and I decided it wasn't worth the effort to fight the accountants on that one.
9 months ago