In a perfect world:
I would have a grant in place during grad student recruiting season, and this grant would fund an excellent student from the very beginning of their grad program. Having a grant in advance allows me to recruit international students whose English speaking abilities might not be sufficient for them to be teaching assistants in their first year.
This grant would allow the student to get started with a research project, but it would have sufficient flexibility to allow the student to take the proposed research in new directions.
The student and I would together write a new proposal for new research based on the exciting results and ideas that emerge from the initial research.
This new grant would be funded the very first time it is submitted, and it would start just as the original grant expires.
The grant might not provide an RA for every semester, but it would provide an RA for most semesters and every summer. The student would also be a TA for a semester or three when their schedule permits, as it is important that students who want a faculty career get experience teaching and learn how to balance teaching and research.
The new grant would carry the student through to the completion of their degree.
The research will be awesome and the student will get the job of their dreams.
In a still-great but not-perfect world, some of the above might not occur, but everything mostly works out. I may have the proposal pending (rather than definitely funded) during grad recruiting season, but the grant is awarded in time for it to benefit a student early in their grad studies. Or, I may not have the relevant grant in hand for the first year of a student's grad program, but we write the proposal during the first year and it funds the student for the rest of their grad studies.
Grant utopia is very rare. I can only think of one of my Ph.D. students for whom things worked out more or less as described in the ideal case. In that case, things worked out because I was fortunate with funding and because the student was extraordinary (and efficient).
In some cases, I get a grant, but I don't have a student who is working on that exact project, either because a student starts working on the project and fails, or because my students have other projects they want to work on instead. In the latter case, I may pay a student some or all of an RA to do work related to the grant, but I only like to do this if the student is interested in the work and will benefit from it in some way related to their education or career goals.
In other cases, a student works on a project with funding cobbled together from various sources, and just as they are finishing the major part of their research, we finally get a grant for their research.
In still other cases, students take a long, long time with their research and they outlast a grant.
Unless a grant is in hand or is funded on the first submission, getting the student/grant timing to work out can be tricky. If a proposal is not funded on the first submission, the resubmission must wait a year from the first submission. And it takes a while to hear about the fate of a proposal. And some programs have subterranean success rates.
Imagine a case in which a student starts grad school, and the advisor writes a grant proposal during the student's first year. Let's say that the proposal deadline is sometime in the middle or near the end of the academic year, and the proposal's fate is not known for 4-6 months after the deadline. Now assume that the proposal is not funded the first time. It is resubmitted at the next possible deadline. Add in the waiting time to hear about the proposal. Add in some stress related to submitting a proposal to a program with a very low success rate.
If the proposal is funded on the second submission, the student might start to be supported on the grant in their 3rd year of grad school. Depending on the program, that might be considered early, intermediate, or late relative to when the student is expected to complete their degree.
Some advisors might be reluctant to start students on a project that is not already funded, given the great uncertainties about obtaining funding for a particular project and given the long time that might be involved in acquiring the funding. Is it fair to start a student on a project that might not be funded during that student's graduate program?
On the other hand, it's nice to be able to put the name of an actual student in a grant proposal and explain how their Ph.D. research fits into the overall research scheme of the project.
After years of research on the matter, I have concluded that it's worth making some effort to try to have grants and students correlate, but it's not worth trying for grant utopia. When it happens, it's mostly by luck, or, at least, it has been for me. Instead, my approach is to try to write awesome proposals about interesting things, submit proposals to a variety of programs, and encourage students to get some of their own funding/fellowships. I try to get make the funding situation work out as best I can for my students and postdocs, but sometimes there is a mismatch in timing and research activities.
Severe mismatches are difficult to deal with, but not in comparison to not getting a grant at all.
6 months ago