Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SSHRC Funding

For those of you unaware, the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) is where the good money is when it comes to Canadians seeking funding for graduate studies in economics. However, to my mind, the criteria for who gets these grants (often exceeding $100,000 for those completing a doctorate at a Canadian university), could use some rewriting.

Basically, the idea of the competition centres around trying to evaluate people on the basis of predicting their future research. They do this by inquiring what research will be completed while one is supported by the grant.

Okay, this sounds reasonable enough for professors. You want money? Okay, what are you going to do with it? Students, less so. For starters, the deadline for SSHRC funding for Fall 2008 - my anticipated start date (hopefully!) for a graduate program is due before the applications to the graduate schools themselves. Let alone before I actually know what school I will be enrolled at, or even which degree I will be pursuing; the MA, or the PhD.

Clearly, what school/degree I end up in will have a profound impact on what my time gets spent on. An 8-month coursework MA at Toronto is not going to see any substantial research output. Even if we assume that I will be accepted to a PhD program, whatever my dissertation ends up being related to will be heavily influeced by my graduate coursework and professors.

So, conclusion: The main determinant of the ability of a Canadian gradute student in economics to secure funding is best determined by one's ability to fake a good research proposal. Note that SSHRC, having awarded the funding, requires no commitment for one to actually complete the proposed project.

Now, bear with me. It gets worse. If the object of the competition was to see who could dream up the best research proposal, fine. Someone who is more in-touch with the literature, is interested in research, etc, is more likely to be able to come up with a good proposal, and I'm willing to bet those prior characteristics correlate very well with future research ouput.

But the shoe drops. The proposal will be evaluated by people, who, for the most part, will not have any experience in economics. (Or vice-versa: my folklore proposal might be evaluated by an economist.) So the proposal is forced to be non-technical.

Final Conclusion: SSHRC funding is determined by the ability of an applicant to pander to the warm, fuzzy feelings of people who know next-to-nothing about your discipline. And I will not admit that the generation of fluff is correlated with future research output.

ANECDOTE: I'm tentatively entitling my proposal "Endogenous Economic Growth, Patterns of Canadian Innovation, and Public Policy", which, drawing on the theory of creative destruction and the economic relationships implied therein, will (never actually) look into a large number of exogenous shocks (predominately from political action) to the system of technical innovation in Canada. Results will hopefully analyze the nature of successful, growth-inducing policy, and produce theoretical refinements in the area of endogenous growth.

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