Whether or not that's the message that is intended to be sent, that is the message that is sent.
Here's my deal. Vanderbilt has made it 100% clear that without funding at the level of an NSF grant, I will not get tenure, regardless of anything else. Indeed, my chair has told me that funding is the only issue he sees as being a serious question with my tenure case. (And, by the way, to the two new astronomers who are coming: I know that some dean told you it's a "myth" that tenure is dependent on funding. Unless I have been lied to, you were lied to during your interview.)
For what I do, there aren't a lot of funding sources. The NSF is pretty much it. Yes, I also put in proposals to the HST and Chandra space telescopes. The HST proposal got turned down, and I'm still waiting to hear on Chandra. Money would come with that telescope time, but not at the level that Vanderbilt wants to see to be convinced that I'm a worthy member of the faculty.
I've got one more year, one more shot at the NSF, before the tenure decision comes up. If I get funded, then tenure is maybe. I have to get more papers out-- I've got a bunch in the pipeline, although frankly the continual hits I get on funding kill my motivation and ability to get anything done. If I don't get funding, the message has been delivered to me very clearly: I will not get tenure.
I have been submitting proposals for years. I've changed my research area when it was clear that somebody in my position couldn't get funding to be part of the Supernova Cosmology Project. I've adapted my proposals based on comments. All if it is just like beating my head against the wall. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied.
The hit against the ego is bad enough. The fact that I can't pay may grad student an RA is worse. The fact that this means that Vanderbilt is going to fire me just takes the cake.
I have to take some time to calm down, but right now I really want to throw my hands up, scream out loud, and quit my job. Fuck it, I feel. Vanderbilt has made it clear that I'm not good enough if I can't get funding, and the NSF has made it clear that I'm not making it into the 16-20% of proposals that get funding. (Realistically, talking to the program officer, it's worse than that. Proposals from institution like mine are at an a priori disadvantage when compared to Caltech, Hawaii, Harvard, etc., where astronomers have guaranteed institution-supported access to 4m and 8m class telescopes.)
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