As I understand it, today's professors spend a large amount of time writing grant applications, many of which fail. As a result, I'm thinking of endowing a professorship someday with enough funds to remove this part of the job description - effectively funding the professor for as long as they hold the professorship.

One thing I'm concerned about is that this would also be removing a critical part of the job. For example this job advertisement for a senior lecturer/associate professor explicitly asks for "A proven record of attracting external funding for research". In that case, the professor would never pass this requirement since they would have no experience at writing grant applications, let alone actually getting the funding.

Question: is this a legitimate concern? If so, are there any obvious solutions? This should only matter if the professor leaves the professorship, and presumably that is not likely to happen, but I'd still rather the professorship not become a position which one can enter but not leave because it makes one uncompetitive on the market.

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    I think you need to add some information about the field and the country because the answer depends on these. Aug 10, 2020 at 6:52
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    In my field, regardless of how much funding you provide, any decent professor would still want to apply for additional grants. Also, in most fields, collaboration is important and grants are the basis of joint research projects.
    – user9482
    Aug 10, 2020 at 7:25
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    Be aware that you may not be able to do this. You might have some influence with the university, but it is they who decide who can be a Professor, not the funder, and what the conditions of employment are. Funders don't get to control things.
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:24
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    @SSimon and what pays for the facilities and funds your collaborators to come and visit? Aug 10, 2020 at 10:30
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    Also can the university actually guarantee 5% interest?! That sounds like an awfully good rate of return — Heh. Some universities have a history of being unreasonably optimistic about money.
    – JeffE
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:34

3 Answers 3


Question: is this a legitimate concern?

No. I think you misunderstand what kinds of people endowed professorships are designed to fund. This funding structure is not designed to fund a senior lecturer/associate professor in a department that doesn’t know how to spell “discrete mathematics” in its job ad, or someone straight out of their PhD as you suggest in a comment.

Rather, in the academic world an endowed professorship is considered a high honor and is given only to well-established researchers with a proven track record of producing top quality research. Those researchers, assuming they are in a field where grant funding is important, will of necessity have either already had considerable experience getting such funding, or (in a more unusual situation of a young superstar) will have such stellar achievements under their belt that they should be able to very easily get grant funding at any point in the future.

Another way of saying this is that successfully competing for an endowed professorship is a much more impressive achievement than getting grant funding, and can be thought of as being in somewhat the same category of achievements. The concern that you are raising is therefore nonexistent for such scholars.

If you want to fund early-career researchers in far-flung universities off the academic beaten path, that’s a noble idea and there are ways to do it, and in that case, depending on how you go about it the concern you have might be legitimate. But for an endowed professorship, it’s a non-issue.


No, this is not a concern.

  • Typically individuals who receive endowed professorships already have a long record of applying for grants. You could, as the donor, attempt to negotiate some other situation if you wished.
  • Typically endowed professors only leave their job due to retirement or death. If you have really endowed the professorship with enough money, there will be no desire to leave for another endowed professorship, if one could be found. An endowed professorship does not make the holder uncompetitive on the job market. It makes employers uncompetative to hire the professor.
  • Most endowed professors do apply for grants.

Assuming you really have that much money to give, my advice would be: Require the holder of the professorship to refrain from applying for grants. This will free up a lot of their time to do something more productive.

If you want to make a positive impact on academia, you can achieve more for your dollar by endowing (or just spending all the money immediately on) scholarships at institutions that charge low tuition, like community colleges.

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    I don't think a funder could make any such requirement as to refrain from anything. An endowed professor isn't your employee.
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:26
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    If you offer enough money, most universities will not say no. Aug 11, 2020 at 0:19
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    Also, "attracting funding" -- an endowed professorship is funding
    – Yakk
    Aug 11, 2020 at 0:53
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    @Buffy while it’s true that an endowed professor isn’t your employee (and most universities will not even let you choose who to give the professorship to), a professorship, like other sources of funding, will typically have certain restrictions and obligations attached to it, and I don’t see any reason why a prohibition on applying for funding couldn’t be one such restriction. At least there’s nothing unethical about it. At worst it would make the professorship less attractive to some scholars, but as AnonymousPhysicist says, enough money can make up for a lot of things.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 11, 2020 at 14:00
  • @AnonymousPhysicist, but some such agreements would be corrupt, just as paying colleges (or funding building) so that they admit children. Not all, of course.
    – Buffy
    Aug 11, 2020 at 14:03

Let me focus on the headline question: Is a professor who's never had to write a grant application disadvantaged in the job market?. I'll leave aside your admirable intention to provide funding.

To do their job, a professor needs many skills, but acquiring them takes time and effort. Not all of us are (in my case, were) excellent teachers or even researchers at the start of our careers and had to learn those skills and others over time. Obtaining grants is one of those valued and valuable skills.

But note that such grants aren't solely to provide salary and benefits to the grant recipient. Typically they fund many more things, the most important of which is probably support for students. But they also cover such things as travel, conference and publication fees, lab equipment (and maintenance). In some fields there are also technicians that need to be employed. Travel and the opportunity that provides for collaborative work can be very important. Grants are also highly valued by universities, since the "overhead" charged against the grant funds such things as lab space (including maintenance) and support staff, including the necessary legal and administrative costs.

So, yes, if a person never acquires this skill they will be disadvantaged in academia generally, though as Anonymous Physicist suggests, a person would be unlikely to leave a generously funded position. A "beginning of career" person can't, of course, be expected to have such skills, but, at almost every institution, would be expected to work to gain them. And failure of a grant application is just a learning experience, like falling off your bike several times while trying to learn to ride it as a kid. You often will get feedback on such failures that help you on the next one.

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