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If one obtains a personal postdoc grant to cover a couple years of research as a full-time employee, but the value of the grant is only 60% of the union-stipulated wages in the country in which you wish to tenure it (and additionally does not include social benefits), what alternatives are available?

I can only fathom three choices, none of which seem appealing/feasible:

  1. Decline the grant in favour of working on an existing project that covers full wages. (That seems wasteful and to forego an opportunity to further one's career opportunities as a researcher who attracts external funding.)

  2. Convince the department to co-finance the remaining 40% of the wage as an "income supplement" out of their operational budget (That doesn't seem very likely.)

  3. To obtain another grant from some other funding agency, on short notice, to co-finance the grant. (I'm not even sure that such actions exist, particularly at this time of year.)

  • To clarify, in addition to an appraisal of the three choices I've listed above, I'm especially curious if there are alternatives that aren't listed. – user38309 Oct 14 '15 at 15:02
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As usual, rules on this sort of thing will vary from country to country and from grant agency to agency.

However, all three options that you mention sound plausible to me. To go over them:

Decline the grant (...)

Sure. Nobody can fault you for declining a grant that pays so much below standard salaries. Honestly, unless I had no other options, this is likely what I would do. I am not sure I would call it "wasteful" to decline a grant that, honestly, sounds like a terrible option to begin with.

Convince the department to co-finance (...)

This is indeed not unheard of. Of course, whether you will be able to convince the department to do so largely depends on how much they want you to be there, what their regulations are, and if they have money to spare. I have seen this sort of co-financing mostly in cases where the department and the applicant were already in longer contact, and the public grant was mostly acquired as a way to make a move that was happening anyway cheaper for the department (that is, it was planned that the candidate joins them anyway, but now a part is paid via an external grant). If the department had no intentions to hire you without the grant it becomes substantially less likely that they will be willing or able to chip in.

(...) obtain another grant (...)

This sounds like another plausible option, but check the regulations of both grant agencies. In many cases, full-time personal grants are exclusive - that is, you can have only one at a time, even if the stipend is very low. However, it may still be an option to apply not for a second personal grant, but for a regular research project that allows you to pay a salary supplement for yourself. Whether this is possible again depends on the grant agency. For instance, the SNF in Switzerland as a rule never allows to pay any money to yourself as part of a regular research project. The FWF in Austria, on the other hand, is perfectly fine with this as long as the rules of the host institution (regarding, for instance, maximum employment), are followed. That being said, with this option you should probably expect to live off the 60% stipend for a while, as the application procedure for grants tends to take a while.

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  • Thanks for the thoughtful response. The grant itself is a competitive national grant (NSERC) that offers a fixed value, independent of in which country it is tenured (e.g., Norway). The agency does permit supplemental sources, so long as they are "not remunerating additional activities." However, it is not clear to me where such supplemental sources might come from (other than the department, which would be a tough sell since they have sufficient money available in other projects): there is no direct funding for non-permanent researchers through the Norwegian Research Council. – user38309 Oct 14 '15 at 8:22
  • Just for closure, I wanted to mention that I accepted this answer because, as suggested, declining the grant turns out to be the best option. – user38309 Oct 19 '15 at 16:21
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Another option is to contact a PI who has money to hire a postdoc and can top up your salary. In my department for instance salary money can be combined across projects. The downside is that if your project does not overlap with the PI's they will likely ask you to carry out duties specified in the project for which their money was originally allocated.

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  • This is a nice suggestion. I've tried to formulate the question to be more generally applicable, but in my particular case there is already money enough to hire me as a postdoc on a PIs grant. However, it is exclusive and cannot be allocated as a "top up" to a personal postdoc grant, so would require my declining my grant and instead working on his (related) project. – user38309 Oct 15 '15 at 6:50
  • @schester Do you need to spend your grant money evenly throughout the 2 years? If they give the money to your university and then they make the payments, perhaps you can get 1 year paid with the grant and 1 year from the PI's money? In that case they are not "topping up" your salary but rather distributing it unevenly throughout the 2-year period. I think a person in the finance or HR section in your department might be able to sort something out (have you asked?). Good luck! – Miguel Oct 15 '15 at 9:27
  • Another nice suggestion. The agency awarding my grant has a strict payment schedule, unfortunately. – user38309 Oct 15 '15 at 18:05

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