Avoid the baby blues

March 23, 2007

The panel members gave poor advice to the female principal investigator taking maternity leave while holding research grants (Working Knowledge, March 16). Though they advised correctly on the legal position and the university's responsibility to provide cover, there was no consideration of her reputation or future career.

Research council panels are increasingly made aware of the applicant's record of grant applications and gradings of final reports when applying for new grants. More important, an academic's publication record depends on a continuous stream of successful projects generating papers. A serious dent in reputation could be caused by leaving a grant to be looked after by someone with little interest in its success.

I would find a colleague - quite possibly from another university - who is interested in the project and can be trusted to manage it, to be rewarded with shared publications. I would point out to my head of department that the university has been funded to provide a principal investigator and then suggest the colleague as an easy solution.

The university should be prepared to transfer the required funds to their institution and put up some travel costs to protect the grant from possible failure.

David Lerner
Sheffield University

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