MSU Falls Short on Student Researcher Pay

The quote “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” can either be attributed to the Harry Potter series or the Bible. Regardless of the origin or which book has a larger cult following, the meaning of the quote remains the same: where time, money and resources are invested, one will also find passion. MSU proudly holds countless awards and recognition for the innovative research on campus. However, like anything, there is room for improvement regarding the human resources who make this high-research status possible. MSU needs to prove that the research workers are a priority and that their needs aren’t overshadowed by the publicity they bring to the school.

It is common for faculty members to apply for grants through the federal and state government. The life-changing research is sponsored by taxes rather than tuition. The Office of Research and Economic Development promotes awareness of grant opportunities among faculty. Additionally, there are resources to help write grants including seminars and editing committees. Dr. Renee Reijo Pera, Vice President of Research and Economic Development, joined MSU in January 2014 and has been proactive in making research opportunities more available to faculty. Of the $15 million research initiative passed by the Montana legislature, $8.9 million is going directly to MSU Bozeman. Originally, over 150 proposals were submitted but eventually six were selected for submission. Of those six, five were granted funding. MSU’s successful research program cannot be credited to the school itself but must be attributed to the staff, graduate assistants and undergraduate researchers who made it possible.

Typically, when a job is done well, there are tangible rewards. While the program has received accolades, MSU has been bereft in its duty to monetarily prioritize research, which brings in the most national attention. In a normal job, wages are assigned based on a variety of factors: experience, education level, applicable skills etc. As one commits time and energy to a job, the expectation is that the worker becomes more efficient and more valuable to the company. This behavior is rewarded with raises and benefits over the years. Unfortunately, within the university research system, it is not so simple. Undergraduate research remains one of the few jobs on campus that does not offer a pay raise over the average four years of employment; maintenance and food service offer raises. Undergraduate research has the right to at least be on par with those programs.

The Undergraduate Scholars Program (USP) is one of the primary ways students can become involved in research on campus. It is a great resource, but like so many other things on campus, more funds would be helpful. Funding comes from the Provost’s Office and is set by the administration. However, USP operates under a set-budget. Therefore, the only way it could increase stipends to undergraduate researchers would be to decrease the number of students in the program. That is a choice that shouldn’t have to be made. If research is truly important, that should be reflected in the earnings of the students. At the very least, MSU should fund raises for returning student researchers. Scholarships are available to athletes. Why not make specific research tuition scholarships?

Research is one of the focal points of MSU. The administration has a duty to treat it as such by investing more resources into the program. Celebration of discovery on campus needs to be just that — a celebration. Ingenuity walks the mall everyday and is rarely recognized for its contributions. The administration holds the money card but the student body holds something more important: a voice strong enough to implement change. Students can generate more interest in the undergraduate research program and create the need for a more expansive program. This could provide opportunities for those in a field where the research options aren’t as obvious as a microscope and a lab coat. By promoting a thriving undergraduate scholar community now, MSU is protecting the future of research.