members asked themselves the same question and concluded that there had been benefits from their give-and-take. It is unclear whether the exchange was more cross-disciplinary than would normally have been expected.
Shamma went on to discuss another negative aspect of the large team approach. He observed that cliques formed within teams. If there are team members at four campuses, say, two sets of two campuses might be working together. If you are on the same campus as a team member from another discipline, then the odds of working in a truly collaborative way with him or her are higher. It helps being on the same campus, not to mention in the same building. The degree to which collaborative cross-disciplinary opportunities are exploited by the DOD is unclear. It depends on the individuals involved and the degree to which the DOD program manager needs that to happen.
Another attendee asked Shamma his view on nonproductive team members. Shamma said that in the MURI structure it was not easy to withhold funding from nonproductive team members, because it is the results of the entire team that are examined, not those of individual team members. In contrast, he was once involved with a DARPA project in which the program manager told him that one of his subcontractors was not producing. In a MURI project, the program manager might be subtler. He might say, “We think you are working on interesting individual problems, but we don't see the integration," whereupon the team has to prove that integration does exist.
An attendee spoke of the situation at NASA, whose researchers have the reputation of partnering only with universities that will return some of the money to NASA via subcontracts. He suggested that historically NASA partnered with entities that gave it the most “bang” for its “buck.” Some of these arrangements began many years ago. The attendee went on to describe the tension that arises when a new researcher lacking connections to the NASA researchers in the laboratory feels disadvantaged. Hopefully the extramural process at NASA will open up opportunities for partnering that did not exist before.
Shamma told of another experience he’d had as a subcontractor to a business and said he would never again become involved in that same manner. There was a real conflict of interest in that the business was more interested in the bottom line and the university was more interested in publication.
The importance of continuity in funding was also mentioned. It is hard to tell a student in midyear that the funding is gone. It is even harder to tell a foreign national postdoctoral fellow that his or her funding has been cut. There are implications, both personal and intellectual. Shamma went on to quote an unnamed colleague who was working with a company that warned, "Never put a university in a critical path." Shamma admitted that might sometimes be true but contended that universities needed to be able to behave like universities. They should be used in a different way to optimize their impact. An attendee suggested that maybe the best way for universities to work with companies was to do precompetitive research.
Another issue with the large teams typical of MURI is the smaller amount of funding that each PI receives once the joint funding is disbursed. The money goes to both students and faculty in forms such as graduate stipends or summer salaries. Group size tends to become inflated during the proposal process. Shamma believed that six or so individuals at maybe two campuses would be an ideal size.