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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research
only just started. MIT permits its technicians to move around, learn more skills, and be coauthors or presenters. Moving around only works in large facilities, but one possibly more universal improvement that the team discussed was establishing a fund to get staff to conferences or classes. There was wide support for the idea that there should be a modest budgetary component for professional growth and the training of support staff in MRSEC, NSEC, and other facilities.
There were surprisingly many staff at the postdoctoral level rather than people with specific training as technicians. In one case (CAMMP), it was impossible to find a technician for one piece of equipment and a long-term postdoctoral associate was hired instead. Such people are motivated by the work environment, or maybe like research but prefer not to have the responsibility of directing their own research. If the supply of such postdoctoral associates is good, perhaps the lack of technician training schools and lack of career paths are not such a problem.
Job security can be important to retaining highly skilled staff. Harvard guaranteed 3 years’ employment even if the NSF grant were to be terminated, giving technical staff some job security. This is a way that a university can facilitate the quality of shared facilities.