Departments at MU recovering from federal government shutdown

Thursday, October 17, 2013 | 8:22 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Federal government employees weren't the only people in limbo for the past 16 days. MU senior Calvin Irwin is one of many students left in the lurch because applications for federal fellowship programs were unavailable

Applications were stalled because the National Science Foundation, which provides federal funding for numerous fellowship programs, was closed. This is one example of several ways the university was affected by the federal government shutdown, including stalled military exercises and hampered research projects.

Irwin, who planned to apply for one of those fellowships, said he is frustrated that the government plays such a huge role in academia.

“It’s a pretty big inconvenience,” Irwin said. “The shutdown set me back a few weeks. Right now is the time people are figuring out where they want to go and what materials they need to apply. In general, you want to get these applications done as soon as possible. The more rushed you are, the less quality your application will have.”

Irwin, a biological engineering major, is also a teaching assistant for Introduction to Biological Engineering. While preparing a lesson plan he discovered that the U.S. Department of Agriculture website was down and so he could not share research material with his class, adding to his frustration.

Irwin’s application isn’t due until November, he said, but incoming graduate students applying for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program need to turn their essays in immediately.

“Because the funding of a lot of programs are dependent on NSF, a lot of people I know were unsure they would be able to do a summer research program.”

The National Science Foundation website is essentially a search engine for research opportunities. With the website down, students could not plan or prepare to apply to these programs.

“I just put my application off with hopes that the government would reopen soon." Irwin said. "If the government had been shut down any longer, a lot of people would’ve been scrambling."

Military students

Richard Saltzman, a senior in forestry at MU and a member of the Missouri National Guard said he is glad the government came to a compromise and avoided hitting the debt ceiling.

The Missouri National Guard’s monthly drills were indefinitely cancelled during the government shutdown.

Units meet every month for their National Guard drill, which can involve either administrative work or going into the field to practice military maneuvers. Saltzman's unit was scheduled to take the physical fitness test in October.

“My unit is supposed to meet during the first weekend of every month, but because we missed our drill this month, we might have to reschedule ours to the end of October because we’re required to take the physical fitness test twice a year,” Saltzman said.

Saltzman, who relies primarily on income from the federal government, said he managed easily enough without his drill paycheck for the past 16 days.

“I planned ahead. I have some savings in case something happens to last me for a little bit," he said. "Hopefully this isn’t gong to happen again for a while. As far as I know, this is the first time drills have been canceled since the '80s. The last time the government shut down 17 years ago, they continued drills, so I wouldn’t really change where I work because of this."

Federally funded research

Three research labs were closed during the shutdown, causing delays in experiments and delayed grant submission deadlines.

Marc Linit, associate dean for research and extension at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, said the biggest impact was that the federal scientists the college collaborates with were unable to work.

“Many projects are time sensitive," Linit said. "If certain things don’t get done, you would have to throw out the entire experiment. Often you can’t wait two and half weeks for data collection. For example, insect and animal colonies need to be checked on a regular basis, which is impossible when the scientists are on furlough," Linit said.

Linit said he was somewhat disheartened that the government shutdown happened in the first place but isn’t currently aware that any MU grants expired during those 16 days. Although the shutdown did take its toll on various research projects. Three labs at MU are run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

Linit said he doesn’t know if any experiments have been or will be thrown out at this point. As of today, the labs are back up and running.

“I just saw one federal colleague on campus today, and I told him welcome back, and he just had a big smile on his face,” Linit said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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