Coming Home for Good: for Real?

By now it is likely that most PhDs outside the country must be aware of the UP Balik PhD Recruitment Program launched last February. In case you have somehow missed it, here is the link to the memo from the Office of the Vice-President for Academic Affairs addressed to chancellors, vice-chancellors, deans and directors, and faculty.

If successful, no doubt this program will see the homecoming of sorely needed ‘brains’ indispensable to stimulating academic research activities in the university and providing the necessary impetus to propel UP to higher heights never achieved before. The vision is noteworthy. But needless to say, the task will be daunting and fraught with challenges.

Obviously, the statement “UP needs you. Your country direly needs you.” was purposely written and iterated to drive home the emphatic and urgent message to the hundreds of Iskos and Iskas around the world. Not only does it appear in the same document once, but thrice.

Indeed, the message is loud and clear. Come home to UP, and you will be rewarded with a position in the faculty and a whopping PhP2.5M startup grant. What is not clear, though, is how the process will actually be carried out. For instance, what exactly does “Your application will go through the mill which evaluates experts who wish to become faculty members of UP” mean? Seriously, the “mill”? Has this “mill” been around that long that it has a reliable system for evaluating “experts” wishing to become faculty members of UP? What would be the criteria for selection? What if there were more than one PhD interested in working in the same faculty unit? How is then one assured that the system of evaluation will be fair? Will someone who has had 5 years of postdoctoral experience have a particular advantage over a fresh PhD graduate, but who has a Nature or Science publication in his/her publication list? Surely there should be an unbiased criteria for evaluating the prospective applicants. The UP Balik PhD Flowchart in this regard does not offer any more helpfuldetails, just vague constructs that somehow smack of knowing the right connections.

Perhaps the biggest lure in this program is the promised PhP2.5M grant. Any prospective applicant would like to know upfront if this grant is to be given in a lumpsum, right at the very start of employment. Or at the other extreme, if this grant is to be given out in a series of small amounts over the course of several years (say 5 years), in order to ensure that the awardee does not make a quick exit. Possible issues that need to be addressed would include the flexibility to which that grant can be used, as well as the amount that will actually be accessible during a specified period of time. Nothing restricts creative output as much as bureacratic red tape.

Still, the endeavor is a welcome change, and is likely to resonate among PhDs who are only waiting for the right opportunity to come home and make a difference.