Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Funding Rat Race

I've heard on both of the big grants that I applied for last year and the answer is no. Although I have several smaller grants in the pipeline, each of these would fund 1 student and supplies, whereas the big grants would have secured our lab's future for the next 3-5 years. In many ways it feels like all I do is write grant proposals. Given that most proposals will only fund 1 student and that the funding rate is ~ 10%, it is a lot of effort for an extremely modest reward.

Things here aren't exactly dire, we still have about two years of funding. Some of my colleagues, including senior colleagues, may spend out in the next few months. So at least I can take comfort that we are not in that bad of a situation. The problem is that I don't have enough to really take my lab where I want it to be. I don't think there is enough out there to be honest.

Although research funding has increased over the years, so have the number of people applying for it.

Actual per/PI funding is down for everyone I talk to. My colleagues would argue that this is because of increases in soft money applicants, particular in medicine. There is virtually an unlimited supply of soft money (100% grant folks), and if the pot of money increases then universities can hire in response. I don't know but it seems a plausible explanation, especially since most research funding increases have been through NIH. It was suggested that increasing barriers to entry could solve this problem. For example, requiring that NIH funded researchers receive at least 50% of salary from their home institution (1:1 matching).

NSF has recently become concerned because despite the increases in total funding, the number of US publications has been flat for some time. If it is true that per PI funding is down this could explain the problem. I know that I certainly spend much more time writing proposals than I would like. I still have a postdoc paper from 1.5 years ago that I am just now getting out, and grant writing is part of the reason why. I also can't mentor my students as well as I would like because I am always writing grants. That's not to say that I don't make time for those things. I think publications and mentoring are very important, I just don't have the time that I would like.

I don't know the answer. All I know is that my lab will have to stay small to ride out the storm, at least until I *do* hit that big grant.


At 7:36 AM , Blogger Super Babe said...

Sorry about the grants. I myself am waiting to hear if I get one of the 2 I applied for... for my post-doc.

I think grant writing is the main reason I do not want to be a professor... Sad, but true... like you said, I just feel (and have seen other people feel that and do that as well) that it does take a lot of time away from other things that should be a main part of the whole teaching / researching.

At 2:06 PM , Blogger Badbug said...

I sympathize, Dr. Mom. I am mid-tenure track and have a good track record in getting grants funded. However, our research and our students (stipend + hefty tuition) are very expensive so I have to constantly keep writing grants. I really love the science that is going on in the lab and it makes me really sad that so much of my time has to be spent grant writing. I certainly expected to spend some time grant-writing, but recently it's gotten out of control. As you point out, the funding situation has become somewhat counterproductive, since PIs now spend much more time writing grants than doing science! Hang in there - it will work out eventually...


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