I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Funds

Argh. Why the hell am I doing this? What makes me think I’ll even get this damn grant? Like Shelley, I’m in NRSA-scramble mode right now. The deadline is August 5th. This is wasted effort. I could be posting juicy research tidbits on SEED but nooooo, I have to try and procure funding.
I hate this process. HATE it. I know they’re supposed to be impartial, but there’s no way they’re going to fund me when I already have intramural support for up to 5 years. But I have to play the game. Someday they’ll hit me with their Catch-22: why didn’t you receive merit-based funding? If I say I didn’t try then I risk looking lazy. If I say I tried and failed, then I won’t get rewarded for a track record of failure.
I know they’re not going to fund me because my grades were never stellar. I know that they’re not going to fund be because I’m proposing a hormone therapy as an intervention (which is so 2002), not some fancy mechanistic explanation. I know they’re not going to fund me because my proposed advisor doesn’t have a background in rodent behavior, even though she’s an endocrinologist with primate behavior experience and I have both rodent and primate experience.
I know I won’t get funded because every grant I touch turns to dust.

15 Responses

  1. I sympathize completely.
    The whole grant rat race, and the fact that we are considered failures if we don’t find the cheese, is the most stresseful thing about being in science.
    My long rant on the topic:

  2. Should we hate the game or those that devised it? Trudging through the forms and instructions is like Chinese water torture! When we both get turned down, I’ll buy you a drink at SFN. Whaddaya say?

  3. In ref to Shell – Peer review of research grants is the worst process I have ever experienced, but it is better than any alternative that has been tried (Who said that in reference to democracy as a form of govt?), outright personal philanthropy excluded.
    Re the intramural support issue, after this bad boy goes in I might suggest that you look at another grant program for intramural postdocs (K22 Scholar Development and Faculty Transition Award) that gives you support for your first three years in an independent lab elsewhere. You go shopping for a job with this bad boy in your hand and its a great way to parlay an intramural postdoc into being a finalist for academic faculty positions.
    In general, I’m curious as to where the pressure is coming from to put in an NRSA. Is it because your unit’s budget got cut so much that it can no longer support its headcount?

  4. Abel, shoot me an email about it when this is done and I’ll explain the situation.

  5. As someone currently pitching a completely doomed project in an endeavor that has been called “a good practice run” (by the person who is more or less responsible for deciding whether I get funded), I can sympathise. Nothing like doing about 300 hours of non-publishable work for “practice.”

  6. Not sure if all of your “posters” are from the USA, but from a UK perspective (and I am currently well-funded incidentally, so this is not a gripe) we look on in envy at USA funding levels (at least before you started strapping all of your funds to jets and dropping them on Iraq). Without wishing to sneer, what’s the problem? If we get a grant rejected we cannot even submit the same topic again to the identical research council. The normal rate of 10-12% funding from the Medical Research Council (equivalent to the NIH) is probably lower than NIH even in a crisis, and some of my colleagues who regularly turn up at USA meetings with a student or two and a post-doc would not be funded in the UK on the basis of their scientific abilities (sorry chaps). Face it, scientific funding is Darwinian – the fittest (or the luckiest) survive. Dollar for dollar, UK funding is about the most cost-effective in the world (taking into account the much lower academic salaries) and second only to the USA in quality at the top (quality at the bottom is better as our bottom is higher than yours – ooh err missus!). Perhaps a good way of rationalising this is to do what many UK academics do and BE an academic, rather than a bench monkey. Long lunches discussing the meaning of life, shorter hours and a visit to the local museum two lunchtimes a week ought to do it. Oh, and by the way, we do all of the undergraduate teaching too (100 hours contact a year for me in my first year as a lecturer/assistant professor with zero start-up funds in a top-10 UK University). Sometimes you have to face up to the fact that you didn’t go into banking or share-trading – something I usually tell MYSELF after visiting academic friends in the USA in their large houses and well-appointed labs. We get PAID to do whatever we want. Who else can say that?

  7. Large houses and well-appointed labs? In academia? HAHAHAHA! That’s funny! I hope you don’t actually think U.S. scientists go the academic route for the money. If money was the primary objective, we’d all take the industry path. It sure as hell pays better.
    (And let’s be honest, American houses are just bigger than British flats) 🙂
    All kidding aside, we’re not necessarily talking about academics here. Some of us LIKE to be bench monkeys, and we can’t get the work done if the money doesn’t come in. We don’t even care that much about salary. The problem is compounded because we keep getting severe swings in funding levels depending on which party is in power, which means that there is no stable, long-term vision, which means we alternate between too many and too few scientists, which means we lose a lot of good people to circumstances and frustration.
    And if significant numbers of good researchers (and academics too) are leaving the field for reasons other than performance, why call it “merit-based” funding to begin with?

  8. Reasonable point, Evil Monkey, re. USA academics not going for the money. I know (really) that is the case, but all things are relative. You are comparing publically-funded science with privately-funded science, in the USA. USA government science funding per capita is approx. 8 times that per capita in the UK, one of the other “big” spenders. That’s per capita, remember, not in total. If you can’t get PUBLIC money for research in the USA it is unlikely that you will get it anywhere else in the world. I hear a lot of USA academics say they would like to move to Europe for “reasons political” especially lately, but never for academic/financial reasons. They rarely move this way, and wouldn’t put up with the conditions in the lab if they did (forget the housing, living conditions, the heavy teaching load, the lack of any start-up funds at all, and the heavy government interference). On the other hand, many academics from the UK do move to the USA, and cite the scientific culture (we have our culture wars here too, it’s just one in which virtually all politicians hate academics, period) as a positive reason for moving. I am hugely sympathetic towards young scientists trying to get the grants in – we have all been there, and will continue to be as we get not-so-young. However, comparing oneself to private money (with its many downsides, including loss of academic freedom) is a losing scenario, and at least you have swings in funding. We in the UK have suffered almost interminable decline for 3 decades. If it wasn’t for a private, charitable trust (the Wellcome Trust) that made it big when floating its AZT on the stock markets, UK science would have died 10 years ago. The point is to the young sufferers out there (and again I sympathise) THIS IS THE JOB. Putting heart and soul into a grant or paper, only to have it rejected is what constitutes a significant proportion of the remainder of “active service”. Get used to it (or take the industry money, the 4WD and the 1/4 acre in Peoria).

  9. Ack you are scaring me. I intend to persue an academic career currently I am an undergrad. I would like to study MS in the future but am not sure how the whole system works. Is it a constant struggle trying to secure funding?

  10. Hey Dave, I appreciate your points and while I’m already “used to it”, I’m not going to stop bitching about it. And neither should you! Shake your country up! 🙂
    Public money may be 8x per capita in the US as to what it is in the UK, but that doesn’t mean any individual scientist is going to earn a lot of cash. And I do know a sizeable number of scientists who have postdoc’ed or taken positions in Europe, and they definitely do love the lifestyle even if the money is not great. Unfortunately the U.S. has taken the exact opposite route; we’re willing to fund our academics’ research but less willing to tolerate their “idiosyncracies” e.g. all the intellectual freedoms that make your job great.
    Peoria? Which Peoria?

  11. Yes, Laura, procuring funding is the eternal struggle between good and evil. Find good mentors as soon as possible, engage in some undergrad research so you know what you’re getting into. I cannot stress this enough– you MUST love what you do.

  12. I agree that the “idiosyncracies of life” permitted in the UK academic system is an attraction to anyone of an academic persuasion and an open mind (hopefully these go together). I thought Peoria was the “Middle America” barometer town? To Laura, it is EXACTLY people like yourself who should become scientists/academics. How many other people in the world say “I want to study MS in the future”? Advice, for what it is worth, get hold of a mentor, as EM suggests. I can see the path I took all the way back to my second undergraduate year and a mentor taking me on.

  13. Peoria is definitely a Middle America barometer town, I just didn’t know if there was a particular Peoria you’re referring to. Illinois? Right near my hometown.
    Springfield is also a barometer town, but it is the ubiquitous one. I think some states have 5 or 6. 🙂
    Yes, I had a mentor since 2nd year of undergrad as well. Definitely shaped my career path for the better.

  14. Peoria Illinois is the only one I know, so yes. Ubiquitous in terms of “how will it play in Peoria”. Maybe an online mentoring situation is not a bad idea. Anyone do that?

  15. Yes I need to find a mentor soon. I had a professor who was helping me but she left. Now I need to find a replacement so I can get some contatcts for research opportunities.

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