Now that a proposed increase of funding to NIH has again been shot down, scientists have to once again face the reality of intense competition for very scarce funds.
However, the process of awarding research grants is, well, a bit crazy. Scientists work for months on a grant, drafting, revising, trying to winnow it down to fit the page limitations, finding collaborators and assembling potential research teams, obsessing about minutiae in the methods section. We then cross our fingers and send them off for review (which can take many months), and hope that they’ll be well-received. When they’re not, at least they usually come back with helpful comments and suggestions to strengthen the proposal for the next attempt at funding.
However, sometimes it’s clear that the reviewers either didn’t read the proposal carefully (somewhat understandably, as reviewing grant applications is a difficult and rather thankless job), or simply didn’t “get” what was being proposed. A problem with the latter is the time lag–again, it can take months from submission to the point where the researcher receives comments on the grant application, and by the time the grant is revised and resubmitted, another few months may go by. Therefore, quite literally years may be spent just trying to secure funding–sometimes longer than the project itself would take.
Many agree that the process is a problem. What’s more contentious is how to fix it. Michael at Only in it for the gold sends a plea to science funding agencies for a different tactic besides the traditional proposal:
I want to do what I would do in a business setting. I want to look you in the eye and explain to you why you would be foolish not to fund my proposal; i.e.;
1) that you have a problem,
2) that I know how to solve it
3) that my team has or can find the right people to solve it
4) that those objections which make any sense are already accounted for in the plan
If I can’t look you in the eye, could we at least try instant messaging?
Comments on the post range from agreeable to Michael as “another well-meaning gullible innocent to the slaughter…” What’s your take on it?