Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Black Tuesday

Yesterday I stayed at home to write the grant. It went quite well until I checked my email inbox which seemd quite full. An in tray full of bad news. A colleague in our department had two grants submitted to a research charity. Despite a recommendation that one of them was to be funded, he was unsuccessful. How can this happen you might ask? Well if there are more "fundable" grants than money available, then the grant committee must prioritise. Five year and three year grants come out of the same pot, so if there are a lot of excellent 5 year grants, then there will be proportionately less money for projects. One guy may have produced 20 papers over 5 years, another has 10. Which one is the better scientist, who has the greatest potential to make landmark discoveries? Anyway the net result is that my colleague will be saying goodbye to two members of staff, and potentially to his research career.

Elsewhere in the blue palace, there were grant rejections for four other members of staff. Sorry seems to be the easiest word.

I also got an email from a collaborator at another University, who had her programme grant turned down by the Medical Research Council. Despite high scores from the referees and universal recommendation for funding, it was rejected by the committee. We don't know the precise reasons for the rejection, but she was understandably gutted. She has been trying to get this work funded for the last 18 months. She is a tough and talkative lady, but when I phoned her up, there were many silences. I did not do a very good job of counselling, mainly because I was scared I would start crying myself.

Perversley, after all that bad news, I actually made very good progress on the grant writing. Maybe because in the back of my mind I realised that all the details I was worrying about, don't amount to a hill of beans, when the reviewers will probably decide within 5 minutes of reading it whether it's "yah" or "nay". So get a good title, a punchy first paragraph and don't sweat the small stuff. Hey that could be a title for a self-help book? On second thoughts maybe someone has already thought of it!
I also realised that my chances of getting any of the project grants I am applying for are slim. Even a "yah" decision, could be overruled by a committee. So despite my earlier reluctance, I have nothing to lose by trying for "business development" money. Proportionately, the odds of success appear much higher. At the very least it could keep staff employed, while I apply for yet more research grants. It could also make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. Ha, ha.

Exam question. The whole grant funding crisis is a direct result of mismanagement of scientific research by the UK government? Discuss. If I have any bile left in my body I will do this tomorrow.


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