Grant me some science

Jun 27 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

I've been spending the last few weeks teaching in an intensive summer course in my field. This involves spending long hours in the lab teaching teaching eager grads and postdocs how to do the latest techniques, and every time I do this I'm reminded of how fun it is to do labwork. So far we've tested some new ideas, some better than others, and I've come up with a bunch of cool follow-up experiments to do at home. Unfortunately, I doubt that I'll actually get around to doing those cool experiments, since at home I don't really get much of a chance to spend time in the lab. What do I do? I write grants mostly. Which is silly, because a job that nowdays requires you to spend 75% of your time writing something that has a 90% likelihood of going unfunded is basically a waste of time. Time which could be better spent actually DOING science, writing papers and actually learning something.
So how can we improve this? I can't really write faster than I do now, I'm quite saturated on that front. Funding isn't going to get better and a systemic fix is unlikely to happen soon. Crowdfunding one's science is just a silly idea that's not sustainable in the long run for supporting a lab and staff, and which anyway would also take a huge amount of time. So what's left is to improve the efficiency of the grant submission and writing process. How? Hire someone to write the grants! Although I've never met one, nor do I know anyone who's used one, allegedly these people exist. Wouldn't it be nice if you could sit with someone for a couple of hours and outline some experiments and point them to relevant background material and then they go and write the thing for you? The ideas would still be yours, just the actual writing is done by someone who is a trained writer, who can put things much more clearly and eloquently than you can. Someone who can make your science sound exciting! And I don't want someone who will read and edit my grant, this takes twice the time. I want someone to just write the damn thing and hand me a polished draft. This would ideally be a person with a PhD in science and some sort of writing degree or professional training. And I think University grant offices should pay for these people's services. It's to their benefits that PI's send higher quality grants AND also have time to do high-quality science. Rather than playing the mostly bureaucratic and sometimes obstructive roles in the grant submission process, grants offices could become hotbeds of creativity, productively cranking out grant after high-quality grant proposal.
But of course that's just a pipe, dream. I should stop procrastinating and go back to working on my grant. It's due on Tuesday.

6 responses so far

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    "Crowdfunding one's science is just a silly idea"

    We'll see. I'm working on a manuscript that should have data from a crowdfunded project.

    "that's not sustainable in the long run for supporting a lab and staff,"

    Big labs are not everyone's model for doing science. That some people can't support their science through crowdfunding does not mean nobody should.

    "and which anyway would also take a huge amount of time."

    But at least it's way more fun than grant writing (at least for me).

    • namnezia says:

      I'm glad crowfunding is working for you Zen. But I'm not optimistic about its long-term sustainability and as you say it is only applicable for, in my view, very limited types of science. If in 5-10 years time you are still successfully funding your science via this model, then maybe you'll convince me.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Let me know when all crowd funded biological science tops, say, $2B per year on a consistent basis.

  • pyrope says:

    We should all head to the lab and work on self cloning to solve this problem πŸ™‚

  • Dave says:

    How? Hire someone to write the grants!

    So, what you are proposing is for the PIs to become post-docs again, and for the grant-writers to become the new PIs. That would solve little in my view.

    Surely the answer is for PIs to get back to doing research. Give scientists longer-term but smaller grants such that they actually can do the research with their own hands using a much smaller team. The grants wouldn't pay for x number of post-docs, techs, students, assistants, secretaries etc - just the PI supplies and maybe a tech. Given time and opportunity, I'm sure most PIs would love to get their hands dirty.

  • Dr. Noncoding Arenay says:

    This will solve the problem of programs accepting too many graduate students! If PIs start working in labs then they can hire one less grad student and eventually bring the numbers back down πŸ™‚

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