Because I haven’t done anything but writing grants since I arrived at the ECSCRI (at least that’s what it feels like; I did do loads of other things, just not the kind of stuff that feels like you have accomplished something), I will dedicate a post to this general topic. In the almost four months since I started I wrote an estimated 50 pages of grant applications, which doesn’t really sound all that impressive, but is a lot of Hirnschmalz that had to be invested (german noun, literally “brain lard”, meaning something like brain power). And I am far from being done. I’m not complaining about this, it is after all part of the game. Back in Florida someone mentioned that in times of good funding one can expect about 1 in 7 grant applications to get funded.
Right now, we are far from good times.
What is a shame is that a good deal of those other, unfunded applications are really good and worthy of funding (and I am not talking about my own applications here, fantastic though they may be ;). In the current funding situation, I’d expect maybe one in 15 applications making the cut (and that means that in the14 that didn’t make it, there are probably another 5 excellent applications that should’ve been funded, but won’t see the light of day [and if you now think I got my maths wrong, look at this example: suppose a funding body receives 100 applications for review. It is fairly easy to separate the 50 better ones from the 50 worse ones. Those 50 top picks, reviewers can realistically split into thirds again – the top, which should get funded, the middle, which could be revised for another round of applications, and the bottom third, which should be rejected. The problem is that these thirds are groups of 16-17 applications, which is closer to the 1 in 7 statistic. And in the US funding system, 100-120 applications per reviewing committee is fairly accurate.])
But we were talking about applications that should have been funded and didn’t make it. Some of these may be revised and may eventually get funded (with a few years delay), but a good amount of these excellent proposals will probably never see the light of day. And that is a shame, because one of those ideas may have been the solution to the origin of the universe or the cure for cancer (yes, I’m shamelessly populist here, but I think you are getting my point). This problem has a simple solution: increase funding for research. Unfortunately, scientists are not very good at lobbying for their cause, compared to other groups, and unfortunately in national economy there is never enough money to make everybody happy. It is easy, albeit shortsighted, to cut research spending to appease other, more active stakeholders. However, the money we invest in science today creates and secures the jobs of our children tomorrow (and the continuous growth of our economy and prosperity, and other, more boring arguments along these lines). What’s that worth to you?