I’m currently sitting on a plane heading to Washington DC to give a presentation for the renewal of a large-ish project I’ve recently become involved with. This is significant in that, if it’s renewed, the project will give me additional funding through a critical time. Things are
dire in research funding right now. For a digest of how dire see the following link. If you’re a research scientist who doesn’t know that I either pity you (because you’re so out of touch) or envy you (because you’re in a position where you just don’t have to worry). But I’m an optimist and optimists like to find the silver
lining of everything, or in this case the green lining (green as in cha-ching, $$$). So here are a collection of thoughts on why this whole sequester, with it’s accompanying 10% reduction in NIH funding, and corresponding decreases in other major funding agencies, just might be a good thing.
- The “bottom of the ditch” philosophy: This is my favorite. It goes like this. We’re at the bottom. Things are as bad as they’re likely to get. No, no, no, no, don’t tell me that they could get worse and explain why, I’m an optimist, I won’t believe you. So they’re bad, but we’re still in business and so long as we can scrape by for a little while things will turn around and pretty soon we’ll be rolling in the research dough again. Really. Our luck has to turn around soon, right?
- The “culling the herd” philosophy: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Or, more to the point, what doesn’t kill ME makes me stronger- the rest of you all are on your own. And when we emerge from this bloodbath only the strong, fast, and very clever will survive to breed a better stronger generation of research scientists. So either figure out how to be the best or else find someone you can throw to the wolves and hungry lions while you make your escape.
- The “honing the elevator speech” philosophy: Previously, in the land of milk and honey and 25% funding levels for NIH R01 grants, you didn’t have to communicate effectively with non-scientists. You didn’t have to communicate all that well with scientists either. Now that we’re in a less favorable funding environment it’s a great time to start honing your outreach skills. Why on earth would ANYONE want to fund the esoteric basic science research that you’re proposing? You don’t just have to convince the reviewers by being really, really, really good at writing a good proposal story, but you also have to justify your existence to the broader public. You may also want to brush up your, “this is why I will make an excellent WalMart employee” elevator talk too, just in case.
- The “going back to school” philosophy: This is an excellent time to learn something new to expand your skills and research projects. Think of it as an opportunity. Diversification, without overextending, is really important in any business and is in research as well. Establish new collaborations, investigate new areas, learn new things- diversify. And you’ll be stronger for it. Will this translate into more $$$ for your research? Maybe not right away, but the investment will pay off.
- The “biology not bombs” philosophy: Do you know how much money is spent in this country on defense? It vastly dwarfs research spending by any measure. So one of the outcomes of the sequester is that defense spending will be cut, in a big way. You can debate on whether this is a good thing or bad thing in general, but it’s likely to have an eventual impact on our national priorities. I believe (you can disagree) that we will realize that this isn’t as big of a problem as everyone (or at least a big section of the country) thought it would be. We don’t need to spend a godzillion dollars on the next fighter jet (singular- you want more than one?) And that, in turn will eventually trickle down to a reevaluation of our other priorities. And eventually, it may realign our collective dedication to top-notch, sufficiently funded research in this country. As I said at the start, I’m an optimist.
Feel free to chime in with your optimistic views for research funding. I, for one, say bring on the sequester. I’m ready. I’m not afraid. To quote Major Kong: “Yeeeee-haw. YEEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAAWWWWWWW!!!!”
[2/26/13 9PM Updated RE Ron's catch below. Yes the first bomb riding clip I had was dubbed in German. That's what I get for posting from the plane.]