07 July 2017

Why I stopped writing grants

A couple of threads on Twitter recently reminded me of something. This from Liang Gao (my emphasis):

Just visited a new PI. He showed me beautiful research, top publications , and thousands pages of unfunded proposals. What the hell is going on?

Then there was Prof-like Substance:

Remember that when applying to NSF, this is what you’re up against. ~6% success from the process. Which is why I tell people over and over and over that if you don't diversify, you will get eaten alive. You. Can. Not. Go up against 6% success for a decade and think everything will be fine. It won’t.

Then there was this charming reminder from Jacquelyn Gill that in addition to dealing with biases about sex, race, and “academic pedigree,” you have to deal with biases about geography:

An equipment grant I'm a co-PI on is #NSFunded! I'm grateful for the chance to do some fun new research. But two reviewers mentioned how small UMaine is. One said it “only has 13,000 students.” Another said there’s “not much up there but moose.”

A lot of people are reaching the point I got to maybe four of five years ago, when I wrote:

Personally, if you’d asked me when I started this job if I thought that I’d be able to get grants for my research, I’d have said, “I think it’ll take me a few tries, but I think I can do it.” Well, that hasn’t happened. So I’ve had to re-invent myself, my expectations, everything, from almost the ground up. It’s been a decade-long battle to redefine myself as a scientist. I’m still not done.
I realized that producing thousands of pages of grant proposals was not satisfying for me, either personally or professionally. The odds were long and not improving. People probably think there’s less in South Texas than there is in Maine.

I also realized that managing those grants I did get were not satisfying for me. I’ve complained for a long time that trying to spend a dollar from a grant requires a bottle of aspirin, because it’s an instant headache.

So I mostly quit writing grants. I’m still writing some pre-proposals for NSF, but none have gotten an invitation for a full proposal.

Instead, I have focused on the bit that I find most satisfying for me: writing papers. I have focused on creating “$5 projects” that can go forward, grant or not. My research doesn’t run on money. It runs on willpower.

And I just submitted a manuscript to a journal today, thank you, that was generated with no grant support at all.


Rigged Agencies said...

Everything described here is presented as my opinion. NSF isn't a good steward of tax payer funds. It appears to allow scientists to engage in unethical conduct. This is what they appear to have done:

At at least one university, some researchers who are also well known to NSF/NIH (very successful nailing federal funds) regularly submitted grant proposals with requests for grad student funding as line items in the budget, knowing that the students would be already covered by state lines earmarked for the same students. Higher budgets translate to more indirects for the Research Foundation and university. So budgets included $ to cover stipends, tuition, health insurance/other student related expenses & indirects.

Prior to fall, the researchers claimed there were too many lines/too few students. Claiming to be driven by concerns about "Use it or Lose it", graduate students were moved to "State Lines" and student designated federal funds (NSF?NIH)were placed in a fungible (and retainable after grants term) IFR account for later use for whatever. The neuroscientist Dept Chair pressured others to IFR their "graduate student" funding as well.-building up a substantial "war chest". Grad students in other areas were denied research funding in favor of banking funds.

Essentially tax payers (federal and NY) paid for 2 student but got 1. Those involved used the banked funds for things unrelated to the original grants and to garner influence/power (ie using $ to influence the administration with trades). The money was used for all kinds of things that had absolutely nothing to do with what NSF/NIH or other funding sources thought they were paying for. Yes, start rationalizing why this is fine. It simply was not.

Irony-these researchers, who serve on NIH or NSF panels, render judgements about the funding of other researchers. New researchers don't seem to have a chance!

Rigged Agencies said...

Can provide details to those providing contact information.