Friday, August 22, 2014

The Wonderful World of Funded Research

Most academic institutions love external funding of research.  I have written before about how about 47% of the income goes to "overhead costs" and ends up representing money in the "slush fund" of deans and departments.  Thus external funding tends to be highly rewarded, regardless of its real contribution to science and to education.

The darker side of grant funding the review process.  Ideally one envisions a group of cool impersonal scientists making decisions based only on the advancement of science.  Why would we envision that?  We are humans, they are humans, so the review process is political, biased, and based more on the advancement of personal interests than the advancement of science.

I participate on both sides of this contest.  I write and submit grant proposals, and I read and review them on occasion.  It's more fun to be on the reviewing end- I usually get at least travel expenses and there's far less rejection.

Dealing with rejection is just part of my job.  We recently submitted a grant proposal that would benefit children who use wheelchairs.  For $30,000 we were going to adapt wheelchairs to make them lighter and more mobile.  We were going to train kids to climb and go down steps, to jump curbs and to be much more mobile.  Additionally for this small sum, we were going to teach the kids and their parents wheelchair maintenance. 

"Don't they do that already?" you asked incredulously (your skeptical by nature).

"Nope, surprisingly enough"!

I figured it was a sure deal.  How can anyone deny so little money for so much good... for the benefit of little kids in wheelchairs?

Once again, I was wrong.  No money for our proposal.  Not even a dollar for the poor kids in chairs.

So, we look elsewhere.  And that, boys and girls, is the wonderful world of funded research!

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