Friday, 5 April 2013

It feels like its been 500 years

I've survived (barely) this season of grant writing. Our four National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants were submitted a couple of weeks ago. Although I was ready for a vacation by that point, we also participated with an American team on an NIH Center for Translational Medicine application, which was submitted a few days ago. Now, all we have to do is wait six months and keep fingers, toes, eyes, etc crossed.

In the meantime, an interesting paper came out in the journal Nature, and got some press coverage at least in Australia, for instance this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the topic of scientific grant writing.To quote the SMH article:

"Australian scientists spent more than 500 years' worth of time preparing research funding applications for the country's largest grant scheme in 2012, according to a survey by Queensland researchers.
And as only one-fifth of proposals to the federal government's National Health and Medical Research Council were successful, scientists wasted the equivalent of four centuries diverted from their research."

At the moment it certainly feels like I've spent 500 years writing grant applications, and certainly I've done little else for the last three months. It does raise interesting questions- is this the best use of scientist's time and effort? Is it even the best way of distributing resources for research? One of my favourite stories on this topic is how in the 1990s Craig Venter and colleagues submitted a grant to sequence the first ever bacterial genome (Haemophilus influenzae) to the NIH. It scored the lowest possible score in the grant scoring scheme and received reviews saying that the grant was ridiculous and that the proposed work was impossible. They then went ahead and got private funding for this work, succeeded, published the genome in Science, and started the genomics revolution. An example of how truly innovative research is highly unlikely to be funded under current grant schemes, which tend to support incremental scientific advances.

Anyway, I'm going to stop here for the moment, but hope to revisit this topic in a subsequent blog post.

We're trying to avoid this situation