Science Funding Not So Good… October 18, 2006Posted by gordonwatts in university.
I learned something last week as a member of university grant funding committee – for the Royalty Research Fund. This is a rotating assignment: I’m on for two years and then I’ll be off. The grants are specifically targeted at new professors who are just getting started. Perhaps they have no funding, or perhaps they do have funding, but want to start something new and need to prime the pump.
During this meeting a fascinating conversation occurred on the general health of science funding. Bad, was pretty much the universal consensus. Many people talked about new people in their department without funding — and it wasn’t clear that they would be able to obtain funding for several years. As you might imagine, this puts a real crimp in applying for tenure, where one of the criteria often mentioned was the ability to get funding! It also means that sometimes well established senior folks get dropped for a year or to: we noticed more proposal submissions from senior people. The other trend that was noticed was an increase in the number of medical and bio-related proposals. This is a direct consequence of the change in NIH funding. It recently ended a double-in-five-years increase. Which is great, but now all these new people are entering the field and there isn’t a commensurate increase in funding. So things are really starting to tighten up. Result: people look in new places for funding.
One possible consequence for large research universities like the UW is they will have to find new and creative ways to fund their junior faculty until they can get into the grand funding mix. This will be particularly bad for large state universities which are already under tight budget constraints.
This isn’t to say that things are all bad. Most of the science funding at a university comes from the US government, and, as a result, is subject to the whims of the US congress. We are in a down period right now. Hopefully soon we will return to an up period!
This money for the Royalty Research Fund comes from two patents assigned to the University from Ben Hall. About 1/3 of the money goes towards this fund — about 2 million a year! Wow! The patents have to do with a Hepatitis B vaccine and polypeptides in yeast. The linked article tells you a bit more if you are curious.