I would like to know where the hell nineteen percent of research universities think their funding comes from.
Eighty-one percent of research universities say budget sequestration cuts are directly hampering their scientific research activities, according to a new survey released Monday.
Not everyone felt the sequester right away, but I can tell you that it caused an instant sphincter-tightening for just about everyone doing research funded by NIH, NSF, NOAA, DoD or any other public agency. Unlike a private enterprise these agencies all manage their money on a Toyota-style just in time basis, so less money in means less money out starting right now. This manifested itself in two ways. First, a lot of existing grants got a haircut, sometimes by as much as half. That tossed a lot of talented staffers into a suddenly very tight job market. This was great news for pharma and the next fat pill but a lot of research labs had no way to keep people with essential skills that cannot be easily replaced.
Second, agencies gave out fewer grants. Grants all go through a two-step process: a scientific panel of volunteer researchers ranks that month’s batch of applications based on a complex set of considerations, and then a second in-house panel decides what percentage of the agency’s top scoring grants they can afford to fund. In the good old days you could breathe easy if you scored in the top twenty percent; nowadays you bite your nails even if a clearly stellar proposal falls inside the top seven or eight percent of grants. That leaves far too many people out in the cold.
Anecdotes, data et cetera, but you could cite one postdoc named Tim F who has an H index of 10, multiple papers in PNAS and Nature journals and hit the job market at the same moment the sequester took effect. I more or less ruled out looking for faculty jobs after I found that people making the final cut right now have the kind of achievements that would earn you an assigned seat at the Justice League conference table. The story turns out fine: I found a staff position that I feel pretty good about all things considered, but to get there I had to compete with a startling number of senior faculty and over-qualified specialists looking for any safe harbor. All that I can say is thank your preferred deity that Obamacare will offer some support for the many scientists getting their first hard look at the individual market for health insurance.