Friday, January 30, 2009

Research Crossroads

I know, I know, 5 months in is a little early for any kind of crossroads, but I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday that may shape the next 6 months. The main project I want to pursue has some fairly high up-front cost - at least for my field. Because of that, I have been in a holding pattern of that project until I get grant funding for it. Yesterday I realized that I could do a small-scale test project for considerably less than what the full project would cost and now I am debating what to do.

The reason it might be worth jumping the gun and producing these data before getting a grant is because this project falls under the high risk/high reward category, that is probably unlikely to get funded without some decent evidence that there will be the results that I think there will. When I sent the grant in back in January, we had made progress, but hadn't made the final leap because of the cost. I have no idea, of course, whether the progress we made will be enough to convince the reviewers to suggest funding the project, but if it gets turned down again we won't have much more evidence in hand for the next round. From that perspective, it seems like a huge gamble NOT to spend the money.

The drawback is that it all needs to come from my start-up. Not only that, but if I want to get it done before the July round of grant applications (assuming the grant doesn't get funded this round) I will need to figure out if the Dean will let me borrow against my start-up money for next year, early. When I negotiated my start-up, I got the vast majority in the first year so I could buy equipment and get things running. I have pretty much outfitted the lab at this point and still have about $25K left for this year. Since the fiscal turns over June 30, that should give me plenty to get through this year. BUT, if I were to go for broke and try and pull this off, I will need to pay about $10K to one company and $15K to another. Obviously that would leave me with nothing to use for the other projects going on in the lab and the consumables to keep things running.

I have $75K of start-up available in year 2 (starting July 1), with nearly that much coming in year 3, so time is a bigger factor than money in the grand scheme of things. I have no problem spending the money (that's why it's there), but I don't what to handicap the lab for a few months either. The way I see it, I have three options:

1) Hold tight and see what happens with the grant. I am not a conservative person and this option bothers me. If the grant doesn't get funded, I will have very little to add in the next round, which is only treading water.

2) Spend the $10K to complete the first step of the project and have at least made that progress in the even that the grant does not get funded in this round. Even if it does, I would have to spend this money anyway, but from the grant rather than start-up. I could live with this option because it shows that we can do what we claim, but it will not provide any evidence of the eventual outcome.

3) Squeeze the Dean for some of next year's money and produce the data. This option is the scariest in the short term, because the lab finances will be dodgy until summer, but it would provide enough data to push the grant over the top, for sure. These data could also be folded into the larger data set once we had the funding for the whole project. Of course, this is predicated on squeezing blood from a stone in this financial climate because the Dean may not even be able to provide any money for me to move forward.


  1. Go for broke, hometeam. Squeeze that Dean, and justify the squeezing by saying that the investment now will pay dividends (e.g., the supplemental data sent in before your grant gets reviewed, or the new pilot data in the revision will increase your chances of getting below payline).

  2. Go for option 3 - high-risk, high-reward projects often (always?) need definitive preliminary data. If the Dean won't play, go for option 2. You could get number 2 going while trying to squeeze the Dean for an advance on your start-up funds. You need to spend money to get money.

  3. Yeah, what Treefish and Odyssey said. You gotta take risks.

  4. Yup. Granted, I have the K99 money to keep me tided over here before a big grant comes in, but my work is EXPENSIVE so it only goes so far. I have been going for broke and gambling on getting preliminary data fast rather than holding back until more money comes in. So far, it is pretty much working: strong recruitment, a paper almost ready to go, two new projects well on the way to making some publishable preliminary data, and I'm not quite sitting with the cyanide tooth ready to blow the popstand yet.