Thursday, May 13, 2010

One year left

A recent check of lab finances brought home an important point. At the pace we are going, the lab has about a year left of operating funds. This comes on the heels of getting another proposal declined this week. I have two others pending, but her are the facts:

1) There are two more NSF deadlines before we run out of gas.

2) Counting an additional opportunity I will apply for, that means I can realistically submit 7 more federal proposals on projects we have on-going that will catch us before we hit the ground.

3) Based on a conversation with Major Data Producing Center, recent problems may mean they can't deliver critical data before the July deadline, which would effectively sink one proposal and severely wound another.

Seven proposals sounds like a lot until you realize that I have already put in more than twice that number with nothing to show for it. If I don't have new data for two in the July round, I'm down to 5. One can argue that the later proposals are, by definition, better and more likely to be funded than the earlier ones and, while true, is hardly assurance of actually getting funding in this climate. I had a very productive talk with my PO after getting the results back, but he also let me know that NSf's Bio directorate is funding in the single digits across the board. Although the numbers they release look better, they also count each PI on a collaborative proposal as "successful", inflating those figures.

When I was negotiating the terms of my position I figured that planning for three years of lab support and equipment was sufficient buffer to get things going and bring in funding, but if I knew someone negotiating a job right now I would tell them to ask for 5 and settle for 4 if they have to. As has been repeatedly brought up by others, it is critical to have the resources to get enough data to get funded and it may take longer than you think.

We have until the January deadline to collect enough data to move our proposals into the "high priority" category. That's the moral of the story.


  1. oh the pain of proposals.
    last time, mine was even in the high priority category and it still wasn't funded (4th try on that proposal). scary all around.

  2. All good points and a good reminder. What am I doing reading your post when I have an NIH to finish?

  3. This can be a scary time, but it's important that you don't panic and that you don't stop generating data/papers/proposals during the year you have. Keep in mind that your chair and dean (assuming they have a gram of commonsense between them) don't want to see you fail. If you're close to running out of money and haven't got outside funding, ask them for help. You won't be the first to have done so. Being able to show them that you've been highly productive with your three year's money will help make a good case for additional money.

    My bet is you will hit funding soon and all this will be moot.

  4. Ouch. This is what keeps me up at night. It is nervewracking to be responsible for fundraising for salary. My only advice is to not give up, to look for atypical sources (every little bit helps), and to check all of the early investigator/early career sources you can find for eligibility.

    Good luck, and hang in there. There are many of us that feel your pain.

  5. We're not stopping just because money might get tight in a year. In fact, I may be spending more money this year than last as we nail down important data for the stories we are putting together. I don't see much other choice - saving money to have people who have nothing to work with doesn't make much sense.

  6. It sucks but you gotta burn cash to get your project going, get some shit published, and hopefully get more money. Good luck with the deadlines and screw the MDPC again!