President’s Blog

Posted on June 26, 2013

In most parts of the world, governments are cutting their budgets for research funding.  For many of us, government grants are the lifeblood of our career, or so we are told. Faculty evaluations and tenure decisions are increasingly based on funding. Graduate students and postdocs can only get paid if there is funding for the research they do. With less funding available, investigators are submitting more and more grant proposals. We choose our strategies.  Some manage to produce more proposals by working extra hours each day and sacrificing family time. Some will aim for quantity and hope that something will be randomly successful.  Others write more proposals by reducing the time they spend on research and publications, which is professional suicide if it goes on for too long. All of these grant proposals will need to undergo peer review, and guess what, the peers are the same people who are already too busy writing grant proposals.  So now the quality of the peer review is at risk, making the funding process even more unpredictable.  This situation is clearly not sustainable.  It is important that we talk to our funding agencies and communicate these concerns. I worry that many promising investigators will choose to no longer play in these “hunger games”.  I also see a worrying trend in funding of “the rich get richer” and this needs to be reversed so that funding becomes more equally shared.

But not all is doom and gloom.  As I have mentioned before in this blog, the work we do as biomechanists has great value for society.  We just need to find a way to get paid for it.  If government does not work right now, I suggest we should look at industry and education.  I have done some of my best work in projects with industry.  Some of those projects could never have been funded by government grants, they were too risky, not hypothesis-driven, or not well enough developed to justify a multi-year grant proposal. If you do this right, you can keep your basic research going while trying to get that government grant.  Real innovation happens when you go outside of established knowledge, and companies are perfectly willing to take that risk.  How to make contact with companies who could sponsor your research?  Talk to companies who have booths at scientific meetings, talk to clinical colleagues and find out who develops the technologies to which you could contribute.

And let’s not forget about education.  The knowledge we have is valuable, and if you teach, you earn money for the university and/or perform a service to society.  You earn your salary! Yes, research funding is necessary but you may be able to do good work with a small grant from industry or foundation, instead of a million-dollar government grant.  Universities where faculty members are required to apply for large grants may not be the best place to work right now. This is something you may want to consider when applying for your first faculty position.

But, whatever research funding you apply for, make sure that the budget allows you to travel to attend the ISB Congress.  Even in the days of electronic communication and social networks, there is no better way to stay in touch with the field than a real scientific meeting.  The upcoming ISB Congress in Natal, Brazil, promises to be especially exciting and I can’t wait to see many of you in the first week of August.

Ton van den Bogert
Cleveland, June 23, 2013

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