October 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Got that grant hamster wheel feeling?

If you work in academia and on grants, hen you might have been getting that grant Möbius strip, hamster wheel, Groundhog Day kind of feeling…

The funding rate for the key so-called “R01” NIH laboratory biomedical grant has never been lower. In the long run, R01s are crucial to the everyday running of most biomedical labs in America. (Update: I highly recommend you check out this grantsmanship website for useful, practical information.)

It might take 10-15 tries to get one grant if one assumes all other things being equal. Say you are better than the average PI, it still might take you 5-7 tries or more. Throw in a little bad luck and it could easily be even worse than one in 10-15 tries though.

It seems equally bad or even worse at NSF. Foundation grants are tough to get as well.

The whole grants game can feel like the Escher Mobius Strip
The whole grants game can feel like the Escher Mobius Strip.

As a result today, unless you are a rare grant savant or something (and if you are, congrats!), it may feel like you are always writing a grant or two or three…kind of like the ants in Escher’s famous Möbius strip drawing below going around and around. Is there an end in sight?

Constant grant writing is not the historical norm.

When I was a trainee, PIs would write grants and then take breaks of months or even a year or two before writing another one. They had the needed time for other important aspects of their jobs.

Now the norm seems to be more of an endless grant cycle. Almost every PI that I know can only rarely step off.

Of course most folks are not looking to be going in the same circle over and over, but rather they are working very hard to improve their grant applications. Still there’s a super bad grant mojo out there right now.

Any words of wisdom out there?

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