Business, Science

Is Grant Writing Killing Science?

grant proposal writing
Researchers, scientists, and professors are spending up to 50% of their time writing grant proposals.
Image: Shutterstock

We are living in paradoxical times.  We know that science is coming up with all kinds of amazing breakthroughs every day.  Stem cell research is advancing.  We have mapped not just the human genome but that of many plants and animals.  It is an exciting time to be a scientist or science lover.

However, researchers and professors are complaining that science is being bogged down by paperwork.  In droves they are being forced to spend up to 50 percent of their time writing grants to secure funding.  In a worldwide recession, donations and funding are not nearly what they were.

The more time you have to spend on grant writing, the less time you have for your experiments.  The less time you have for that, the less you can prove or disprove.  What do grant readers want to see?  They want to see evidence that your research is worthy of a grant.  How do you prove that it’s worthy?  By doing great research.  How do you do great research?  By having grant funding.  Do you see the dilemma?  It’s a chicken and egg conundrum.

With dwindling funds in the UK devoted to research, British scientists are spending a lot of time trying to secure what’s left to keep their research groups alive. I personally spend about a third of my time writing for grants, fellowships and PhD studentships – which is time I cannot spend helping to foster the ongoing experiments. I’ve had a few funding successes, but not enough to wholly suspend the feverish activity needed to optimize my research performance.

An article in Nature reported that, “We found that scientists in Australia spent more than five centuries’ worth of time preparing research-grant proposals for consideration by the largest funding scheme of 2012. Because just 20.5% of these applications were successful, the equivalent of some four centuries of effort returned no immediate benefit to researchers and wasted time.”

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