Funding for science is tight right now. No one knows that more than I and the stack of rejected grant proposals I have on my desk. For a lot of people the shifting climate sucks and for new people it can be be painful to get one's foot in the door. But, is this in itself proof positive that The System is broken? Aureliano Buendia* thinks so.
This morning I was sent a link to a new forum for discussing the "problems" with NSF and what can be done to fix it. Specifically, the creator of the forum states its purpose as discussing "What problems have you had with NSF? What creative solutions have you come up with to these problems? The forum is designed to address such issues. Let's bring out our best ideas, and hope that NSF pays attention."
In one of the inaugural forum posts Aureliano Buendia wonders whether going to the "Canadian system" is really what NSF should migrate towards - Smaller grants ($30 - $50K/year direct for 5 years) with a high rate of funding (~50%). Perhaps this would work for some researchers but I think if you ask your Canadian colleagues whether this is an ideal system you might come away thinking that it is not quite Nirvana on Earth. For a whole host of reasons being stuck with a $30K / year (normal first time grant) lab budget for 5 years (because you can only have one NSERC grant at a time) stifles research progress during a critical time for lab growth. Don't get me wrong, there is some tremendous work being done in Canada, but if you can't apply to other agencies to support your work there is no hope of hiring a postdoc in the first 5 years of the lab unless you attract someone with their own funding. Zoinks, Scoob.
With his cat-like reflexes to perturbations in the interwebs, Drug Monkey has already weighed in on the forum and brings up a good point.
In addition I would encourage everyone to consider closely an issue that comes up over and over again in the NIH-focused discussion. We are all subject to a certain myopia*. The first symptom is that we interpret changes in our personal success rate (if we are relatively senior) or a lack of personal success as being unambiguous evidence that TheSystemIsBroken!. The second symptom is promotion of "solutions" that benefit our own personal career, laboratory, research programme, etc. At the expense of others of course ("Do it to Julia, not me, Julia!")
To me, there appears to be a lot of concern over the size of many grants these days and a lot o'"back in the day, we did science for A NICKLE! And we liked it!" goin' on over at the new forum, but I encourage my readers to go take a look and weigh in if you think you have something to offer. I will be curious to see how the comments develop and whether the consensus opinion is that a small grant mechanism would be a good thing or whether people feel this is just a public foot stomping by an aging scientist having trouble getting funds.
*I have no idea if this person is real or a Pseud.