Some depressing NSF DEB stats

May 07 2015 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Okay, if NSF's DEB is your bread and butter, you may want to sit down and pour yourself a drink before continuing. I'll wait.

Alright, let's go through the Per Investigator Success Stats blog post over at DEBrief. You have a drink, right?

You should really go over and read the whole thing, but here's the tl/dr version for you:

DEB looked at success rates for core and special programs between 2006 and 2014. There's a bunch of caveats you can go read, but basically they wanted to get at the numbers for people who received what we would all consider "grant funding".

- During this time there were roughly 12,000 individual applicants to DEB. Of these applicants, only 25% ever got funded in that time frame. So 75% of applicants submitted in vain.

- Of that number, less than 10% were able to obtain overlapping grants. That means that more than 90% of funded PIs saw a funding gap in that time!

If you didn't go get that drink before, now is a good time.

- If you look at the applicant pool, between 1.5-3.1% of applicants had overlap in awarded grants. Remember that this is during the stimulus period, where BIO used the extra money to clear a backlog, so if anything, this could be considered the golden age of overlap.

Let's pull a few quotes, for fun.

What this tells us is that fewer than 10% of awarded PIs in any 3-year window are repeat awardees during that period (~1.5 – 3.1% of all PIs who apply during that period).

If we step back and consider the whole 9 year period, we still find that the majority of PIs are funded only once.

Funding rates, both per-person and per-proposal, are being driven down by increases in the applicant/application pool: primarily growth in actual participant numbers but some intensification of per-person activity is also possible.

Any person applying to DEB’s competitive research programs is unlikely to be funded, and much less likely to maintain continuous support for a lab from this single funding source.

So, there you have it. I have said repeatedly that you need to be able to hit up more than one source of funding if you want to lessen the likelihood of gaps, and this report spells that out extremely clearly. The chances of you bucking the odds during one 9 year period are slim, over a career? You do the math.

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