Thursday, 25 October 2012

Live by the Grant, Die by the Grant

October and November are always very anxious months for Australian scientists. Traditionally, the results from the major grant rounds from both the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) are announced around this time of the year. It's also an awkward time of the year, if you don't get funding, it's easy to look through the lists of funded projects and become bitter about why was so-and-so funded rather than you when their project is much more boring. Even if you do get funded, you feel bad for your colleagues who didn't get funded (best to avoid making eye contact with them).

The NHMRC grant results came out last Friday, with mixed results for us. We received funding for a collaborative project led by Jon Iredell at Westmead Hospital, to investigate which antibiotics are more likely to disrupt the "society" of beneficial microbes living in a patient's stomach. But we just missed out being funded for our work on looking for novel drug resistance genes in the opportunistic pathogen A. baumannii (on the 0-7 scoring scale used by NHMRC we were about 0.05-0.10 below the funding line).

One thing that became clear to me while sitting on an NHMRC panel this year, is simply the large number of excellent proposals that it's just not possible to fund due to the limited resources of the funding agencies. If we look at the funding statistics from the last ten years or so of NHMRC grants (figure below), usually about three quarters of the grants received are rated as worthy of funding, but only about a quarter of the proposals are actually funded (this year 22%). So, it's always a tough battle for funding.

NHMRC grant stats (taken from the NHMRC web site), lolcat photos are my addition

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