Show me the money

More than just the catchphrase that marks the high point of Cuba Gooding Jr’s career, this is the demand from researchers to funding bodies every year. Any researcher quickly discovers that there’s not much progress to be made on a great idea without somewhere to get it done and money to do it with. It takes up a major part of the year if you’re a researcher. How much? Well, you may have seen the newspaper reports generated by a paper that recently appeared in Nature, where a team from the Queensland University of Technology tried to calculate how much time researchers had spent preparing applications for the NHMRC grant cycle in 2012 (I couldn’t get past the paywall for the original paper, but here’s a newspaper story right here).

Anyway, they came up with the number 500. That wasn’t hours, that was years. 500 accumulated science years to put together an application. Can you imagine how much can be achieved in 500 years? 500 years ago the dominant medical paradigm remained that the body was governed by humorism. Yep, the human body was apparently entirely dependent upon the balance between various hues of bile, phlegm and blood for good health and temperament. 500 human years later, they’re starting to use 3D printers to rebuild faces. The fact that only 1 in 5 of those grant applications was successful (which is around the historical mark) makes the amount of time required even more depressing. If you’re an early career investigator (and that includes people who already have their PhD), the success rate is even more depressing (as an example, have a look at the success rate for the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award round from 2012, which comes in at a whopping 12.8%).

You can see how if you were handing out the money, you’d like to ensure you’re likely to get some kind of result, so you’d rather invest your money in those with a proven track record. Still, how many great ideas have gone by the wayside because young researchers have been unable to get that crucial foot in the door? It’s not that encouraging as a PhD student undertaking the research with a not for profit organisation operating outside the uni system.

So young researchers will probably have to think a little laterally to secure new avenues for funding. Already there’s reports of researchers overseas pursuing crowdfunding as a path to financial happiness. Or there’s a bunch of great suggestions from Dr Kayleigh Dodd, who has the double misfortune in being a bright early career researcher into a rare genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis, a condition obscure enough to not attract the big bucks. In a piece entirely deserving of a read in full, she suggests a few options, starting with the opportunity to sponsor a needy scientist (will have to start working on the malnourished medical researcher look straight away) and running right through to the live elimination format favoured by reality “talent” shows.

Bizarrely, Dr Dodd has displayed astounding prescience, as I will shortly be trying to sway a panel of judges in an eerily similar manner. With 19 other PhD students, the project has been chosen as a finalist at the Bright Sparks PhD Pitch NightHaving entered with absolutely zero thought of success, I will now have 2.5 minutes to sell my PhD to guys like this underachiever (little bit daunted right about now). The invitation to the night suggested I might like to consider sharing my message through “music, comedy, dance or demonstration”. As I cannot quite conceive of how to share the story of brain injury monitoring through interpretive dance, I am clearly working at a disadvantage, so all suggestions, with the exception of mime, will be cheerfully considered.

Still, could be worse. I could have this film on my CV (or even in my DVD player). Cuba, seriously, what happened?

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