Many other researchers (via hello@) share their struggles with securing funding through the National Institutes of Health. Michael was caught in a Catch-22:
In response to Nora’s callout for stories about the effects of flat NIH funding: My project went through a period of about one year when my NIH grant was going through the renewal process, during which we had no funding because it just missed getting a fundable score when it was reviewed the first time, and I had to collect additional preliminary data that was requested by the reviewers. But this took longer than expected—or, one could argue, necessary—because, without funding, my lab staff was minimal. I also did not accept any new graduate students into the lab during that time due to the uncertainty.
The revised grant was funded, starting last December, but the lapse in continuity has meant we are barely back to full steam now, as I have had to hire and train new people. As Francis Collins, Director of the NIH has said, research is not like an assembly line that can just be shut down and restarted as necessary.
But I think there is another, just as important, force at play here: When Congress does not approve a budget before the start of the fiscal year, the NIH plays things very conservatively in terms of awarding grants that have been approved. So, if one’s application was scored close to the cutoff, one may not get the money until very late in the federal fiscal year when Congress finally acts. This again can lead to disruptive gaps.
David is also frustrated with a fickle Congress:
While a PhD student in 2008, I had the privilege of working at a prestigious and dynamic program, the Marine Biological Labs Physiology Course, where I worked on exciting new research with the leading cell biologists in the world. While there I discovered a new method of eukaryotic (mammalian and other high level organisms) cellular organization. It was amazing. It founded a new field of research. I earned my PhD in 2011 and had a postdoctoral position offer from my dream lab, an NIH group that was arguably the best cell imaging lab in the world. I was ecstatic!
But the position couldn’t be officially opened until Congress passed the new budget, and sure enough, that is when Congress decided to grandstand about whether they would pass a budget or not … and then shut down the government for an unknown amount of time.