Biomedical Research Funding

It is a difficult time to be a scientist at an academic institution. For someone like me, without tenure, it’s also a frightening time. Two colleagues sent me depressing articles this week on the state of research in America.

The first, A Smaller NIH Budget Means Fewer Scientists and “Too Safe” Studies, came from the Wall Street Journal. The second, The State of Research Isn’t All that Grand, came from the NY Times.

Both articles addressed the current state of federal funding for biomedical research in the USA. Here’s a quote from the Wall Street Journal article: “Although scientists may be “geneticists at MGH” or “neuroscientists at UCSF,” unless they have tenure their salary comes out of a grant, not from the ostensible employer. As grants disappear, therefore, it isn’t just that studies won’t be done; researchers will have to look for another line of work, especially if they are Ph.D.s rather than M.D.s, who can at least see patients to bring in income.”

The NY Times article put the state of US research in a more global context. As federal dollars for research and education decline, “Where will the innovation come from to drive the American economy of the future?”

I am somewhat fortunate in that I have an NIH grant that runs through April of 2009 which fully covers the operation of my laboratory. This gives me some security for myself and my employees and some time to make some decisions about the future. However, knowing that the private sector research market is about to be flooded with quality PhDs, should I take the leap sooner than is necessary? When I started business school, I was not sure that I would ever use my MBA. Now, I think it will be a critical asset to finding a job in the future.