Scientists are creatures of patience. They wait for results, they wait for tenure and, perhaps hardest of all, they wait for funding.
Grant limbo — the blank space between one source of funding and the indefinite start of another — is brutal. Lab technicians are fired and projects are put on hold, all while researchers wait for the return of critiqued proposals.
But at universities that prioritize research, internal grants are available to bridge unanticipated holes in funding. Bridge grants don’t cover the entire cost of a research project, but they can provide enough money to keep labs up and running until external funding is secured. Wake Forest offers bridge grants up to $10,000.
“It’s like insurance,” said Miles Silman, a Wake Forest biology professor.
As budget cuts in Washington shrink awards and reduce application opportunities for federal grants, which accounted for 78 percent of Wake Forest research funding last year, bridge grants may become an increasingly important fallback resource for Biology Department faculty. But the available $10,000 may not be able to support labs that often operate on a yearly budget of $60,000 to $100,000 — or more.
“Is $10,000 enough?” asked Bruce King, the associate provost for research. “In some cases it’s plenty. In some, it’s not.”
King noted that money for bridge grants comes from external grant overhead, or the school’s cut of faculty grants, rather than tuition. Last year, Wake Forest brought in $9.1 million in grants, a minor amount compared to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s $767 million in external grants.
UNC Chapel Hill, along with schools like Vanderbilt and Emory, offer up to $50,000 in bridge funding. Smaller liberal arts schools, like Davidson College, usually don’t provide bridge grants.
“We’re still learning how to do research in some ways,” King said, explaining that Wake shouldn’t be compared to the larger, well-established research universities with $50,000 reserved for funding gaps.
Research is a long-term “area of growth but teaching and faculty interaction are still the priority,” King said.
Silman contests the notion that Wake is a small research school and emphasized that Wake faculty members are just as affected by funding cuts as researchers at larger universities.
“People always talk about Wake Forest being small in research, but we’re not. We have less of it, but every individual component is just as big as anywhere else and just as world-class,” said Silman, a climate change expert whose work is currently funded by sources that include NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). He said our funding needs are just as great.
Since the impact of this year’s federal cuts to the NSF and National Institutes of Health (NIH) remains to be seen, King said the office hasn’t considered enlarging the bridge grant, which has been available for only five years.
Both the NSF and NIH have seen their budgets reduced by 5 percent after the sequestration’s automatic cut to federal agencies took effect March 1. While the cuts won’t impact current federal grants, it will be more difficult for researchers to renew funding and secure grants for new proposals. Out of federal grants at Wake Forest, 81 percent come from either the NIH or NSF.
Demand for the $10,000 internal grant is low as well. Last year, there were no requests for bridge funding, although that could be due to its lack of visibility on campus: Silman said he had only recently found out about it and bridge funding isn’t a topic of discussion in the department.
While the $10,000 bridge grant would allow a research program to “limp along,” Silman said that it wouldn’t be enough to hold onto lab technicians for more than a couple of months.
“With the magnitude of the cuts, that bridge funding won’t do much,” Silman said. “But it does a lot more than nothing.”
Source: Old Gold and Black: http://oldgoldandblack.com/?p=36158