I have to be honest, I feel a little funny writing about the funding game, and what-not. It’s not really my thing. My thing is shoes and jams and hilarious science mommy stories. But the truth is, although I don’t blog about it often, I spend some part of my time thinking about grants and what-not. Recently I have gotten myself into a situation that has raised my ire.
The NIH still provides the meat and potatoes funding of our humble little group, but its cute to have additional side dish funding from private agencies and foundations. Very, very often, however, I see requests for proposal come across my desk that announce grants with money for supplies, but specifically noting that the funds cannot be used to fund personnel. I feel torn about applying for them. It would be really nice to have the additional money for supplies, but how does one pay for the labor? Especially when they are a small group or early in their career?
And I am not talking about cute little internal pilot awards of $10K here and $25K there. I’m talking about national awards from places like the American [Insert Disease Name] Association or the National Council on [Insert Disease Name]. Today I received a request for proposal for an award that offers $100K+ for three years that specifically says:
These grants do not cover the recipient’s or other faculty salaries, but do provide salary support for technical help.
At least this one allows salary support for lab personnel, but how exactly is the PI supposed to fund their time? Surely a PI is not contributing 0% effort for 0% salary, so where else is the salary funding coming from? Presumably from a department who generously lets said faculty member out of duties to administer a program that pays no salary support? But, if you’re soft money faculty, forget about it. It’s like having toilet paper that you can’t even use to wipe your own ass. Only the asses of those around you.
This has especially raised my ire lately because I have found myself involved in a project that comes with no salary support for anyone involved. I justify it to myself because my salary is covered elsewhere and my time sufficiently allocated for research for the duration of the project and the data should translate into some cute little papers, but I frequently think about what it would be like if the situation were different.
It’s a huge scam to not offer salary support because it means that someone else – another department or another funding agency (dare we discuss the ethics of that) foots the bill in part for the completion of a project. Funding a project without entirely funding the labor is bullshittery at its finest.
It’s shady behavior and I suspect that funding agencies think it means that they are funding more project than they could if they also had to fund salaries. But, it’s shady. Damn, damn shady.