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Research and Scholarship

Refocusing and Re-framing One’s Work to Meet a Changing Funding Environment

“If your time to you is worth savin' Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone.”

Bob Dylan

No one wants to sink like a stone, but we’ve all been there. The long hours of planning, nights and weekends, time away from the family, pulling together the dream team, literally putting in the blood, sweat and tears only to receive that painful rejection letter, your grant was unscored.

Heartbreaking, but unfortunately so very common.

An unscored grant has become almost inevitable in academic research and actually getting a score worthy of funding is like seeing the elusive Night Parrot, which was feared to be extinct! To say it’s hard to fund your program of research today is an understatement.

But I don’t want you to think it’s all doom and gloom. There is hope, but it lies in your ability to adapt. Adaptability is the ability to change or modify your approach to meet the needs of your environment. And you either learn to adapt, or you will sink like a stone.

Swim with the funding priorities
We are living in an era where, to survive, academic researchers need to shift according to funding calls and the needs of granting agencies, rather than funding what you want to do as a scientist. Hard to swallow, yes, but if you want to stay afloat in academia this is what you do…period. I have been mentored by seasoned academicians who have figured out the ‘game’ of winning grants who on more than one occasion have suggested I shift my science program to fit a particular funding call or granting agency. Academic research has become a sport in many ways, and those successful in landing grant funding know that there is a formula by which you write a grant to increase its chances of getting funded. And sometimes, yes, it is about who is on the team.

Innovate your application
Innovation is academic research is critical, but I’m not talking about research innovation---I’m talking about innovating the way we think about academic research. Innovation is one of those buzz words that makes people feel like they are doing something worthwhile. But, a good salesman (aka good grant writer, ah hem) can argue that just about anything is innovative.  True innovation that will change practice and leave an impact lies in your ability to adapt your way of thinking. Being innovative is knowing how to create something out of nothing or turn something old into something new. The key to staying buoyant as an academic researcher is in your ability to unlearn what you think you know and relearn how you’re going to do it.

Change the game
My work as an academic nurse scientist began over a decade ago and since that time, I’ve been laser focused on personalizing treatment and recovery strategies for stroke and brain injury. Over the years our team has received a good amount of research funding to create the foundation of data necessary to suggest a personalized approach to stroke diagnosis via a blood-based test of the immune system.
And then about four years ago something unfortunate happened. We hit a hall. We could not get funded.
We needed to validate our data, create prototypes of our devices and test the market to see if our product could actually make a difference in patient care. We weren’t interested in discovery anymore; we were interested in changing practice. As you can expect, most funding agencies weren’t too keen on funding this.
So, in early 2015, I had a decision to make. Either I alter my research approach to make it more appealing to the funding agencies or play the game of innovating the application to do the work.
I decided to take the road less traveled. I left academia.  
Now, I’m not saying the answer to an unscored grant is to leave academia! And I do not want you to think I’m supporting a mass exodus into biotech, but I am saying that sometimes you must be willing to adapt and think outside of the box.

Next Article Writing and rewriting for publication

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