What Sequestration Means to Me As a Scientist

For those who don’t know, on March 1, the sequester of the federal budget kicks in, which will reduce federal spending across the board by about eight percent for all non-military items (military spending is cut by about nine percent). Dylan Matthews has a good FAQ (although, true to form as a member of the Mandarin Class, he completely ignores the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party’s proposal).

I’ve written before about the stupidity of sequestration as a policy before, so instead, I want to describe how sequestration will affect me and my research.

One thing that will happen is that some additional funding we received to sequence more genomes (MOAR DATAZ!) will vanish. Mind you, no one, thankfully, will lose his or her job (including me), but there’s some good science we could be doing that will simply not happen. Of course, if we had the funding, we would buy supplies and reagents, and the suppliers would do more business, make more money, spend said money, all of which would be good. Disappointing, but not a personal crisis–I’ll pay the bills (though given some preliminary results, I think we would miss out on some really important discoveries about how bacteria cause disease).

The other way I’ll be hit is that I’m basically on a grant with a junior, soft-money researcher. We received the scores and broke the threshold: the section typically funds at X%, and we received a ranking of X-1% (e.g., they fund 15% percent of proposals, and we scored 14th percentile). Things looked good in December.

And then there’s the sequester, which, if it happens, will reduce NIH funding for new proposals. While NIH is being vague about the effects, it’s hard to know what will happen right at the edge, though it looks like new proposal approval rates will drop.

So now things aren’t looking so good.

From my perspective, it would be nice to get the grant. Like my Uncle Harry used to say, rich or poor, it’s always good to have money. It would pay a small part of my salary for a couple of years (I’m basically on as a technical advisor), but, again, my salary is covered, so I’ll be alright. But my colleague, who has been ridiculously productive, is screwed. I really don’t know what will happen to him, or the two people he employs. As Elias Zerhouni put it:

The most impacted are the young, new investigator scientists, who are coming into science, and will now abandon the field of science. There will be a generational gap created.

I’ll survive, at least for the next couple of years, but many younger researchers will be sunk.

And there’s no reason for any of this to happen.

Related post: Steven Salzberg makes some good general points.

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2 Responses to What Sequestration Means to Me As a Scientist

  1. missmse says:

    I’m at a point where the sequester could very well completely alter my career trajectory. I made the semi-final cuts for the SMART fellowship, but since it is a scholarship for service program, anything that affects the DoD budget has a pretty dramatic impact on their acceptance rates. Getting this would guarantee me a solid first postdoc position and funding for the rest of my graduate program.

    Given that my advisor is primarily funded by DoD grants, money is getting tighter in the group, which means there may not even be other funding available for me. I’m willing to bet I’m in the top 10% of applicants, but top 2%? My understanding of the sequester is that the budget cuts are at an agency level, and the agency must figure out how to meet them, which means external programs are likely to be first on the chopping block.

  2. coeruleus says:

    Yup. I’ve so far been able to just barely hang on…now I’m screwed. But as the libertarians and RWingers keep telling us, this will be a time of tremendous opportunity to wean ourselves from the federal teet; and these aren’t even close to the “real” cuts those a**holes want.

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