Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back to science soon....

I will start blogging about actual physics again soon. It's been a busy time lately, between the start of the new semester and having two proposals due - one this past Thursday for the IMR program, and one this coming Friday for the MRSEC program. Writing equipment proposals like the IMR these days feels like a complete throw of the dice. For those who don't know, after your startup period, it can be challenging to get the resources needed to buy significant pieces of equipment (say $200K-$400K). You can't just ask for that kind of equipment as part of a standard grant proposal, which is why they set up separate proposals just for gadgetry. I'm trying to get a piece of equipment that will be a major boost to all areas of my research program, and after the initial grant period I'm planning on adding it to Rice's shared instrumentation pool so that it's there to help the whole campus community. The big question is, with the current budget woes (described so completely by Gordon and Chad, among others, so there's no need for me to say much more), what's going to happen to this program? Is the proposal success rate going to be 10%? Lower? The equivalent program at DOE just got cancelled entirely. The reason that the recent remarks of the Harvard president hit a nerve is that there is a grain of truth to them....

Incoherent Ponderer said...

this is very unfortunate, especially for junior faculty like myself. Startups can be spent very quickly, and to establish a vigorous research program one really needs grants - and getting grants is going to be very difficult.

Instrumentation grants have been extremely competitive as it is - a colleague of mine was telling me how excited he was when they announced a call for IMR (or something similar to IMR), he canceled his travel plans for most of the summer and was sitting back in his office writing and rewriting grants. All for nothing, as it turns out.

What really pisses me off is that the amount of money that would make a difference for science is really not that significant, in broader scheme of things. It's like a day in Iraq.

It's no surprise, however, if you consider than scientists are not a real constituents. If all scientists went on strike today, nobody would really care much - for the next 10 years or so, at least.

Support for science requires some long-term thinking, and ability to make connections along the lines of:
looming energy crisis, which is related to war in Middle East, which is related to terrorism; but looming energy crisis is also related to global warming; global warming is related to regional conflicts, agricultural disasters, which lead to refugees and immigration; scientific progress in biomedical fields is related to healthcare; etc.

Sylow said...

I think scientists need to start an insurgency to get attention. Strike is not gonna do. See figure 1 depicting anbar province :-) Does anyone out there know how to make an IED?

Doug Natelson said...

IP, that's exactly the reason why trusting "market forces" to pay for long-term research is a bad idea. Companies get crushed by their investors (I hesitate to say shareholders anymore, since the number of people who buy specific company shares and hang on to them is pretty tiny, while continuously churning mutual funds control much more capital) if they put significant resources into things that don't have a relatively quick and assured payoff. Start-ups can do risky things, but even they have a very short fuse. Much as I like the appeal of small government, there are certain things that require real long-term investment to pay off, and scientific research looks like one of them.