I have been working in the Life Science Industry for the past 18 years and have very often come across discussions with a scientist from government and corporate where funding to research comes up as a challenge.
It is not only from the researchers when we as sales and marketing professionals discuss across the table Funding for research; pops us as a challenge when it comes to acquiring and retaining market.
Having said that we find that some labs are doing extremely well while others are struggling. Same is the case with companies selling products in research. Some are still able to deliver their numbers while others are creeping with the issue.
I feel there is a great analogy among the two, and this is no problem with the Life Science Industry but for any industry, it matters. So I am trying to bring in my perspective in a more generalized way so that it is not specific to an industry or research stream.
Most of the researchers who are now Principal Investigators would agree with me that situation was not different when they were research fellows, it would be even worse because the technology and automation were not that evolved and it was more labour-intensive research than today. Secondly, the fellowship was also a miser. And I heard from many that they had to spent from their fellowship to complete their work. What drives them to research was their passion only.
This brings me to my first challenge “Challenge of Abundance!”
It is said by wise men that “Necessity is the mother of inventions”. So is it that abundance killing our passion to strive more?
Is an abundance of new instrumentation technologies, ready to use kits and reagents, sophisticated software making the new generation of researchers dependent and evading their creativity in research?
Is it not the same we are facing at our home, with our kids in this technology-driven society? It is important to keep up the pace with the world, but the pace is required in producing results and not acquiring machines and technologies. This desire to acquire stuff brings in major funding challenges.
The second important aspect is the funding agencies whether it is Government Or Corporate.
While I was comparing the funding for Biotech Research from the past three years are a very marginal increment in the budget. This increment is just enough to cope up with the inflation. If we look at it from a holistic point of view considering the incubation funds for new scientific start-ups then we find there is an increment. Probably it is Government lookout to create job providers rather than job seekers to reduce the unemployment which for them is a current priority. Also in the case of corporations, if the research funding is less than 2-3% of the turnover. But how much control do we have on these external factors? The only way out is to accept the situation and find our move on.
Striking a balance is what is required if I am an individual who finds only Sunday for exercise it is waste to space and fund investing in a multigym and treadmill at home, it is better off to join a gym. Because it is not an only capital investment; it comes along with maintenance as well. It is very important to come out from a mindset of fund utilization to fund management. It is important to think wisely whether on professional or personal front whether today’s expenditure is going to become tomorrow’s liability or asset. I feel if we can rationalize our purchase based on the 80-20 ratio as we do in sales. If something is utilized for 80% of the time then it is worth investing, rest all should be rented out or out-resourced. In the current funding contest, I would not like my lab to be a Central Instrumentation Facility, rather I would focus on one or two technologies and make it a Center of Excellence so that others collaborate with me for those two techniques.
This brings me to the third important aspect that is Multidisciplinary Collaboration!
We have outstanding chemist, botanist, microbiologist, zoologist, Bio-technologist and clinicians as individual Investigators/Researchers. When we have a stable Government at the centre which is demanding, it is only the interdisciplinary collaborations that will help us to come up with some applied research area. Let us not move 100% into applied research but at least 30% of our research should focus on applied outcomes in light of the current funding scenario. This kind of associations can not only bring out some new technologies or services that can be transferred to the industry but can be a revenue generation model for the researcher. Also when some new technology and product comes to market we contribute to society by creating a new opportunity for employment.
This kind of collaborations should be done at all level, project writing, experiment designing, executions patent filing/publishing paper. We cannot operate in isolation and just collaborate in sharing authorship because we have assisted some were in the project as a service provider.
Gone are those days when we would say mine is a novel work and cannot be shared, at the same time 1000 scientists across the globe are working on similar areas. Research is no more different than other industries where people have targets and deadline. New publications are pouring in every day, being second means we are nowhere.
Last I feel is poor Research Planning is the one which leads to funding loss.
In the Indian context, time is something which is the most ignored thing in any area. From funding to the execution of order and receipt of material, the standard time may vary from 2 to 6 months and for instruments, it maybe even a year or more. So planning is a very important aspect of research, not just reviewing papers but at the same time reviewing the available infrastructure, experimental protocols and reagents. If not available then collaborate with another scientist to get going. Time lost is money lost because it directly impacts the successive funding.
In the Indian context, time is something which is the most ignored thing in any area. From funding to the execution of order and receipt of material, the standard time may vary from 2 to 6 months and for instruments, it may be even a year or more. So planning is a very important aspect of research, not just reviewing papers but at the same time reviewing the available infrastructure, experimental protocols and reagents. If not available then collaborate with another scientist to get going. Time lost is money lost because it directly impacts the successive funding.
I would say the need of the hour is IF WE FAIL TO PLAN, THEN WE ARE PLANNING TO FAIL. In some universities and institutes in Europe, they have a position of a Research Manager who takes care of the planning part of the research.
So to summarize it, Rationalizing the Purchase, adapting to the Funding situation, Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Meticulous planning could be the only way out to survive in any profession in prevailing funding situation.
Hope you enjoyed this article and now realizing the torment of research funding. We’ll be coming up with our next article in a few days,
until next time tata!!
Thanks for your time!