236% drop in research grant funding at NIH leaves researchers closing labs and laying off staff

According to NIH data, success rates for first-submission research grants dropped from 28.2% in 2001 to 11.9% in 2007, a whopping 236% decrease.  For the 2010 year, there were 28,596 research grants submitted (R01’s, R21’s etc) that were not funded.  Ten years before, in 2001, the number of non-funded submissions was 14,701. In a nine year period, there was a doubling of rejected research grant submissions to the NIH.  The NSF and other science funding agencies show similar statistics.

But it gets worse

The ARRA stimulus money and the first years of the Obama presidency gave a small and temporary shot in the arm to science grant funding rates.  Now the stimulus money is gone, and those who had stimulus money are joining the group of people competing for the shrinking pool of funds.  Tea partiers are fighting to reduce the NIH budget, erasing gains made during the 2009-2010 years.

Paylines dip to single digits

At some places such as the National Cancer Institute, pay lines have dipped to as low as 8%. Only one in twelve grants submitted will be funded this year.  And that is before accounting for further cuts at the NIH.

“It is brutal out there”

The current funding climate has led to low morale. One scientist summed it up succinctly: “It is brutal out there.”

A survey of British scientists showed that 98% rejected the notion that “morale is high.”  As a result of low morale and inability to get funding, researchers have been shuttering labs and laying off staff.  Some are resorting to extreme measures such as self-funding of salaries from their life’s savings.

The situation is grim and is ending careers – not only of younger scientists, but of senior scientists with strong track records and reputations.

Yet the total funding for NIH research grants continues to grow – for those who know how to get it

In 2010, $6.5 billion was given out in research grants and their equivalents, up from $5.3 billion in 2001.  The 2010 funding pool was enough to give out $88,000 for every single research grant application submitted during the 2010 year. In fact, over 15,000 research grants and equivalents were awarded for the year.  The pool of money for research is still there, and some researchers are still thriving.

4 thoughts

  1. Very discouringing, however, sometimes science funding comes in other forms. Most of 1st year residency at University Hospitals Case Medical Center/ Kelvin Smith Library at CWRU, I spend most of my surgical pathology in the field of horticultural therapy, researchers have to figure ways to stay competitive with other researchers with distingusihed information in which comes from other sources and science base. In the end the University will honor your findings more as original because of the way that you continued. Funding will almost all the time get shutoff when your research fails to futate in the preliminary years, if you believe and know your science you’ll find the monies elsewhere.

  2. Please review the headline of this article. The success rate for first-submission research grants has dropped 58%, not 236%.

    In 2001, the funding rate was 236% more than it was in 2007.

    1. Hey Sarah, saying “236% drop” is the same as saying “2.36 fold” drop, whereas saying “58% drop” is like saying a “0.58 fold drop,” which is actually an increase. I stand with the original headline.

      1. Hi Morgan,

        I think your grant writing advice is spot-on, but Sarah’s math is closer to the truth.

        A majority of references corroborate this definition of percent change:
        Percent change = (final value – original value)/(original value) x 100%. Thus, (11.9% – 28.2%)/28.2% x 100% = -57.8%. This means that 2007 funding levels are 58% lower than in 2001.

        However, Sarah should have said that the 2001 funding rates were 236% of what they were in 2007. Alternatively, the number of funded proposals in 2001 was 136% higher than it was in 2007.

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