My last post probably depressed a few people. Hopefully it got even more thinking. And the smart ones planning.
So, how can we survive the likely academic research cull?
The answer is we can't. At least not everyone. But there are things I'll be doing to try and optimize the chances of my survival.
Maybe you should too.
1) Work to prevent the cull in the first place.
Okay, maybe a better way to put it is work to block what is already a cull in progress...
The only way to prevent a massive cull is for there to be a massive influx of money into the budgets of the funding agencies (NIH, NSF, DOE, USDA etc.). Given the current economic climate that seems rather... unlikely. Nonetheless, the argument can be made that a healthy (i.e. higher) level of research funding will help pull the economy out of the toilet and help prevent it from going that way in the future. Call and write your congress-critters and advocate for more funding. DrugMonkey has been a consistent advocate of this for as long as I've been reading his blog. I've tried to be consistent about doing this, and will redouble my efforts. Despite my particular congress-critters being more likely to close down the NIH in favor of a National Institute for Faith Healing...
2) Get/keep your lab funded.
Okay, that's a given. This is really the key - it's hard to survive without a research program. This is what you obviously have to put the most effort into. And effort it will take. I can't tell you exactly how to do this beyond read, think, read, plan, read, do experiments, read, think, read, publish, read, write proposals, read, have your proposals critiqued, read, think, read, rewrite proposals, read, think, read, submit, lather, rinse repeat. And read.
Already funded? Good for you. Now try and get some more. This might sound selfish - every extra grant you have is one someone else doesn't have. And maybe that person is about to be dragged down by the pack of jackals circling the herd... Sorry, this is about survival here. It's time to be selfish. Your career comes first.* You can't do anything for others in the herd if you're one of the ones on the trailing edge, in danger of falling behind and being taken out by the jackals. And they be mighty hungry jackals...
Well, there is self-sacrifice. That would free up funding for someone else. But you're not going to do that are you? You've worked too hard to get where you are now.
3) Make yourself invaluable.
And help others while you're at it.
You have skills and knowledge. Mad skills and knowledge that others don't have. Others have skills and knowledge you don't have. See where I'm going with this?
Much of science has gotten to be too big to be done by individual labs. We all have collaborations. We all could have more. Get yourself on your collaborators grants, and them on yours (if you haven't already). As Co-I's. With money. There be strength in numbers.
Think about multi-PI grants. There are people out there who have nothing but multi-PI grants.** I don't personally advocate that approach - I'm old school enough to think you should have a research program all of your own - but I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this. Multi-PI grants let you think about tackling those interesting problems you've always wanted to go after but don't have sufficient expertise to be lone PI on. Again, strength in numbers.
You already knew all the above, didn't you? What did you expect? I'm no miracle worker.
Finally, if you have tenure and lose your funding, keep your dignity by making yourself useful around the department and university. Pick up some extra teaching and admin work. Help the young ones succeed. No one respects tenured dead wood.
Actually, we all pretty much despise dead wood and would like nothing more than to make a nice cozy bonfire out of them...
* Actually my career comes first. Then yours.
** Yes there are. I know one.