06 July 2018

Science Funding


There is a general belief that because scientists love what they do that they will do research for free. In a way, that is correct. Most of the scientists will accept to work for pay that is just enough to cover living expenses, but none will actually work for free. During my postdoc employment, I was earning less than my relative who works in Washington as a maintenance man.
So yeah, scientists are not rich. And due to the anti-science movement in the USA and dwindling financing, it is harder and harder to get a permanent job in some scientific institution or academia. In essence, one gets just two or three years of the contract, as long as grant lasts, and then has to go and chase the money, search for the new position. This is easy when you do not have a family, because salaries are enough for one person, and you do not have to consult anyone else if you need to move to another continent. But with family, things get dicier. You need more money, and it is not any more simple to pack up and leave, there is at least another person to consider, and sometimes children too.
As I said in previous posts, I’m trying to bring a job to me, and turn the chasing the money on its head. Instead of moving, I started writing and applying for grants. That is the way all my positions so far were funded, so I figured out since I have to write a grant anyway, why not write it in the place where my family lives.
I know how the grant writing goes, I learned that during my post-doc contracts in various academic institutions. And I was aware that there is another block of the work involved with submitting the grant that is usually done by the administration.
So, at the end of last year, I started reading up to see what is necessary to start submitting the grants. It turned out that one can submit the grant if there is a small business behind it, or non-profit.
I picked the small business option because it is easier to register a small business than non-profit. All I needed to register a small business is to name it after myself and ask the USA federal government for a tax number. That was easy to do.
Then I wrote a grant for NASA and looked into what else they require for me to submit the grant. Turned out that I had to register in SAM.gov, get something called DUNN’s number and maybe CAGE number. The whole process took several more weeks, with new things springing upon me just when I thought everything is done. But that is the consequence of my lack of knowledge of the procedures. Previously, this part of the grant submission was handled by bureaucrats at the university where I worked.
Comparing to the bureaucratic difficulties in other countries where I lived, the whole process of starting a business and going through registration is laughably easy. I remember talking with my brother about the subject and telling him what I need to start the business here in the USA. I almost made him cry. The same project in my country of origin is riddled with bureaucratic complications and lasts, in the best case scenario, around 6 months. Not to mention the cost; an average middle-class person cannot afford starting business, and if you’re in the working class, there is no way to fund the process. Majority of people do not even try. Here in my part of the USA, for my kind of business, it took less than two weeks. Three more weeks if I count the SAM registration process. But I started that one separately. And the whole thing was free. The only costs came with establishing the company website villepique.org and mail server.
So when the process was completed, I submitted my first grant proposal in March. I still did not get any news from them, which is in a way good news. The process of grants evaluations lasts around 6 months and rejected proposals get informed first because there are several rounds of choosing which proposal will get funded. In my previous attempts, I got rejection within 2-3 months. So at the moment, no news is good news.
But since the probabilities for getting funding are low — the competition is fierce, and available money is dwindling — I did not stop there.
Next one I submitted had an option of submitting it as an individual, and I jumped on that. The process was way simplified. An individual does not have to have SAM registration, Dunn's number or any other shebang. So this one was quick and fast, I submitted it for Mellon Fellowship and all I needed to do is write a grant proposal, and not worry too much about all other administrative stuff. This one was submitted in April, and also still no news.
Then the third one. National Science Foundation, NSF, had opened solicitation for the grants and I wrote neat, detailed one and it was ready for submission in May. But then I discovered that NSF has additional hoops for the new organizations. It took me till a week ago to jump through all those hoops and submit the proposal.
I had bad luck there to bump into the middle of their reconstructing of the online submission process, so part of my problems was caused by bugs appearing while IT department of NSF was trying to merge several different platforms into one.
But also, NSF is stricter because, as usual, there were some crooks who tried to game system. Anytime there is an annoying rule you have to obey, sometime in past some crook tried to cheat and scam. I do not know who exactly caused those rules, but they are there.
I had a stroke of unbelievable luck. NSF requires new companies/organizations to demonstrate the ability to keep financial books. They still did not request my books, but that’s coming. Anyway, luck. During my search for the alternative temporary income, I tried the accounting, because one of the local ladies told me that she might have a job for me. So I took a course online for the accounting and stopped short of the $500 exam because local lady changed her mind. But I have now enough accounting knowledge to sort my company books to the, hopefully, acceptable standard.
So, at the moment I have 3 grant proposals submitted, and of course, several other in plans. Next deadline for submission is at the end of August so I can relax a bit.
Next post will be about scientific research. My hubby got his grant and will start using the trail cameras to record the local deer population. Since I’m the coder in the family, he already asked me to do some coding to help to eliminate photographs that do not have any animals in them.
I already went through the some of the photos and noticed that one camera has loads of photos with primates in them, way more than the deer. Specifically Homo Sapiens subspecies of primates. One of them even tried to mess with the camera. But luckily, the camera was secured against exactly such destructive primates.


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