Early Career Psychologist

The Sequester Squeeze

What is the sequester and how can you lessen its impact on your career?

By Diann Gaalema, PhD, and Adriana Falco, PhD

For those of us whose futures are tied to the availability of grant money, news of the sequester brings quite a bit of fear and anxiety. Just the uncertainty preceding the sequester was enough to throw a wrench in the funding system. Personally I've seen or heard of funding decisions taking two to three times longer than they have in the past, budgets for regularly funded conferences being slashed from $30,000 to $6,000, and a program officer recommending that a grant that received a 7% ranking be resubmitted. Rather than taking it for granted that a grant that has been labeled as "funded" will come through, some wait until the money actually hits the university before releasing the breath they've been holding. Talking to those who've been part of the system for far longer than I, this seems to be about as bad as it's been.

But there's no going back, the sequester has gone into effect, and what does that mean? NIH has stated that its budget will be cut by $1.71 billion, and they expect to award 700 fewer grants this year as compared to previous years.1 The frustration of the scientific community is only heightened by the ability of Congress to swoop in and save air traffic controllers and meat inspectors while leaving science funding in limbo.2 This seeming lack of respect for supporting the basic sciences may have long-lasting implications. Already research projects are being scaled back, research personnel are being let go, and even systems monitoring seemly important events such as extreme weather and volcanos3 have had to cut back. The long-term implications may be more dire. Some worry that young people will not see research as a viable career and that young researchers, such as ourselves, will note the lack of support and head for jobs oversees.4

So short of fleeing the country what is an early career researcher to do? If you're intent to stay in the field you have a few options. You can diversify your income; for instance, is teaching, consulting, or even administrative work a possibility to help keep you afloat? You could also apply for money from different sources; consider whether your work be appreciated by a not-forprofit or by others in the private sector? Or perhaps you could join one of the new trends in scientific funding, crowdsourcing. Built along the lines of kickstarter, there are at least 30 sites5 that provide a platform for crowdsourcing of scientific projects. One example is microryza.com. One project that was on the front page when this column was being written is right in our area of addiction. The idea is that you propose a project with very specific costs and goals and post that proposal for public scrutiny. If your project strikes a chord, the public pledges dollars. In return for their money they get to interact with you, receive regular updates, and be among the first to see the results. Almost like a CSA for science. Who knows, if your project is sexy enough, you might just get the average Joe to open up their wallet.


1. http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/NIH%20Sequestration%20Plan.pdf
2. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/05/06/sequestration-could-make-the-us-sicker-fatter
3. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/05/sequestering-scientific-discovery/
4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/09/science-cuts-sequestration-braindrain_n_3247557.html
5. http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1azr7w/why_isnt_there_a_kickstarter_for_scientific/