The Early-Mid Career Funding Crisis in Australian Research

Posted on


Its no secrete that Funding for Science in Australia, and around the world (see refs below), is in decline. The result is lower and lower success rates. While we wait for the #NHMRC to release the outcomes for 2015, the word on the street is that we can expect only 10-12% of grants to be successful. In other words, for 90% of Australia’s researchers they are wasting ~3 months of the year for nothing. Consequently as the funding pool decreases, funds naturally flow towards ‘sure bet’ senior researchers. This means that this wasted time is felt the hardest by early- and mid- career researchers (#EMCRs) who cannot compete with the long CVs of their senior peers, and are seen as a potential risky investment. Below is a graph I put together from the 2013 data, which is the most up to date information currently at hand. This trend of funding more senior researchers is clearly seen in the massive increase in average age of the CIA (chief investigator) on project grants over the past 30 years. It used to peak around 40 years, which perfectly aligned with the drop off in fellowships. So there was a very clear and clean transition from Post-Doctoral Funding for those that wanted to transition to a team leader role. However now, the average age has shifted to >50 years. This has created a significant 10-15 year ‘Funding Hole’ for EMCRs, where there are very limited number of fellowships on offer, and little to no chance of securing a project grant. While there has been a lot of talk about this black box, no solution or action has been taken to stem the loss of young, bright and talented researchers being forced out of research. Without action soon, we run the real risk that there will be no succession plan, and Australia’s ability to remain internationally competitive will be set back decades.


2013 NHMRC Data


Funding issues in the US system:
1. Alberts, B., Kirschner, M. W., Tilghman, S. & Varmus, H. Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws. PNAS 111, 5773–5777 (2014).
2. Cyranoski, D., Gilbert, N., Ledford, H., Nayar, A. & Yahia, M. Education: The PhD factory. Nature 472, 276–279 (2011).
3. Committee to Review the State of Postdoctoral Experience in Scientists and Engineers et al. The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited. (National Academies Press (US), 2014).
4. Powell, K. The future of the postdoc. Nature 520, 144–147 (2015).
5. Alberts, B., Kirschner, M. W., Tilghman, S. & Varmus, H. Opinion: Addressing systemic problems in the biomedical research enterprise. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 1912–1913 (2015).



One thought on “The Early-Mid Career Funding Crisis in Australian Research

    celldivisionlab responded:
    November 4, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Reblogged this on Science Tech Blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s