Monday, July 16, 2012
Quality and Research Funding
This will seem like a grouse, and it is, in a way.
Today I got a letter about a grant that I did not receive. I applied for it over 6 months ago, and indeed had long ago decided that our chances for success were trivial at best. I was already back on the road looking for other funds. It was kind of a side-issue decision on my part to even bother applying, since expectations were low. But for those interested in studies in medicine related Quality, the opportunities for funding are few and far between. If you are dependent upon grant funding for Quality studies you should probably think about changing your field of interest. Fortunately I have access to other resources.
This fund had enough money for 8 mini-grants, each a small amount of money, barely enough to support a graduate student for a year. It was for a grant I planned to use to cover some of the expenses for a new graduate student starting in September. Unfortunately we were not successful, but then nor were 90 percent of the other applicants. There were over 80 submissions with enough funding for 8 successful applicants. That is not a grant submission, it is more like buying a lottery ticket.
In a field where 90 percent plus lose, one can not particularly expect to have any real expectation of success, unless there is an inside track. Frankly, and this is not intended as a total slur, I doubt that with those kinds of odds, the reality of bias and loss of objectivity among the judges comes into play; perhaps not overtly, but bias nonetheless.
The process in many ways is similar to my time on the medical student admissions committee. Looking at grant applications is like looking at admissions applications. Basically the best you can do is split the group into 3 subgroups, the definite yeses, the maybes, and the definite nos. Then the politics would begin with each committee person and subgroup pushing to promote their individual and collective favorites. By the time the smoked had cleared the winners were defined along with the waiting list group and the rejections. People would move from subgroup to subgroup until the final decisions were made. Not uncommonly some of the “best by the numbers-definite yeses” would end up on the waiting list, and sometime would get displaced all the way to the “maybe next year” list.
I’m not saying that is what happened here, but it would be hard to work through a large pile of applications any other way.
To make it clear, I am not particularly upset here; every competition has its winners and losers, and the amount of money at stake here was not very big. And I will have enough to cover the expenses. even without the grant.
My thoughts go to a different set of issues. Medical funding has for the longest period of time fallen along traditional tracks of basic research usually within certain subsets based on traditional subjects including sub-specialties. There is little room within this funding model to address new advances in innovation in Quality. While there are smaller pools of privately endowed moneys, this too goes primarily to heart disease or cancer or childhood diseases in recognition of donors’ family members. For Quality research to grow, the pool of research funding dollars dedicated to Innovation and Quality will have to grow, beyond what exists today.
On the positive side, this current pool of money was chased by a veritable herd of interested folks wanting to be involved in Quality Management focused research. It is encouraging to know that our little group is getting larger and more active.
With increasing numbers comes influence and perhaps the ability to develop more financial support. And if not support, then perhaps the opportunity for a little inside support.
So congratulations to the winners. Maybe it will be my turn next.