$6,126,820 has been sitting on my fridge for the last two years. I aim to raise this over 20 years so as to continue my research. Yes – I confess, I am the Six million dollar man (Historical reference for those over 40). Sounds a lot of money, but let’s put this in context. Because I am “research only” staff, I must raise all my salary and expenses, so the calculation was the sum of my salary, a salary for a part-time research assistant (2 days a week), overheads on both our salaries at a rate of 108% (the rate my university expects from me) and about $20,000 a year for a few research expenses. In other words, about $300,000 p.a.
A few comparisons from government funding
Teacher: $164,000 p.a. New Zealand spends about $7000 per secondary school pupil. Apparently there are 23.5 pupils per year 9 student.
Olympic athlete: $150,000 p.a. According to Prime TV, the NZ government spent $108,000,000 sending ~180 athletes to the current Olympics. Assuming this was spread over 4 years, then this is about $150,000 p.a per athlete. Of course, many also have corporate sponsorship.
I wonder what a mid level manager with a part-time secretary in the ministry of housing costs? I can well imagine it passing $300,000.
The Six Million Dollar Fridge
Is what I do worth two athlete’s olympic performance? Is it worth more than an average year nine teacher. Perhaps not for me to say. This is not to say the government should not put money into the athletes or teachers, merely to point out that if I were to raise the money from government science funding such as the HRC or Marsden, then this would be my relative value to NZ according to the politicians who divide up the budget. The reality is that I am very unlikely to raise this money from government sources. In the last two years I have raised about $420,000 dollars of which $300,000 is from governement funds via the Marsden fund (thank you) and a little from the University of Otago Research Grants. The rest is from the Australia and New Zealand Society of Nephrologists. Unfortunately, it is about $200,000 under budget, so I no longer have a research assistant (she was very good and is sadly missed). If I were to reach my goal via governement funding I will need to get a gold medal (an HRC grant or Marsden grant) every two to three years. As these have success rates of about 7 and 12% respectively, this is a very big ask. So, how shall I raise the dollars?
First and foremost I shall continue to put the bulk of my time into being the best scientist I can, otherwise there is no point! My skills are in science not fund raising.
Second, and despite what I just said, I shall look for innovative ways to raise money. Siouxsie Wiles sojourn into the world of crowd source funding was inspiring, if not a little daunting. Perhaps this sort of innovation on a larger scale? For that I need to find the right people – entrepreneurs and fund raises who will help me find the people looking to donate to a good cause. Maybe I will write Apps or ebooks? No stone shall be left unturned.
Third, expand my connections to other research groups here and overseas. I’ve already begun this – I now have an honorary position with UNSW in Sydney. So far, no money has come with the extra work, but it is worthwhile work and I certainly would like to contribute to more such projects. As I am a data analysis person the mantra is –give me your data and I shall massage it into a story worth telling.
Fourth, corporate sponsorship. Yes, I will wear their jacket and paint my car if they so desire. In medicine corporate funding is a tricky business. It is important not to be seen to be biased. As I am not a medical doctor, I have the advantage that any sponsorship could not influence my clinical practice (I don’t think it does for most medical people anyway). However, because I am not a medic, pharmaceutical companies and the like are probably less likely to sponsor me. But if I don’t ask I won’t know! So far I have had a good relationship with three biomarker companies who have measured specific protein concentrations for myself and my colleagues using their own assays – no strings attached. Essentially, I contribute to their knowledge base and they contribute to my research. Unfortunately, there is no cash flowing for salaries yet.
Fifth, I shall remind the university that my contribution to their PBRF funding is substantial and some kind of retainer wouldn’t go amiss.
Sixth, I shall continue to talk with politicians about the lack of public funding for science. I began this in 2008 and have had several good discussions.
Finally, I shall not totally give up on grants just yet, but I shall be judicious about which ones I spend time applying for.