Researchers have trouble in obtaining grants - Purdue Exponent: Campus

Researchers have trouble in obtaining grants

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Posted: Friday, July 22, 2011 10:00 am

Purdue researchers are having to find ways to compensate for more competitive grants to continue at the same performance level.

About five years ago, federal grants and private agencies would grant one out of every five proposals. Now, the number has decreased to one of every 10 proposals or less. According to Richard Kuhn, director of the Bindley Bioscience Center, although federal funding pays for employee salaries, this is not a problem yet.

"Federal dollars are very tight," Kuhn said. "Most of our salaries come from federal grants. We have enough internal grants, however, that it doesn't affect us today."

At the Birck Nanotechnology Center, interim director James Cooper, said the faculty have had to write more proposals to get the same amount of funds as before. Cooper also said the Nanotechnology Center is at an advantage as nanotechnology is a popular topic in today's scientific world.

"We haven't seen a downturn in federal funds," Cooper said. "Our faculty have been constantly writing proposals for grants."

Discovery Park Centers have not only needed to write more grant proposals due to fiercer competition, but also to fill the gap left by a decrease in state funds. Due to decreased state funds, Purdue has had to make budget cuts university-wide, including in research.

According to Gabriela Weaver, director of the Discovery Research Learning Center, the University asked the center to cut "anywhere from three to six percent" of its budget. This has created a greater need for already scarce grants.

The Oncological Sciences Center has been filling in some of the financial holes through the money raised by cancer research support groups, said Marietta Harrison, director of the center.

"This is a very difficult environment for research and applying for grants," Harrison said. "One thing cancer research has going for it is powerful passionate lobbyists nationwide raising money."

However, Harrison also said if the money begins to decrease, the number of patients used in a study would be forced to decrease as well. Without enough patients in a study, the center cannot form a conclusion, therefore negating the research done.

Besides just Discovery Park researchers, professors have had problems receiving grants.

Michael Harris, associate dean of engineering for undergraduate education, said it is difficult because "there are both a lot of new people and existing people going after the same pot of money."

Some of the ways the College of Engineering is compensating for this, Harris said, is through not hiring as many graduate students and filing more joint proposals.

"We try to collaborate more," Harris said. "To write more joint proposals and improve changes of getting larger grants."

Researchers have had to get more creative with the way they write grants, such as writing more collaborative grants, said Melba Crawford, associate dean of engineering for research.

"I think every investor is having to be more creative in terms of proposals," Crawford said. "To think more broadly about how you might expand your research funding in terms of who might use it."

Crawford said although federal grants have become more competitive, Purdue faculty have not become discouraged.

"The faculty seem extremely motivated," Crawford said. "I think it's a reflection on the hard work of the faculty even in times of difficulty. It does not seem to impact the will to pursue research funding."

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