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Back-Up Plans

Over at the Science Careers blog, Dan Albert discusses how PIs might best prepare for the possibility that their grants go unfunded. "Even in the best of times, grant funding is extremely competitive. Although the achievements of the applicant are an important factor, other determinants are considered by peer reviewers and program officers: ever-changing program priorities, commitment to complex multidisciplinary projects, and concern for talented young investigators entering the field, for example," Albert says. "Scientists can work hard to stay at the cutting edge by reading the literature, attending meetings, visiting and collaborating with other laboratories, and taking sabbaticals with outstanding scientists, but as he or she progresses to mid and late career, sustaining funding for a laboratory is an ever-increasing challenge."

In tough times, it's imperative for scientists to anticipate future challenges and prepare for them early on, Albert says. Still, should an untenured academic PI find him or herself suddenly out of funds, and soon-to-be out of a job, Albert suggests a few routes they might take: "You can extend your teaching commitment, move into an administrative and leadership realm, or take a job in industry. "

For some academics, taking a breather from research to focus on teaching can provide some much-needed career relief, Albert says.

He then suggests academic administration as an alternative option. "An initial appointment — as department chair, for example — can serve as a stepping stone to subsequent recruitment as deans, chancellors, or presidents of institutions," Albert says.

Finally, Albert suggests seeking a position at an instrumentation vendor or a pharmaceutical firm. "Larger companies employ scientists who departed university positions for a variety of reasons, including difficulty having their research funded," he writes.

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