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Grants: Designed to Break Your Spirit

The story of "K" in a PLoS Biology Perspective article this week illustrates how difficult the current funding system makes life for new PIs. "To expect a young scientist to recruit and train students and postdocs as well as producing and publishing new and original work within two years (in order to fuel the next grant application) is preposterous," writes Peter Lawrence. He suggests that grant applications become shorter so that scientists writing, and reviewing, them spend less time on the bureaucracy and more time on science.

Adaptive Complexity's Michael White weighs in to say that the grant system has its "own peculiar logic" that is "brutal" and "discouraging" as the three-year grant cycle quickly goes boom-and-bust. "Whatever we do, we need to start taking the long view. Good research, in many cases, simply does not operate on a cycle that corresponds to the 3-year lab business cycle," he writes.

Larry Moran at The Sandwalk bemoans that no one has done anything to fix this known problem. "If the system isn't working then let's fix it," he says.

There's a related discussion at ScienceInsider in which the blogger Eli Kintisch discusses this Perspective article and other early career issues with scientists Christina Smolke and Natalie Mahowald.

The Scan

Positive Framing of Genetic Studies Can Spark Mistrust Among Underrepresented Groups

Researchers in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances report that how researchers describe genomic studies may alienate potential participants.

Small Study of Gene Editing to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

In a Novartis-sponsored study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a CRISPR-Cas9-based treatment targeting promoters of genes encoding fetal hemoglobin could reduce disease symptoms.

Gut Microbiome Changes Appear in Infants Before They Develop Eczema, Study Finds

Researchers report in mSystems that infants experienced an enrichment in Clostridium sensu stricto 1 and Finegoldia and a depletion of Bacteroides before developing eczema.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Specificity Enhanced With Stem Cell Editing

A study in Nature suggests epitope editing in donor stem cells prior to bone marrow transplants can stave off toxicity when targeting acute myeloid leukemia with immunotherapy.