Funding researchers rather than projects would enable the US National Institutes of Health to better support young investigators and allow PIs to spend more time pursuing novel studies, rather than chasing funding, argues Ronald Germain from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Cell. HHMI and the Wellcome Trust follow similar funding schemes, and NIH has been exploring the concept.
"What was once a highly effective mechanism for parceling out support to the most deserving scientists has now evolved into what many investigators see as a stultifying, regimented process in which form often counts for more than content and in which any proposal lacking substantial evidence of already having been largely accomplished is unlikely to be supported," Germain says, referring to the R01 grant process.
He suggests that all newly hired faculty investigators receive enough funding to support a lab of three to five people for five to seven years. After that timeframe, they'd be evaluated on what they'd accomplished and either receive funding for the next block of five to seven years, receive bridge funding for a year or two, or lose funding.
This would, Germain notes, also impose a sort of "population control" on the number of new investigators. Under his scheme, each institution would receive funds for these newly hired faculty investigators based on their historical receipt of funding.
At his blog, DrugMonkey writes that it "would be fantastic if everyone could get three grants' worth of funding to do whatever the heck they wanted, right from the start." However, he adds that such a scenario "would come with some serious constraints on who can be a scientist," and he's not sure he'll like who Germain says those people should be.