Funding Uncertainties Dim the Hopes of Biomedical Scientists

Campus

In mid-February, we published an article in the Synapse in the shadow of the looming Budget Control Act (BCA), more commonly known as sequestration or “the sequester.” We expressed the  hope then that policy makers in Washington, D.C., would look beyond their partisan affiliations and agendas and prevent the 5 percent across-the-board spending cuts legislated by the BCA, including an immediate $1.55 million reduction in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. 

As we know, cooler heads did not prevail, and in the eight months since the sequester has taken effect, there have been dramatic cuts to both competing and non-competing grant renewals, placing a significant burden on labs here at UCSF.

These hardships are not limited just to heads of labs but have also trickled down to trainees. We recently conducted a survey to get a better idea of how the current funding climate is affecting UCSF postdocs and graduate students. 

Though the full results of this survey will be published at a later time, we would like to comment on a few themes that have emerged. 

A majority of trainees are suffering in a number of ways, including from declining morale, decreased productivity and increased time spent writing grants and submitting fellowship applications.

An even more disturbing observation is that an overwhelming majority of trainees, both graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, say that they are now less interested in pursuing careers in academia, and instead are more inclined to enter industry or leave science altogether.

On top of this, one in five respondents are considering leaving the United States for scientific careers overseas, where science funding is increasing.

These skilled scientists, trained at the expense of U.S. taxpayers, are choosing to leave academia, or science all together, potentially diminishing the favorable return on investment that biomedical research and training has afforded the U.S. economy.

In Fiscal Year 2013, UCSF received $487 million from the NIH, making the University second on the list of the top recipients of the NIH funding and one of the nation’s best places to receive training and conduct research. 

Since its inception, UCSF has produced countless numbers of scientists who have made and are making significant contributions to their respective fields of biomedical research, not only in the United States but around the world.  As a result of sequestration and other likely budget cuts, this legacy is in danger.

The Science Policy Group at UCSF is determined to advocate for scientific funding. Luckily, we are not alone; we are networking with like-minded university groups from San Francisco to Boston.

We have sent representatives to Washington, D.C., to educate and petition our elected officials about the importance of continued investment in medical research through the NIH.

Our organizing members participated in UC Hill Day, where members from the University of California system traveled to Washington to raise support for higher education. They also participated in the Rally for Medical Research Hill Day in Washington, where they met with health policy advisors in the offices of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, as well as Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier.

One of the key points raised at these events was the importance for voters of contacting your senators and representatives to urge them to support medical research. You can find tools and information as well as contact information for your representatives online at numerous sites, including Research! America (www.researchamerica.org/contact_representative).

This year, the Science Policy Group will be hosting seminars and workshops on science policy.  We invite the UCSF community to participate. You can learn more about the Science Policy Group at UCSF on Facebook (www.facebook.com/UcsfSciencePolicyGroup).