the grant economy as tragedy of the commons

orgtheory.net

Grants, grants, grants. Every academic likes getting them. And every administrator wants more of them. In some fields, you can’t be an active researcher without them. In all fields, the search for grants grows ever more competitive.

PLOS recently published the results of a survey of the grant-writing process in the U.S. Drawing on a nonrandom sample of astronomers and social & personality psychologists, and asking about their applications to NASA (astronomers), NIH (psychologists), and NSF (both), they reported their researchers having applied for four grants in the past four years, on average, and received one. Proposals took an average of 116 hours to write.

While respondents did note some non-pecuniary benefits to grant-writing, comments suggested that many researchers simply gave up after repeated failures, judging it a poor use of their time. In the words of one respondent:

I applied for grants from the NSF in 2004, 2005…

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