Scientists spent '500 years' grant chasing
Australian scientists spent more than 500 years' worth of time preparing research funding applications for the country's largest grant scheme in 2012, according to a survey by Queensland researchers.
And as only one-fifth of proposals to the federal government's National Health and Medical Research Council were successful, scientists wasted the equivalent of four centuries diverted from their research.
"Some grants will be resubmitted, others will be submitted to other grant schemes, but the majority of that time will have been wasted," said one of the survey's authors, statistician Adrian Barnett.
With two colleagues from the Queensland University of Technology, Dr Barnett surveyed more than 300 researchers and found they each spent 38 working days on average preparing proposals that ranged between 80 and 120 pages.
When they extrapolated the working time across all 3727 submitted proposals it came to more than half a millennium with a combined annual salary cost of $66million.
"This exceeds the total salary bill ($61 million) at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, a major medical research centre that produced 284 publications last year," wrote the authors.
Dr Barnett said the overly complicated application form was the most inefficient part of the process as only about nine pages of the documents contained the relevant details about the research project and why it was important.
The findings, published in the journal Nature, come just two days after applications for the council's grants closed for 2014.
Dr Barnett estimates he spent about 30 days working on the grant proposal he submitted. "Everybody knows that through December, January and February you're going to be slogging your guts out on grants," he said.
The NHMRC, which handed out more than $700 million for health and medical research last year, should assess whether more focused applications were as successful as the current process, said Dr Barnett.
A spokeswoman for the NHMRC acknowledged that the time spent preparing grant proposals was significant and said the organisation was working to reduce the burden of grant applications.