Financing Science in Uncertain Times
Funding science is like indulging in a really, really expensive hobby. If you’re in a university, you’re lucky because, although you have to beg for money via the grant cycle, you don’t have to sell your love of this hobby on the open market. Whether you were for Brexit or not, funding was always a question. After Brexit it would appear that the prevailing feeling amongst scientists tend to be a little more panicked. As you can guess, not many of these university scientists have had to deal with an open market.
Free market and science
I’ve worked with scientists all over the world that have a “side hustle” of sorts. Some are consultants, some are independent researchers, some sell photos, some are science communicators. There are many, many other things that I’ve seen scientists do on the side. Even selling their crafty hobbies on Etsy.
Looking back in history, science was either a hobby of the rich or a side job for those with less of a socioeconomic standing (Snyder, 2011; Davis, 1966). Even Lavoisier, who worked for the government, used his substantial inheritance to begin funding his passion in science, but then subsidised it with his income from government positions.
Today, we are lucky to be able to make science more of a full-time job without having a wealthy background thanks to either public funding or working in an industry that uses science.
Changing the script
Times are changing. Scientists and public are calling for data to be open and freely accessible. If this is the case, why don’t we make data publicly available, then make money off using the data?
Some say that isn’t profitable. At Insanitek we have been doing just this on a small-scale. We collect data from our research projects, make them available within Insanitek, and then use the information to make money in the free market.
It’s not easy, but it’s working. It takes being able to communicate with the public about your science show them how it can help them, and then helping them.
It’s only two years in you won’t see InstaGlam photos of me flying high on some tropical island. However, there are some pros that we’ve come across to this method:
- We don’t have to dance for grants or handouts that may alter our original research outline.
- We can build reproducibility and integrity into the research plan without worry that we’ll run out of time, money, or samples.
- We set the pace instead of rushing to the top of the publishing pile.
- The public outreach we do as part of marketing informs people about sciences that they can use in their lives.
- We get to teach people science and math along the way, increasing our overall impact on our community.
- We have the opportunity to diversify in any way we choose ─ even offering hands on job training.
- It takes a lot of work to do outreach that informs while also collecting a potential client list.
- Workshops in the community is like teaching, sans tests, but takes a lot more time to enact than a simple social media advert.
- We can only work locally ─ which isn’t scalable in the long run.
In the end, any financial turbulence and uncertainty should be met with an attitude of challenge. There are options, it just means you have to change the narrative you tell yourself.
Davis, K. S. (1966). The Cautionary Scientists: Priestley, Lavoisier, and the Founding of Modern Chemistry. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Snyder, Laura J. (2011). The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World. Broadway Books, N.Y.