Log on to share pain of rejection

Researcher's tale of grant denial is on YouTube to show reality of life in science, writes Zoe Corbyn

May 8, 2008

The heartache that comes with having a research grant application rejected will be a feeling many researchers know only too well.

Yet in the cold world of research funding, the personal side - what it actually feels like to get a letter consigning a brilliant inspiration to the dustbin - is often brushed aside.

Now David Scott, a lecturer in physical biochemistry at the University of Nottingham, has sought to address this by posting a short documentary on the video-sharing website YouTube.

The video clip, Rejection, is part of a wider project called "Test Tube" that aims to give a behind-the-scenes view of science in the university. The project is being produced by Brady Haran, a BBC documentary-maker and film-maker in residence for Nottingham Science City.

Rejection tells the tale of Dr Scott's application for a £588,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to work on the Haloferax microbe from the Dead Sea. The application included a bid for money to fund a postdoctoral place for Dr Scott's PhD student.

Dr Scott estimates that it took three to four months to write the proposal, which was based on about three years' work. The "really damning bit" about its rejection, he explains, is that the committee did not invite resubmission.

"We wrote a good grant, we got it mentored by lots of people and it got turned down flat," Dr Scott reflects in the video as he worries about his PhD student's future. "You feel sore, you want to go off and do something completely different, work somewhere where they give you money."

Later in the video, he takes a wider view. "We (scientists) are quite resigned about these things. We know what kind of game we are in and it is a bit of a lottery - and you do lose the lottery more often than you win it."

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Dr Scott, who stressed that he had also had successful applications, said he was motivated to feature in the video not for catharsis but rather to show the reality of working as a scientist in a world where the success rates for grant applications hover at 20 to 30 per cent.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

See: http://tinyurl.com/4j9bzj.

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