Grant Writing: Is “Grant Creep” Choking Out PIs?

Regardless of the field, most projects struggle to manage a phenomenon known as “scope creep”, where a defined set of tasks slowly expands – one seemingly-miniscule step at a time – into something much larger than originally planned.  It often happens innocently enough as in the case of a home repair, “Since you’re planting that bed of flowers anyway, maybe we could just add a small bush on the side… and another row of flowers in the back… and another small bed on the side of the house… and…”  Before you know it a small, self-contained project has tripled in size and cost in the blink of an eye.

A PI could just as well be described as an ‘academic entrepreneur‘, since running a lab is much like managing a company.  PIs must raise money to fund operations, manage group members and projects, set the goals and directions of the lab, market their research to attract new employees, and – minor point – fulfill all university teaching and administrative responsibilities.  In fact, one might argue that a PI’s job description has already suffered significant scope creep over the years.

As the global economic situation has soured, so too has the outlook on lab funding and as a result many researchers previously considering a career in research are thinking twice.  With funding lines under 10% at many agencies, PIs are experiencing what might be called “grant creep”, where the proportion of time spent writing grants has slowly increased to a point where it’s now crowding out other responsibilities.  Of course, the grant creep is understandable – afterall, it’s tough to do research with no money.

Assuming we weren’t faced with the current economic situation – what is the right amount of time PIs should be spending on grant writing?  Sure it’s an essential component of their job, but as highlighted above, it’s just one in a long list.  In an ideal world, how much time should a PI spend writing grants?



How much of a PI's time should be spent writing grants?

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