Academia can benefit a lot from a more democratic funding system


On a recent post in the Survival blog for scientists an interesting analysis of the research funding system. As a PhD student one tends to get input from one’s advisor so as to continue one’s academic career. And it somehow seems that the bureaucracy, as opposed to the actual research, is a major thing. Some might even argue that attending conferences is more about meeting (the right) people[1], thus improving your chances to get funded, to publish, etc. Is this the right approach? A compromise is what is needed, but how much?[2] Be that as it may, it surely doesn’t seem ethical. So why don’t we just flip the conference.

Much more has been said about the failure of current grant system than that has actually changed. My favorite opinion piece is this one by Peter A. Lawrence. The single-sentence abstract says it all: “The granting system turns young scientists into bureaucrats and then betrays them.” There are a couple of suggestions for improving the funding distribution in that article but the title of a comment by Markus Noll says enough about why nothing is changing: “Scientists in power will never change their system unless forced.”

via Academia can benefit a lof from a more democratic funding system » Survival Blog for Scientists.


  1. Check this post Should editors of Science and Nature socialize with scientists?.  ↩

  2. Working in the Conference Halls, Ronald G. Driggers, Opt. Eng. 50, 110101 (2011), DOI:10.1117/1.3660765  ↩

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2 thoughts on “Academia can benefit a lot from a more democratic funding system

  1. For me, going to conferences is all about meeting people – as an up-and-coming academic, it’s important to meet the big names in my field, and the big names go to the top conferences… if only to keep up appearances. It’s a great way to network and meet the folks you’ll be working with long in the future.

    While flipping the conference sounds like a good idea in theory, the advantage to the traditional “stand up and present your paper” approach allows me – a small-time scientist – to share my work with a captive audience. If academics are as busy as they say they are, they aren’t going to take the time to watch someone’s presentation unless someone forces them too – especially if that someone is a nobody grad student like me. 😛

    • I agree with you, however I do think that this is something most people would agree on but not mention explicitly–at least publicly. I think a compromise between i) meeting people and ii) presenting your work and getting some feedback is the way to go, but still the bureaucracy seems to dwell in this environment and this is greatly disappointing, specially for the junior scientist. What good is it that the “big names” attend the conference if you can’t have a word with them. I’ve come to think that sometimes it is more rewarding–at least on the scientific side–to talk and exchange ideas with not-so-senior scientists, they usually have a fresher view of the field and at the same time they’re probably more motivated to collaborate. The world isn’t perfect, but we can’t really loose hope.

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