If you’re a scientist these days, getting the money to do your research is a lot like getting into Stanford or Yale. Assuming you aren’t rich or connected, being incredibly skilled, hardworking and accomplished isn’t enough. You need to get lucky too.
The big difference is that in terms of funding for research, there aren’t really any back up schools. If you don’t get into your Ivy League college, you don’t get your college degree. The best you can do is scrape together a few part-time jobs to stay in business so you can apply over and over again to the same school. No wonder so many scientists are becoming discouraged.
For those of you who don’t know how scientists at universities get their money, here is a quick, crash course. First off, scientists aren’t paid by a university to do their research. They are expected to raise that money on their own. They are given a bit of money to get started, but the university supplies almost no money after that. In fact, they take a good chunk of the money you manage to raise for overhead costs (buildings, electricity, name recognition, etc.).
This didn’t used to be a big deal. Yes, it was an inconvenience but there was enough money so that if you had a good idea and some data to support it, you had a pretty good shot at getting funded. This is no longer true.
These days most higher-level scientists are spending less and less time doing science and more and more time writing grants to try to get research funded. If they don’t have a big name and/or come from a big school, odds are most if not all of the grants won’t be funded. And even if they have the reputation and come from what is deemed to be a big school, they still may end up penniless.