Crowdfunding as the future of science funding?

May 27, 2012 | Posted by Anthony in Research |

Academic labs face increasingly tight budgets within a down economy.  Myself being an open notebook scientist at the University of New Mexico, funding has been particularly difficult to come by, without much support from larger grants or agencies.

Searching for alternatives, I have increasingly turned to online platforms for raising support and engagement for my research instead. Crowdfunding platforms have been of particular help, providing a medium to raise financing for scientific projects in a manner similar to Kickstarter. RocketHub’s #SciFundChallenge was the first crowdfunding initiative to support science projects, with newer science platforms like Petridish.org emerging as well.

And while crowdfunding may not be the be-all and end-all for scientific funding, I have found it to carry some extremely valuable facets over traditional funding.

For one, it provides students in the lab a chance to fund their own research. As it’s generally said that there are two big rewards in science, namely positive results and money, crowdfunding provides a medium to achieve both simultaneously. You get to see your scientific influence in real-time through small (or large) donations from the public, and witness money be contributed to something that you have created in a meaningful way.

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User Insight: Improved Access to Scientific Services through Science Exchange

May 24, 2012 | Posted by Roshan in Core facilities, Research |

There are many resources you come to take for granted as an academic researcher.  Insulated from the private sector and competitive market demands, you often have access to hosts of shared resources and core facilities. Academic core facilities host such services at cost-effective rates, including sequence analysis, primer design, and peptide synthesis, proving to be immensely helpful to graduate research.

And yet, after transitioning from graduate research at Yale to postdoctoral studies at a private institution, I’ve come to truly appreciate the value such resources provide. Working in a private institution, you’re divorced from the insular academic environment of shared resources.  One may try to access an academic core facility, but will find it difficult to search for the right point-of-contact, given core operations are predicated on academic networks.

Case in point, I’ve often needed to identify a few novel but promising candidates through mass spectrometric analysis, but wasn’t able to find the right expertise either in-house or through outside vendors. Fortunately for me, using Science Exchange helped me find cost-effective providers at core facilities, and increase the efficiency of my research.

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The Lack of Women in Science Leadership

May 23, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth in Research |

Women have made significant strides in science this past century.  We now make up a majority of PhD graduates in scientific disciplines, and have increased representation in STEM-related fields.

And yet, women remain under-represented in positions of scientific leadership.  Women comprise a minority of tenured professorships in STEM fields, receiving only 25% of NIH-sponsored faculty awards. A disproportionate share of women are “dropping out” of academic careers before even attaining tenure, missing out on faculty roles of significant contribution.

The lack of women can be traced to a litany of issues of institutional or societal origin, though none were so prominent in my experience as the lack of support for women in maternal care. As a postdoctoral scholar myself, I noticed many of my female colleagues dropping out of a tenure track due to the high demands of combined lab work and childcare.

A recent report from AmericanProgress.org cites numerous data points to similar effect. Faculty workweeks average 50 hours per week, and yet women with children report over 100 hours per week in combined activity. Worsening matters is that tenure-track jobs often overlap with a woman’s reproductive years, and over 40% of universities offer ad hoc or no paid leave for maternity care.  Women are inevitably pushed to choose between a career in the lab vs. at home.

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The Emergence of Private Foundations in Science

May 13, 2012 | Posted by Piper in Research |

The majority of scientific funding in the United States has traditionally come from government agencies and funding bodies.  Organizations such as the NIH, NSF, DOE, and DOD have provided a bulk of the funding, and continue to provide support for universities and lab groups.

And yet, much of government funding comes with red tape attached that is difficult for lab groups to control. Agencies often require a body of preliminary results before funding, and other times require a project to have translational applications beyond basic science. Only a select set of science verticals and projects even have funding available, given the incentive structures in government to fund popular areas or projects with immediate impact. And with federal budget cuts straining available scientific resources, the problem is only compounded.

It is in this culture that private foundations have taken up some of the slack and are increasingly funding basic science.  Projects without preliminary results, or otherwise considered high risk, are now finding a place amidst a growing volume of private foundations.  Profiled below are four such foundations: the Keck Foundation, Thiel Foundation, Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement, and The Kavli Foundation.

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Guest post: Academic or Practical Discoveries to Industry Products

May 10, 2012 | Posted by Guest in Research |

This is a guest post by Bill Barnett, Director of Science Community Tools (Research Technologies) at Indiana University (see full bio below).

We are all aware of the challenges of taking inventions developed in academia or practical settings and moving them to products and services that benefit people.  In the world of medical inventions, we’re talking about improving human health.  It is not that both inventors and industry don’t do their job marvelously.  The job of inventors who are academics or clinicians is to make discoveries and help patients, and some of these efforts result in discoveries that could become products and services.  That is exciting and valuable but taking the next step is something researchers or clinicians usually don’t know how to do and, in some cases, have been doing wrong.  This is important – there is a lot of great research going on and a lot of great discoveries are being made. If we can move them quickly to products we can have a real impact on health!  Commercializing discoveries is difficult.  But a new service, i2iconnect.org, can help bridge the gap between inventors and the industry resources needed to bring inventions to patients.

Since passage of the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows universities to profit from publicly-funded research, many universities have established technology transfer offices whose responsibility is to move these discoveries into products and services.  There are two typical paths for this: Create a startup or license the discovery to a company.  There has been a lot of attention to startups, and they are a feature of many state or local entrepreneurial strategies.  Due to the number and cost of mandatory business prerequisites, starting a new venture can be a tough row to hoe.  Academics or clinicians are asked to develop a prototype product, a business model, raise funds, and build a business – a tough transition for someone from another world who is learning as they go.   Many medical entrepreneurs have been successful and sometimes a new corporation is the right answer, but the failure rate is high – which means the potential health benefits are not reaching the public.  And with the diminished economy, finding funding for these ventures has become more difficult.

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Guest post: From Academic to Entrepreneur

May 8, 2012 | Posted by Guest in Research |

This is a guest post by Ron Orlando, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Chemistry at the University of Georgia. (full bio below).

I started my first company—BioInquire—not because I had a burning desire to become an entrepreneur, but because I wanted to solve a problem. My laboratory at University of Georgia specializes in proteomics and mass spectrometry. About five years ago, now, we were working with Rick Tarleton here at UGA, to characterize the changes associated with Chagas disease. Before he invested postdoc time and money in characterizing the potential protein targets we identified, he wanted to know how certain we were that each was real.

We ended up developing a method and writing software to take our proteomic data and convert it into a protein false discovery rate—a method that is widely used today. So, we wrote these tools in Perl and were giving them away for free like good academics: “Here’s the readme.doc file and good luck!”

But, I was concerned that even my laboratory would lose the ability to use the software if the developer quit. So, I hired a computer scientist to develop a graphical user interface, which meant you could at least sit at your Windows-based machine and ask questions of the data.

Our software had been downloaded by something like 50 laboratories when I met a colleague who alerted me to the fact that we did not have a license. What if these folks who used our program didn’t like the results and decided to sue us? Returning to Georgia, I contacted our tech transfer office. They were as concerned with the fact that we were giving away a valuable product and convinced us to start a company.

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