Money with meaning

A friend of mine, an avid cyclist, recently told me about a guy on a bike who sat on her tail while she was riding to work one morning, goading her to speed up or get out of his way. He eventually overtook her, and in response to his pretty colourful language, she replied ‘Riding my own race, mate, just riding my own race’.


I’ve been thinking about her comment a lot lately in terms of finding research funding. I often meet researchers who seem to get pulled into others’ stories about what funding ‘you have to get’ or that ‘really matters’ if you want a research career. Performance requirements or expectations also tend to shape the rules (and speed) of the ‘race’ you feel you have to ride.


What ends up happening, though, is a sense of doing it for the CV rather than for the sense of meaning it gives you in terms of your plans for your research and career.


So I think there’s very much a case for ‘riding your own race’ in the context of research funding.


To put this in context, there was a senior professor I knew on campus in my early days of postdoc life. She’d been very effective in building relationships with industry-based organisations which had an interest in her research. Turns out, she’d funded her research projects over the course of her career from the funds they were willing to invest in her work. Because of that partnership, she’d ‘never given a hoot’ about ‘category 1’ funds because ‘money is money’, and here was an organisation as committed to learning from her research as she was.


The question is, if you’re attracting industry funding (category 3) sufficient to fund the research you want and need to do, can anyone really complain? Well…

1. Yes they can, but let them, because people will always find things to criticise you (or anyone) about!
2. Yes they can, so (re)negotiate the written expectations in your performance reviews/plans so that the type of research funding you’re attracting is the type expected of you
3. Probably not…because the pendulum will swing, and is swinging – we can see more and more emphasis on attracting industry funding  (as an alternative to government funding).


Of course, adopting the prism of ‘money with meaning’ is just one of several approaches you can or might adopt. But my point is this – ride your own race, at your own speed, and let others ride their own. Your critics and champions will come and go, but you need to derive meaning from the research funding enterprise, not find yourself chasing someone else’s aspirations or adopting others’ stories. Why not be the star in your own?


So now I’d love to hear from you – do you feel under pressure to apply for certain types of funding for no other reason than your colleagues or institution telling you it’s ‘essential’ to career progress? Do you wrestle with the prospect of applying for your next grant because it’s more for the money than for the project/idea?


Do you know what sort of funding you need to do the kind of research you really love? Comment below and share your story!

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