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Research for America

March 19, 2009

Stimulus money is seeping into the research world. Federal funding agencies are offering one-time-only funding opportunities for researchers through programs like the NIH challenge grants, which are intended to inject money into the economy while correcting some of the recent decline in federal research investment.

Another idea that’s being floated is to use some of the stimulus money to fund post-bac research positions. Over at the NY Times, Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt have proposed creating a Research for America program that would create paid 2-year scientific research jobs for recent college graduates.

Some might use it to kickstart a career in science. However, for those who go on to other careers, they would carry with them an understanding and firsthand experience of how science works. Considering the current low level of scientific literacy in America, that couldn’t be a bad thing.

Wang & Aamodt’s piece, as well as many of the comments in the thread, talk about the pros and cons of traditional investigator grants versus the RfA program. In psychology, I think the benefits would overlap a fair amount. Labor makes up a large part of the expense of conducting behavioral research. Our measurements are acquired not just through equipment, but also through human beings who do things like FACS coding or other expert judgments. The 2-year, full-time commitment would be a boon to researchers who use labor- and training-intensive methods, many of whom currently depend on student research assistants who work a few hours a week for a few months and then move on.

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