Volume 28 | 2005 | Number 2
What in the World Is Going on in Washington with the
Funding of Science?
Barbara A. Wanchisen, Ph.D.; The Federation
of Behavioral, Psychological, & Cognitive Sciences
As many of you likely know, there are budget cuts all over the
place in the federal arena, and funding for science is not a top
priority in Washington at this time. Both the National Science
Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will
likely receive miniscule "increases" in 2006, maybe about 2% at NSF
and less than that at the NIH. I put that word in quotes because
these proposed increases do not keep up with inflation, let alone
enable new programs of research. On top of all of this, those of
you who rely on money from the National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH), which is housed at the NIH, know the frustration regarding
the changing priorities in that institute, especially as the
reorganization relates to basic behavioral science.
OK, so should we all just give up?
One way to totally diminish your impact individually, and as a
field, is to pack up and go home - this only makes room for all of
the other sciences to gain a greater foothold here in the federal
arena. And as for the NIMH, if they receive fewer and fewer
applications in some areas of science (which I am told is
happening), then they are in a sense "justified" in cutting back
from those areas. It's a "Catch 22" to be sure. However, if the
NIMH (or any institute) continues to receive a goodly number of
fine applications, they can't have exceedingly low success rates
The absolute best piece of advice I can give you is to be
tenacious. Part of this means that you must find a sympathetic
program officer, be willing to listen hard to what that person
tells you, and keep at it … and at it. My understanding is that the
vast majority of grant applications received at the NIH are sent in
"blind" by the scientist, not one contact is made with the relevant
program officer or any NIH staff. This is simply a big mistake.
Also, talk to others in your field who have been successful - keep
your eye on the prize - and just do not give up.
Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research: A
"Clearing House" at the NIH
The NIH is by far the largest funding agency
for our sciences in Washington (NIH's total budget is approximately
$28 billion annually) and you may not realize that they have a
special office, founded in 1995, that oversees your interests. It
is called the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
(OBSSR) and is listed on the NIH Web site under the Office of the
OBSSR has pointed funding links on its site (those directed at
behavioral science) and also knowledgeable staff should you be
totally perplexed about navigating the behemoth known as the NIH.
Even if you are used to the NIH, OBSSR is not a bad place to check
out periodically. For example, did you know that there is an
NIH-wide initiative on the study of obesity? Or that the NIH
Director is interested in funding high-risk basic research under an
initiative called The Roadmap? Sometimes it is helpful to look
beyond the more obvious places for funding at the NIH (or the NSF
for that matter) and see if your work can adapt to new realms.
By the way, an institute to keep an eye on now is the National
Institute of General Medical Sciences. http://www.nigms.nih.gov/.
They are beginning to pay greater attention to the basic
behavioral sciences, and in fact, there is someone at NIGMS - James
Onken - who was trained in animal learning. I would recommend
contacting him about research ideas that you may have. In fact,
they just recently have announced that they will release RFAs on
Also, they are initiating a training grant program merging basic
biological with behavioral components and we are keeping an eye on
that progress. So while things are just starting there, it would be
not be a bad thing to get in on the ground floor.
What About the National Science Foundation?
Animal behavior has fallen on hard times at
the National Science Foundation (NSF) but things are slowly
improving. Just about all animal research of this ilk (biological
and behavioral) has been funded under the Biology Directorate and
over the course of years, this directorate proved more favorable to
"comparative" types of studies in animal behavior. However some new
leadership in the Integrative Organismic Branch, headed by Tom
Brady, is proving promising, and a behavioral neuroscientist, Diane
Witt (firstname.lastname@example.org) can provide you with the direction you might
need if you would like to seek NSF funding. If you are conducting
basic human research, the Social, Behavioral, & Economic
Sciences Directorate is still the place to approach and now word
has it that the Education & Human Resources Directorate is
interested in behavioral science applications as well (I recommend
contacting Gregg Solomon at email@example.com for more information
on this opportunity).
I can never encourage you enough to talk to people at the
funding agencies and I hope that some of the names I have provided
above are helpful (and probably new to most of you, as these things
evolve over time). It is their jobs to help you, but also you will
avoid wasting a lot of time if you talk to the relevant program
One final thought: If federal funding is just not in your
future, do consider approaching private foundations. This is not
something that we focus on in the Federation, but I understand that
many scientists can find homes for their research there, depending
on the goals of the particular foundation. So do consider that an
option as well.
Best of luck to you and please do not hesitate to contact me if
you have questions or concerns. I am available on firstname.lastname@example.org.