From idea to science: Pouring concrete for an experiment and securing funds

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2013-03-30

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"From idea to science" is a process, and as such, it's become a series here. We've discussed what I perceive to be the institutional boundary conditions that constrain my academic success, then followed that with a long exposition on the science that gets me out of bed in the morning. But now it's time to get specific. This is the part that I admittedly have difficulty with: turning ideas and desires into concrete plans. Or, at least making them into plans that are acceptable to people who provide money.

Today, let's take the general idea from last time and break it up into individual, graduate-student-sized projects. In one sense, this is easy—just come up with three sets of experiments. Unfortunately, they need to tie together intellectually. It isn't necessary that the students need to work together on everything, but, thematically, they should be sufficiently related. That way, the students can assist each other when problems arise.

Getting specific also means thinking about who I am going to ask for money and how much. The European Research Council is offering up to €2 million (about $2.59 million) over five years to a few clever and competent researchers fitting a certain profile. I need to be relatively young—you must have held your PhD for less than 12 years—and you should be looking to strengthen an existing research group. There are other criteria, but those are the two that give you the essence of what they are looking for: new researchers trying to get more independence. As for the money, it sounds like a lot, but, for what I want to do, it will provide for three PhD students over the entire period.

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