Recent research published in the online journal BMJ Open reports that 93% of Australian researchers surveyed are stressed by the workload of grant applications. The academics surveyed agreed that preparing NHMRC grant proposals always took top priority over other work (97%) and personal (87%) commitments and 88% reported that they were inclined to restrict their holidays during the grant writing season.
Dr Danielle Herbert, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, conducted the research after finding that there was very little evidence on the emotional or personal cost to researchers who prepare grant applications. Researchers (n=239) completed a survey with particular reference to NHMRC grant applications and also provided detailed comments about any personal impact or consequences for their home, work and family life.
Dr Herbert found that, for home life, six major themes were apparent. These included impact on children, family (including partner) and friends, stress at home, increased time spent working at home and the need to restrict family holidays.
In BMJ Open, Dr Herbert reported that, ‘The conflict between the single annual funding deadline and spending holidays with children and family is a recurring issue for researchers with family responsibilities. Most university research offices require the application up to 5 weeks before the deadline so that most researchers work on the application over the Australian summer when the community takes extended Christmas holidays. The summer holiday season is also the longest school holiday period (6–8 weeks) in Australia, and many researchers express their frustration and guilt at not spending more time with their children and families.’
Typical comments received from the academic researchers included:
I have a young family and our lives are put on hold for 3 months at the worst possible time of year. We have to pay for childcare so there is a huge financial cost plus the personal cost of not being with my children.
I have sacrificed personal time, holidays, many social and work commitments, sleep, exercise and much more to devote months to writing grants.
This year was particularly bad and by the end of it I was an emotional wreck.
What should be the happiest time of the year (kids on holiday, summer, Christmas) is now the most stressful because of the perfect storm of ARC & NHMRC grant deadlines and teaching commitments for the new year.
A minority of those surveyed reported that applying for grants did not take over their work (3%) and they did not become stressed (7%).
A comment received by one such person was: ‘The people who complain about lack of time are those who are unorganised or who have poor ideas/preliminary data for grants.’
Dr Herbert concluded that, ‘The timing of the funding cycle could be shifted to minimise applicant burden, give Australian researchers more time to work on actual research and to be with their families.’ She added that personal costs may also be minimised by streamlining the application process.
Dr Herbert also suggested that the personal cost of unsuccessful proposals combined with a lack of feedback may predispose some researchers to become depressed and despondent about future applications. She recommended that the level of mental health and mood disorders of researchers during funding rounds should be investigated further.
You can read the free full text of the study here.
Dr Ruth Hadfield is available to assist with all types of medical writing, including grant applications and manuscript preparation. You can find out more here.