Bridge Funding Will Improve Research at UC!

Bridge funding provides independent researchers with job security and allows retention of independent researchers during funding gaps. With bridge funding, ARs can spend more time focused on their research and less time worried about securing the next funding grant. ARs cited bridge funding as one of the most important ways that UC could improve research, yet UC has yet to respond to AR’s proposal on bridge funding. 

See why ARs say bridge funding is important for UC ARs and our research:

Rob Lillis
Associate Research Physicist, UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory

I work at the Space Sciences Lab at UC Berkeley, and have been active in four missions to study Mars. My research just brought in a $8.3 million grant, i.e. we are doing well at the moment, but there’s an inevitable element of feast or famine to what we do: funding flows are by their nature inconsistent. Funding breaks can occur for reasons completely outside of our control. This uncertainty causes stress and takes its toll on researchers and their families.

A bridge funding mechanism would give researchers peace of mind and confidence to focus on doing the best work they can. A researcher wouldn’t need to be concerned with looking around for a new job the second they finish working on a particular project – their jobs would not be constantly in jeopardy. 

When there is a break in funding in smaller researcher groups, people just disappear. It’s not good for any discipline if researchers are kicked out of the field because they don’t have funding for a few months. Bridge funding is an insurance policy that allows labs to keep researchers on. Like everyone else, soft money researchers have to pay for things like rent and childcare. When ARs have more certainty, they can focus on their work and not worry about being without pay or insurance with little or no warning.

Lisa Schwarz
Assistant Researcher at UC Santa Cruz 

At the forefront of marine mammal conservation, I study the relationships between animal behavior, physiology, bioenergetics, health, and population dynamics. My models, developed from long-term data, have led to a new understanding of how human interactions affect marine mammal populations.

Although I have come within a week of being unemployed, I have not experienced a gap in funding…yet. I have never been in a situation where funding was not pending. My near misses have been the result of 1) funding stuck in the bureaucratic machine of the university and 2) a federal government shutdown which delayed delivery of funding.

Under those circumstances, a lot of my effort turns to pushing paperwork through the UC system instead of focusing on research. The financial uncertainty has been stressful for my family who also depends on UC funding for health insurance. I have no idea what would happen if I lost my position, but funding was still pending. I would probably be forced to consider looking for a position outside of academia. 

For PIs who rely on NSF and NIH funding (that has to go through a university), bridge funding would prevent the loss of quality personnel who cannot remain in uncertain financial environments. Research would not be disrupted or delayed, leading to better and more cutting edge results.

Christian Salazar
UCI MIND

My research aims to understand the mechanisms that create health disparities by race and ethnicity in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) and to develop interventions to address this. Closing the gap in health inequalities in ADRD is an important public health priority for the country, particularly as the older adult demographic becomes more diverse and ADRD prevalence triples by 2030.

Any gap in funding would harm my research and be devastating for my family – I’m a father to 3 young children. Bridge funding is the most sensible protection for ARs and their research against unforeseen circumstances. While it is never a guarantee that a researcher will land a grant, it is extremely important to retain talented researchers, and bridge funding is an important incentive for ARs to stay at UC. ARs contribute immensely to research and this must be recognized and protected. 

Andrew Friedman
Assistant Research Scientist, UC San Diego Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences

I am an astronomer, cosmologist, and data scientist working on interdisciplinary projects that use cosmology to test fundamental physics. I think a bridge funding program will help UC to have the best possible research reputation. It will give researchers some breathing room with which they can put together more competitive and more ambitious grant proposals, and do so more efficiently, ultimately resulting in better research, more publications, and, in all likelihood, more successful grants and more revenue for UC. This is especially important for interdisciplinary research, which can be more challenging to find funding for, but which can yield breakthrough results.

The current system, in which researchers have no safety net, is self-defeating and does not serve the UC’s long term interests. Many people leave for industry or other Universities, taking their projects, institutional memory, and potential breakthroughs with them. For those of us that stay, having to constantly worry about funding distracts from the work we should be doing. We really should be spending much more of our time doing research, which ultimately yields significant benefits for the university and the wider community when somebody gets a big result. Overall, a reasonable bridge funding program will help UC attract and retain talent, make its research programs stronger, and ultimately result in more research revenue. Simply put, bridge funding is not just an investment in UC’s academic researchers, but in optimizing the long term research productivity of the entire UC system.

Angelo Demuro
Researcher, Neurobiology and Behavior, UCI

I have been at UC for 23 years. My research brings a novel approach to the investigation of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Diseases for which cures are desperately needed. We are gaining more knowledge toward the development of future drug treatments. Our cutting edge experimental approaches are precisely why we have secured the funding of the RO1 grant from NIH (NIA) and why we will continue to attract funding.

Funding gaps do happen, and PIs who depend on soft money may experience financial hardship during a grant termination or renewal, or a submission of a new grant proposal. With bridge funding, it would be less stressful during these times, and ARs would be more productive because they could continue their research despite a short term funding gap. Importantly, bridge funding would also allow PIs to continue their research while applying for new funding – this is critical for the retention of researchers in the UC system.

Pascal Saint-Hilaire
Associate Researcher, Space Sciences Lab, UC Berkeley

I am a solar astrophysicist, specializing in observations (data analysis and interpretation) and instrument development. My specialty is solar flares. By better understanding them, we can predict space weather (magnetic storms, etc.) and implications for critical infrastructure on earth as well as for satellites/spacecraft. We are building technology for space exploration.

My research has brought in around $11 million, yet right now I’m experiencing a lot of funding stress. I have had three proposals rejected this year and if I don’t get funding soon I will be in a lot of trouble. It is incredibly stressful not knowing if I will have a job next year. For independent researchers, frantically searching for money becomes part of your life – you feel like you can never pass up an opportunity to apply for funding, so you spend all your free time writing proposals even if you have funding in the moment. This constant search for money means you work overtime writing proposals – you feel like you can never take a break or take a vacation, or even just focus on your research, because you need to keep writing proposals.

I’ve known several colleagues have had to leave UC for other jobs or retire early because they experienced a funding gap. Bridge Funding provides more stability and a cushion against bad years. It allows you to focus more on your research and publish more. Our research is too important for UC’s overhead dollars, the other researchers we collaborate with, and the scientific community as a whole for UC to not protect valuable talent.