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Research Funding

For any scientist it’s incredibly exciting to discover something new.

For any scientist it’s incredibly exciting to discover something new and just know that you’re the only person who really understands some new scientific principle or some observation.  So it’s kind of exciting, it’s like having a secret treasure, if you can make something out of it.

However, when you take it to the people who might fund you or support you, you don’t always get the same results because they can’t be an expert in that same field as you are and they’re going to have to have some other advice, or maybe they’ll do it because they’re your mates or something, but typically a young scientist doesn’t have billionaires and millionaires in his cricket team.  He would be in a poor cricket team, for example!

So I’d say be prepared to do it all yourself.  That’s the starting point.  The fallback situation is you’re going to have to do it yourself.  You’re going to have to fight for your discovery and if you think it’s important enough…it might take you a few years, that might be more of a time span than you’re prepared to work on, but, you know, even little things seem to take a few years these days with the regulations and that, so you might have to develop a new skill set, find some colleagues who are like you, curious and good scientists, and then get some publications.

For the young investigators I say, you know, put up a poster.  And even if it’s a funny little meeting in your own department that only ten people went to, it gets on your CV.  ‘Poster of distinction.’  Blah blah blah.  And so that is the key to the scientific community.  And someone sees your CV and says, ‘Well, they must be one of the top 10% at university or that college.  Look, they won the poster of distinction.’  They don’t even care what the poster was half the time!  So it gets you in the door.

And the final thing is if you can get your own funding, it’s fabulous, because you’re your own boss, and you might not realise that if you get, say, NIH, NHMRC funding, it’s yours in your pocket and although you’re affiliated with the university you can usually take it to any university you want in Australia.  And if you are funded in such a way that you can go overseas, you can pick any university you like and you say, ‘I might not be good enough to get into Harvard’, but if you call someone in Harvard and say, ‘I want to work in your lab and by the way I’ve got my funding’, he says, ‘Right!  Start tomorrow!’

- Prof Barry Marshall