While some professors said it’s a good thing that more than 85 percent of Ohio State’s research funding comes from the federal government, some warned that it can occasionally lead to the money, and in turn, the research, being postponed.
Ohio State was awarded research grants totaling more than $50 million in September with more than $43 million from the federal government and more than $7.24 million from other nonfederal sources, according to an October OSU Office of Research release.
Janet Weisenberger, senior associate vice president for research, said in an email she prefers federal research grants to nonfederal research grants.
“As an investigator who has had funding from a lot of different sources over the years, my own take is that federal funding provides investigators with the resources they need to conduct scientific research and scholarship,” Weisenberger said. “Research can be expensive, and most universities do not have the funds to support faculty research programs on their own.”
Peter Mohler, director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute at the Wexner Medical Center, said he receives funding from both federal and nonfederal agencies.
“Primarily our funding comes from the National Institutes of Health,” Mohler said in an email. “We also have active research awards through the American Heart Association and two foundations.”
NIH sponsored nearly $12 million of OSU research, according to the release.
Mohler said his team is focused on researching human cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure and arrhythmia.
“Specifically, we use genetic, molecular, biochemical and functional approaches to understand the causes of heart disease in babies, children and in adults,” Mohler said.
Mohler said federal and nonfederal grants are both important, but for different reasons.
“Federal grants are usually larger, provide additional funds for important university infrastructure and sustain our reputation as a leading national research university,” Mohler said. “However, it is really special to also have support from small grass-root foundations where research funds are raised through bake sales and raffles.”
Randy Nelson, professor and chair of the OSU Department of Neuroscience, currently has a federal research grant from the National Science Foundation and is a co-investigator on a NIH federal research grant.
“The NSF … grant examples to the role of light at night on the development of immune function in wild rodent species,” Nelson said in an email. “The NIH … grant examines the role of a specific protein in provoking the behavioral systems of chronic fatigue syndrome.”
NSF provided Ohio State researchers with about $15.3 million in funds, according to the release.
Nelson said federal grants are preferable because of the extra costs they cover.
“In addition to funding the research directly, federal grants also support the ‘indirect’ costs of doing the research at a university,” Nelson said. “These indirect costs … may include such things as the electric and heating bills for the labs, or the support of personnel, or the compliance personnel to make sure that human or animal participants are well cared for and that the workers are in a safe environment.”
The government shutdown about two months ago, however, affected Nelson’s federal grant work.
“I was scheduled to be on a panel to review NIH grants, and that was postponed,” Nelson said. “The decision on a new grant application to NSF was not made because their panel of expert reviewers was canceled.”
Congress could not decide upon a budget to pass by Oct. 1, pushing the government into a 16-day shutdown. Federal workers who fall in a category called “essential” continued working without pay, while workers in the category “non-essential” were furloughed, meaning they were given a temporary unpaid leave.
Mohler said government shutdowns and decreases in government funding in general can be an obstacle to various projects.
“It stops research in its tracks, keeps funded grants from progressing and keeps people from submitting grants,” Mohler said.
Weisenberger said stopping research can be a problem because funding gives students the opportunity to learn about research and to participate in studies.
“This kind of experience that you just can’t get in the classroom is of real value in whatever career field a student chooses to pursue,” Weisenberger said.
Mohler said research grants are significant because they provide the means for people to perform innovative research that could change lives.
“As we all know, the world is filled with difficult and complex questions,” Mohler said. “Funding allows Ohio State faculty and students with diverse backgrounds (to) come together to make great strides to address these questions.”