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Sequester causing anxiety, uncertainty in the lab


A recent survey, which polled over 3,700 scientists, strongly suggested that the sequester is a huge blow to researchers, scientific progress, and human health worldwide — a concern echoed in many news accounts. But not all researchers have felt its effects, and some suggest that it might simply be too early to tell. It may not be too early for graduate students, however, who are being negatively impacted even in research environments that may have been spared severe funding woes.

When I asked Andrew Bass, professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and Associate Vice Provost for Research at Cornell University, whether the sequester has impacted his ability to plan out university-wide research goals, the answer was a resounding, \"Not yet."

"My role is to help facilitate research and bring people together for new projects. And that's gone unchanged. I'm not doing anything different than I would have done otherwise," said Bass.

Bass was resilient in spite of the restricted funding climate: "In general, at the university, things are down about 2 percent. But we want to be optimistic. Things go in cycles." However, he remained concerned about the young investigators and the next generation of researchers that are just starting their research careers.

"I try to involve junior faculty as much as I can [in] discussions about the future. When I just talk to people, I have found that they aren't taking as many chances. Research faculty are less inclined to take risks. I am more cautious about accepting more graduate students in my lab. We are all more cautious. Graduate students are the fuel of creativity," said Bass.

Jeff Sekelsky, professor in the Department of Biology and the Director of Graduate Studies for the Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed a similar sentiment in an email.

"The combination of cuts to existing grants and lower funding rates have caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about the future," wrote Sekelsky. "That makes us less likely to commit to graduate students, which also means fewer people to supervise undergraduates. Unfortunately, this could mean the loss of a good percentage of the next generation of potential researchers before they've even had a chance to experience research."