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I'm just starting out in research and about to finish my BSc. If I stay in research I'm wondering about the economics of it: where does the money come from? I am passionate about a specific field and I want to be able to do research in that area - but I imagine to support that research I'd have to find a lab that has been specifically funded and has projects related to that field, right? And how does the funding for these labs work? Is it mostly project based with 1-2 year length after which the lab has the pressure to submit another proposal to find another project, or does it have less pressure because the lab is also funded by the university?

In essence I'm just wondering about the money flow that is keeping a research lab alive: if I want to do research in X, I'd have to find a lab that has the money to support X right?

  • I think your question is a little broad. Could you please make it more specific? – Enthusiastic Engineer Jul 19 '14 at 10:25
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    The answer is largely country- and area-specific. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jul 19 '14 at 10:28
  • @Parsa I'm asking how labs are able to fund their research. – Luca Matteis Jul 19 '14 at 10:42
  • @DmitrySavostyanov ok imagine EU. – Luca Matteis Jul 19 '14 at 10:43
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    This depends enormously on the research field. For example, you might be doing particle physics, ecology, public health, archaeology, astronomy, etc. Each of these areas requires funding, but the economics and funding patterns can vary a lot. – Anonymous Mathematician Jul 19 '14 at 13:47
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Most labs get funding from granting agencies, governments, industry agreements, or private foundations. Some universities also provide funding in other forms.

Now, what they can do with the money depends on the conditions of the grant. Some, are attached to a specific project. They may also include a breakdown of the expenses: this much to hire two PhD students, this block to hire a posdoc, publications, experiments, computers... Some other grants are more open, and may give the PI more freedom to allocate the resources, or to work on sub-projects.

Some areas of research have economical interest, and may lead to patents and industrial agreements, that could help the lab to be less dependent on grants.

Lastly, some students may get their own funding, that may be attached or not to a specific project.

Universities do support labs, mostly by paying salaries of the staff and infrastructures.

Regarding the times, most labs apply to any grant in reach: you can never know if the grant you are hoping for will be renewed; and there is never too much money.

  • Thanks. Who's in charge of getting grants within a lab? I imagine the main advisor? What are they called? I suppose this person needs also to prove that her and her team have the appropriate skills/qualifications to pursue the project. – Luca Matteis Jul 19 '14 at 17:13
  • @LucaMatteis The head of the lab is usually doing this, but anyone can help. They are usually professors, but not necessarily, specially in smaller labs. Some grants are exclusive for young researchers, so in these cases they would have to do it. – Davidmh Jul 19 '14 at 17:23
  • @LucaMatteis a grant proposal sometimes includes a brief description of the lab members, their capabilities, and facilities. They have attached a CV of the PI, to show how good they are. – Davidmh Jul 19 '14 at 17:24
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The ideal book for you would be How Economics Shapes Science. It answers your questions and many more. It provides a broad and deep analysis of a wide variety of empirical data about research funding. It will help you make smart career choices. Sadly, I don't think most graduate students in sciences and bio-medical fields understand the economics of research and academic careers before they enter their field.

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