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I have two funded projects. One works great but the other is terrible (probably wrong postdocs and PhD students). When I send future proposals, my history is evaluated against the overall research output, right? There is no factor indicating one of my projects has failed, right?

I have two options:

  1. Let the weak project fail and focus on the successful one to improve my overall research output. Then, I have a strong record of publications for the future proposals.

  2. Use some funds from my successful project in the problematic one (e.g., hiring more people) to save it at the cost of sacrificing the successful one.

By the way, I am an assistant professor of chemistry (close to promotion) and the projects have been funded by European schemes, if it matters.

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    Are you sure you're allowed to transfer funds from one project to another? The research grants I've had all required that the funds be spent for the purposes described in the proposal. If I wanted to do anything else with the money, I'd have to get permission from the granting agency. Whether they would give permission is doubtful, especially if the other project is funded by a different agency. – Andreas Blass Nov 30 '17 at 19:45
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    @AndreasBlass I am quite sure that no funding system allows transfer from one project to another. OP probably meant to hire people for the first project but assign them to the second project. – Googlebot Nov 30 '17 at 20:27
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    @Googlebot pretty sure that would be fraud, if done without the agreement of the funding agency. – rhialto Nov 30 '17 at 21:43
  • I cannot imagine circumstances in which choice 2 would be ethical much less legal. – E. Douglas Jensen Dec 7 '17 at 17:08
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    Well, option b might not be ethical, but it is common practice. Many highly respected people in my field told me, "you should have 50% of the work for a project already done, so you can invest the people in writing new grants and preparing new topics - or helping out in other projects". I do not say this is a good practice, but it happens. And if you are having a larger group, financing all people without gaps is nearly impossible without such juggling of ressources. But my answer to the problem would be a third option: Invest more of your personal time in the weak project! – OBu Feb 4 '18 at 12:45
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While a common practice, that would be fraud. Less fraudulent would be to bill everything that 'counts for both' to the stronger project, to conserve money to get the weaker projects done. (Equipment, staff meetings, etc).

For you, depends on how your department weights grants brought in vs. papers published. If they value grant money more, that you've damaged your chances of getting more is not something your should reveal, while papers are something you can play up.

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It's hard to give a general answer, obviously different fields and different research areas differ in many important ways.

1) In my experience reviewers looks at overall past productivity vs overall level of support, not whether some specific past project was successful. Having some projects fail is the normal working of science. There are some exceptions, for example high profile projects like centers or inter-institutional collaborative efforts. In those cases there is certainly a strong incentive to declare success on a specific project.

2) In terms of what you should do: I think it is almost always a bad idea to throw good money after bad money (the "sunk cost" fallacy). If anything, I would move support from a failing project to a successful one. Again, there are certainly exceptions. Maybe the failing project still holds a lot of promise, and just a few months of effort by an experienced postdoc can push it over the hump. This is something only you can judge.

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