Walking in this morning I met an academic who had been waiting for almost a year to hear back from the EPSRC on a grant application. We chatted in the bright spring sunshine.
'I got an invited resubmission,' he said, with a clear look of disappointment on his face. I tried to console him, and told him that invited resubmissions were a relative rarity these days. Apparently he had even had 'strong encouragement' from the Council to do so. He should take heart, and go once more unto the breach.
Only problem was that life had moved on in the meantime; a year's a long time to be kept waiting. In the interim the EPSRC had withdrawn the provision of studentships - so he'd have to rethink this - and some of the work outlined in the original application had now been done abroad. In addition the needs of his commercial partner had developed and changed.
'To be honest, I'm thinking about whether it's worth carrying on in academia,' he said, ruefully. 'Up until now I've had a succession of grants, but the last two applications have come just below the cut off. In the private sector a lot of people I know are now millionaires, and are fretting about how to spend their money.'
I suggested he put them in touch with me and I could help them out. We laughed, but on this warm summer morning, on this green campus, it did highlight a worrying trend: when funding gets this hard some of the best people will be tempted away from academia, and the UK's research base will suffer as a result.