Radboud University

Blog 5: NWO and the fear of missing out

I have – to put it lightly – ‘mixed feelings’ about NWO’s Talent and Innovation scheme and the organization of research funding in general. The career-stage limits imposed by NWO’s Talent program push researchers to submit proposals whether it feels right for their situation or not, because it would be bad for their career if they missed the opportunity.

It may be that they are finishing another research project (like I am) and would prefer to take some time to properly complete that one rather than diving immediately into the next project design. It may be that they are starting a family and would prefer to postpone a larger research project for a few years. It may be that they have a great idea, but they need to build a foundation for it before they can hope to successfully convince the committees that they can execute it.

The current set-up of Veni-Vidi-Vici allows for little to no space for reflection from one project to the next application. Far more importantly, the clearly proven effect of (narrowly) missing the Veni on the rest of your career, shows that NWO has created a steep incline towards success in grant applications. Miss the first, and the second and third become ever more unlikely. The introduction of preproposals aggravates the situation since the narrative CV is now so dominant that the research idea is reduced to a measly 150 words.

Having taken that first step, the Veni, it would be foolish of me to not try for the next, the Vidi. It would be a missed opportunity. So, I find myself neglecting in-progress publications resulting from my Veni in favor of new project ideas for a Vidi-application. To be fair, I am quite enjoying it. It is more fun to dream than to be confronted with the realities of finetuning and copy-editing. Still, I feel conflicted: I want to deliver a good product from these oh-so-precious research projects.

Recognition & Rewards touches on all aspects of academia – this much is clear – and this naturally slows down its implementation. However, as we struggle with an abundance of low-hanging fruit, we must not be discouraged and keep trying to break down the barriers to a new Recognition & Rewards which transcend individual universities and require a national approach.

The career-stage limits imposed by the NWO Talent scheme do not promote the best science, they do not promote thoroughly completed projects, and they do not promote a fair assessment of research ideas rather than researcher’s CVs.

So, my dilemma: do I take my time to complete ongoing research or prioritize taking my shot at the Vidi? Or, as a researcher who has reservations about the entire system, do I opt out altogether? Of course, it is not really a choice at all. We need grants to fund our ambitious research plans, so young academics hurtle along at the breakneck pace set by the funders. But I for one hope NWO will take a long, hard look at the career-stage limits and conclude that there are better ways to encourage and nurture excellent research.

~ Shari Boodts