Junior Faculty Suffer From Reduced Research Funding

Harvard faculty expressed mixed opinions over the role the Faculty of Arts and Sciences should play in supporting junior faculty’s research endeavors as federal funding for scientific research continues to diminish.

“Science is an expensive business...funding is tight,” said Andrew Berry, assistant head tutor and lecturer in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. “This is especially true I think for junior faculty, because to a certain extent, their record is judged on their success in bringing money to the lab.”

FAS provides start-up packages for junior faculty to begin their research. The packages vary depending on the school, department, and discipline, and are negotiated on an individual basis.

“We work very hard to identify the best junior faculty that we can get, and what we have to do is [support them],” said John E. Dowling, professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

The government has increasingly transferred responsibility for junior faculty funding to individual institutions, according to Molecular and Cellular Biology professor Richard M. Losick.

“It’s my impression that we make very competitive offers when we hire junior faculty, and we are able to meet their needs with generous start-up packages,” Losick said. “It’s often the case now that since the bar is so high for junior faculty, they need start-up packages that can carry their research program for several years before they are competitive enough to win a federal grant.”

Though the start-up packages help individuals start their labs, junior faculty often have to look beyond university funding in order to supplement their research needs. According to Dowling, the start-up package will usually fund junior faculty research for one to two years. After that, they are expected to obtain funding from external sources.

The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and private agencies are largely responsible for outside funding for junior faculty.

“It is certainly the individual faculty member’s responsibility to sustain his/her own research program with grants once it has gotten started,” said Eric N. Jacobsen, chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department.

As government funding becomes more difficult to obtain, Jacobsen described it as increasingly “tight and less predictable.”

Despite increased difficulty in funding junior faculty, Losick said he thinks it is still crucial to increase the size of Harvard’s tenure-track contingent in order to replace retiring senior faculty.

“We would like more [junior faculty]. It’s certainly an issue for us,” Losick said.

But the issue of funding in the science, he said, extends beyond Harvard.

“There is concern about the future and about science generally in the United States,” Losick said. “I think most people would agree that the U.S. doesn’t have anything if it doesn’t have innovation.”

—Radhika Jain and Kevin J. Wu contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff Writer Cynthia W. Shih can be reached at