Stressing the brainPlanning a budget isn’t easy.

Are you about to start your own lab? Are you in the middle of budget hell, anxious about presenting to a grant committee?

Most postdocs and junior investigators I speak to believe
they need to start out by knowing how much money they have.
I disagree. The money is the last thing that you should figure out.

I know this is not a popular opinion in the business world, but before you stop reading, let me explain.

Focusing on resource and time management is more important than prioritizing finances. I’ve seen a junior investigator find success with very few start up funds. I’ve also seen an investigator begin with a generous award, then end up wasting it.

These cases highlight that the money shouldn’t be the focus. The science should be the focus.

Begin by identifying your specific aims. What do you need to reach those aims? How long will it take?

Time is the primary metric you should concern yourself with. Time, unlike money, can’t be replenished. Your greatest commodity is time.

Money should be your last consideration when starting a lab. Therefore, calculate how long you will need and then what you will need to achieve your goal.

I usually call it the reverse engineering budget process. Make yourself a checklist of necessities in the following order:

  1. First, what’s your timeline? Is it a 3, 4, or 5 year Start Up?
  2. What are your specific aims? What tangible or publishable data do you need in order to reach those aims?
  3. What tools and equipment do you need to produce those results?
  4. What skill sets or types of knowledge do you need to operate those tools in order to produce that data?
  5. And lastly, how much will those resources cost?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can make decisions based on your results. By doing so, you’ll only sacrifice the least critical scientific ventures. You will also understand what resources you need to come up with along the way.

If you want to know more about how we create these budgets, please feel free to contact me.

Please share your thoughts. Do you believe that finances are the primary measurements? Have you seen success with alternative budgets?

Let us know. Leave a comment below.