Today, our Astrophysics Group at Imperial College submitted our first application for a new STFCConsolidated Grant”.

These are intended to cover all of the astrophysics being done in the department for three years at a time, combining aspects of former so-called “standard” and “rolling” grants, both of which it replaces. (If you don’t know what those are, you probably don’t care.) It remains to be seen whether this new system ends up with the best or the worst of the two old ones, and whether it brings the promised economies of scale resulting from fewer, larger grants.

For us, at least, it’s more work for the first few years: we will complete our consolidation with the rest of our department in another application in only one year’s time.

We — the whole community — are worried by the changeover to a new system (and not only because we fear change). This happens now that the funding situation has stabilized after a few years of decline — down to a level about half of its 2006 maximum. Worse, a higher than average number of groups are applying this year. Will this be met with a proportionally higher allocation of funds? Or will groups just have to try again (as we are in a year)? John Womersley, Director of STFC Science Programmes answered some of these questions at the National Astronomy Meeting a few weeks ago, but the answers were, perhaps understandably, equivocal.

This was my first chance to be the Principal Investigator on a large grant proposal in the UK. All the usual problems with organizing a team of academic scientists apply: we’re bad at managing (at least, I am), we are bad at being managed, it’s like herding cats, etc. Still, we pulled together just in time, with the more-than-able help of various administrators who put up with our delays and last-minute changes.

And now, we wait…