We're a little crazy, about science!

The cost of research

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been tasked with gathering quotes for new equipment. It’s not even just with the hospital side of things either, the school side has suddenly asked me for quotes as well. I understand the logic of having gather the quotes like this, after all it’s a huge time sink, but I’ve learned a lot over the past month or so from dealing with all this and that is research isn’t cheap.

Hospital-PI is rapidly expanding his lab. We’re going to be doubling or tripling what we can do based on the amount of equipment we will be ordering. On top of that we’re looking for at least two postdocs and another research assistant, because I am tired… so very, very tired. Basically things are slowly ramping up at the hospital for us to do a TON of research. I’ve already got one short publication we’re working on that will be submitted in the next few weeks, so things are moving at a faster speed than we have in the past.

On the school side of things, my dissertation proposal was approved, meaning I can start data collection as soon as I want, like right now if I had someone to participate. However, there is a catch! I theoretically need to borrow some equipment from another lab to record all the data I want. Which, of course, means scheduling with them and coordinating. Since my schedule is already packed, working around this is difficult. Thus, I’m now in the process of (potentially) purchasing our own system for the lab. This would come from the funding I got for the project, which I feel like it was a lot, but turns out that isn’t the case when you understand the costs of research.

Which brings me to the point of the post. It turns out equipment costs are outrageous. This is probably due to all the testing and regulations there are for equipment, at least that’s my hope. I really don’t want to believe people are out here making tons of money when we’re trying to improve the lives of people who’ve had serious injuries. Equipment costs, from what I’m seeing are like 10x what I would’ve thought. The first time I heard the cost of a piece of equipment I was particularly excited about for example, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Hospital-PI didn’t even flinch, but from what he told me afterwards it didn’t really register (it was early in the morning, even for him).

This is actually important information, so I’m glad I now have an understanding of the costs that go into managing/starting a lab because I will be doing just that in the next few years (ideally anyway). See no matter where I go, either through clinical research via a hospital or research at a university, I need to negotiate my contract with the employer. I could, in theory, go directly to industry, but that’s not for me. I’m a fan of research and in particular, I really like the clinical side as it’s very streamlined and there are people who specifically handle the day to day paperwork for you instead of being in charge of all that yourself via a university.

So being a PI of my own lab… one day… will require some startup capital and this is negotiated when whoever employees me makes their offer. It is very much a negotiation, so I could counter, or just accept depending on what the offer is, but without fully understanding the costs of starting a lab, it would be very hard to gauge how much I’m getting screwed over. And believe me when I say that no matter who employees you, they are trying to screw you over, by which I mean save themselves money.

Between the quotes I’ve gathered for school-PI and hospital-PI I (think I) have a firm grasp on how much starting my own lab may cost. Of course you need to add in administrative costs, space requirements, resources from the employer, etc. The bottom line is that research isn’t cheap, even cheap research still costs more than you would imagine.

Getting discounts for academic or clinical research does little to offset the actual purchase price, even a 5% discount still barely makes a dent in the final purchase price. Just hours ago I got a quote for the equipment for school-PI and we do get a discount for the purchase, which saved us a few thousand (yes, as in more than two thousand), but the total cost was still five figures, so while it was nice to save that money it doesn’t feel like savings when you look at the bottom line.

To give you an idea, equipment can cost (in my field anyway) anywhere from $10-50,000 USD. Of course, there are things that are cheaper and things that are more expensive, but the bulk of the equipment we use falls in that price range and we’re ordering multiples, so when the quotes first started coming in there was a bit of a shock on my part. By a bit I mean that at first I thought there may be an error. So yeah, if anyone out there is just starting or just about to start a lab, worth noting to budget accordingly, because it adds up quickly!

Personally, I’m glad I’m not at that stage just yet! I’ve never spent that kind of money before and it still feels awkward even just getting the quotes. I’m sure I will need to get used to it eventually, but for now I’m glad it’s not me!


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