October 3, 2013

The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Research

By Danielle Miranda

Graduate students including Mayo Clinic’s Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Ph.D. candidate, Alfreda Nelson, planned on attending the 2013 NIH National Graduate Student Research Conference, but due to the lapse in government funding, the conference has been canceled.

This is just one of the many examples of the lapse in government funding which has and will continue to affect research. The shutdown has cut off access to myriad of electronic resources which many researchers depend. Websites that were not operation include the National Science Foundation the Education Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences1. Many sites such as PubMed, a free repository of biomedical and life science research maintained by the National Institutes of Health, are operational but a notice on the site warns users that it would not be updated during the shutdown. Some researchers are setting up mirror websites to keep forms to apply for grants from the National Science Foundation accessible2. This creates the perfect opportunity to ask professors and students how the government shutdown impacts research.

How is the government shutdown affecting your work on campus? 

The government shutdown has not affected my work at the Mayo Clinic thus far but has affected institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics which will not be issuing any updates during the shutdown. According to The New York Times, the CDC furloughed about 68% of its staff, and said it would be unable to help state and local officials keep track of infectious diseases and have only limited capacity to respond to food and disease outbreaks3.

Danielle Miranda, Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Ph.D. candidate


Does today’s governmental funding affect your career goals and path as a biomedical researcher?

 “The government funding situation in Washington has been through similar periods of turmoil such as under Bill Clinton 18 years ago during the last shut down. While there 

may be a variety of negative immediate impacts seen today, including within the research community, typically history repeats itself and a recovery and functional budget will be implemented similar to what has occurred in the past. A more relevant concern, at least from my perspective, is not only the timely passing of a budget, but more importantly the allocation of funding within that budget that directly impacts the NIH and subsequently our research as scientists. Therefore, this current shut down really has not persuaded or impacted me to consider altering my career path and ultimate goals as a scientist.” 

Bradlee Heckmann, Mayo Clinic Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. student


“Absolutely government funding plays a huge role in my future career and research goals. Without major funding, research is difficult to conduct, and without major funding good impactful research will be made nearly impossible. I doubt the shutdown will affect me unless it last for a substantial period of time.  However, with NIH unable to accept grants at this time, all R-series grants which are due in October will be delayed, potentially affecting peoples’ careers and funds.  Unless the budget agreement to re-open the government includes cuts to NIH I doubt it will affect research as a whole.”

Justin Ryder, Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Ph.D. candidate

Do you feel that this shut down even if only momentarily will have a lasting impact on the scientific and research communities?

“I think for biomedical and basic scientists and others who depend on NIH funding for research support this is just another painful episode amid recent cuts which unfortunately reflects a lack of investment in science. For many, if things do not change 

(which is doubtful considering the difficult funding situation currently), the academic route is looking less and less feasible (especially considering that less than ~10% of our peers will secure a tenure track position during their career). So, while I do not think the shut down will have a lasting effect if it ends (<1 month), it is not an encouraging sign of any coming relief for US scientists.”

Patrick Blackburn, Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Ph.D. candidate

What advice would you give to young biomedical trainees entering the research arena? 

“It is an unfortunate fact that a significant portion of research funding is obtained from government agencies with the NIH being the most prominent. It is an unabashedly non-political entity with the sole purpose of improving the health of all Americans through research and clinical translation of laboratory based findings. The negative impact that a government shutdown has on research funding from NIH is not unlike the hardships posed on many innocent government workers who have been furloughed by political negligence. The best advice is the same as always – be fully committed to your research in order to make the most progress possible while always keeping an eye on ways to make your finding clinically relevant as this is an area that will continue to grow in importance. Additionally, it appears more important than ever that researchers become more involved in the larger political arena by expressing their views to their elected representatives on a regular basis highlighting the important role that funding plays in the nation’s health and the tremendous return on investment that has been returned over the years in a variety of diseases.”

Joseph Loftus Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Mayo Clinic Arizona

 “I doubt that the current government shutdown will significantly impact our research in the short term. It may cause some inconvenience to the researchers who are near deadlines for grant submissions or are waiting on the decisions from NIH on their previous submissions. What matters most is the long-term commitment of the federal government to support research.”

Jun Liu, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic Arizona 

We would like to hear your opinion.

Please leave comments for further discussion.

1. Kingkade, Tyler. “Research Plans Thrown Off Course After Government Shutdown.” Huffington Post, 03 Oct. 2013.

2. Stratford, Michael. “Locked Out of the Library.” Inside Higher Ed, 03 Oct. 2013.

3. Shear, Michael D. “On Day 1, Parks Close, Workers Stay Home and ‘Panda Cam’ Goes Dark.” New York Times, 01 Oct. 2013.

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