What are we doing to justify all that time we’re budgeting?

Steve Simon


An email discussion about the appropriate percentage effort on research grants has produced a lot of interesting discussions. One person raised an interesting question. The typical data analysis, he claimed, might involve a few hours reviewing the input data set, a few hours conducting the analysis and a few hours preparing a statistical summary, but even after a generous estimate of the work at each of the time points, he could only come up with 22 hours of effort, which corresponds roughly with a 1% FTE. I wrote back describing some of the things that might occur before the data analysis that might add time to this effort.

I have to respond to the estimate that a typical effort on a research grant might involve, at most, 22 hours of effort. To be honest, there are settings where this happens for me, but more often than not, I put in a lot more than 22 hours of effort. This includes:

* helping write documents for IRB, and responding to questions from the IRB,

* preparation of data collection systems,

* review of questionnaires,

* development of randomization tables,

* regular and on-going reviews of data as it is being collected,

* discussions about small refinements and sometimes major changes in the protocol during the study.

This all comes before the data analysis. Once the data analysis is done, however, there is still more work to prepare the manuscript. I find that the estimates of 4 to 6 hours are a gross underestimate, mostly because the people I work with have a lot of trouble writing and I end up reviewing and revising their work a lot.

It is also fairly common to see two or three distinct publications coming from the same research grant. I’m sure that I left out a lot of things here, but even with just the things that I did mention, it would certainly require much more than 22 hours of effort.