This was originally written and published on Walking in My Science Shoes  

10 Differences Between the Habits of the Rich and the Poor That Explain a  Lot Image source


I have always been that person in the first Tweet. I wholeheartedly wanted to write this after reading this article from ASBMB titled “Research on a budget” as I could relate to it very well.


Suffice to say, not everyone in science can view things with the same lens because of their financial capacity for research. Perhaps my aim here is to create a bit of awareness around how research is so reliant on budgets.



Do you need post-docs and PhD students to publish? When I went to the US for the first time, I learnt that there are research groups relying on undergraduates and Masters students to carry out projects and to publish. I was very surprised these situations existed and people could still publish in good journals like the Journal of Cell Biology. These groups have no PhD students, no post-docs yet accomplish this feat with short-term rotating students. It was then I learnt how arduous US grad school training can be compared to Australia. Undergraduates I met there felt like PhD students here. I was very surprised by their level of intelligence. Do you necessarily need an expensive post-doc? Maybe not?



The cheaper alternative works just as well. Who needs Lipofectamine? Make polyethylenimine (PEI) for transfecting your HEK293T cells (other relevant links at SIGMA and Dartmouth). I know a lab that is very well-funded yet still make their own PEI for transfecting cells. In fact it works better than Lipofectamine in some cell lines. Did you also know you can make your own media up by dissolving powder and adjusting the pH? In fact the powder lasts longer and from my vague memory of budgeting, you get 9 times the volume of media for the same cost of getting it in liquid form readily available.


And there are a whole range of things like making your own competent cells for transformation, making a variety of frequently used molecular biology reagents and so on. In the long run one may argue is it worth the labor? I’ve been on both sides, and my answer is if you’re well-off then by all means buy it as it is NOT worth the labor.



Experiments are not always feasible. Reviewers nowadays are asking a lot. Then again, they ask a lot even in the old days. I’d imagine back then when a simple PCR would cost a lot of money, the poorly funded would not be able to immediately do those experiments. With the advent of newer genome editing technology, high end structural biology and analytical chemistry tools, it seems there are scientists that think everyone has the same access to these. I can confidently tell you that asking for a recombinant protein from when I did my PhD was something that required a fair bit of costs consideration. Also, my protein is a membrane protein and notoriously difficult for protein work so take that!



Opting for the cheaper services. Having said that, in Australia we’re not too bad as most places do have PhD students. There were two main sequencing services in my research environment during my PhD, one was the Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics and the other was Australian Genome Research Facility. We would send ours to whichever was cheaper. I also had a friend who would send samples to South Korea for sequencing, which was apparently cheaper and faster than our in-house Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics. There you go, Macrogen for the win! While I was in Shanghai for 3 weeks, one of the things that impressed me was how cheap science was in China given they can make everything and anything in their own country. Having said that, higher expenses were still accounted for. We would take a cab to get to an animal holding facility 30 – 40 minutes away by car to do mouse work because it was cheaper there. Oh cabs were very cheap by the way.



How much do we really know about the rest of the world or even other labs? There are days I wonder just how many people carry out research on a budget and what do they do to manage? We don’t see enough of it on the internet but you do see the occasional threads on ResearchGate. As for the scene in the US, only Americans would be more aware. I most certainly was not aware until I went there and learnt of the varying education systems (community colleges, universities, and so on). For the funding situation, it varies from country to country as well (FranceJapanSpainAustralia). Whatever you see on Twitter is still country-specific, which makes it hard to get a good representation, but certainly still useful if you’re considering to move countries to carry out research.



I most certainly am eager to learn of new ways that people carry out research on a budget. How many times you can use that kit? Probably way more. Do you need an expensive post-doc? Probably not?