As Americans across the country feel the effects of the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history, a Hope College student finds that it could impact one of the most important decisions of her life: where she goes to graduate school. Senior chemistry student Grace Kunkel has applied for a graduate fellowship, which could make her a more appealing candidate for more competitive schools. Whether or not she is awarded the fellowship could determine whether or not she is accepted at these universities, but the board that reviews these grants cannot submit any new reviews until the government reopens.
This delay might be a result of a cybersecurity concern—the board may lack the resources it needs to maintain a sufficient level of security to protect research proposals. Grace explained that this security is crucial—without it, larger institutions with more resources could potentially copy Hope’s proposed projects. Now that the agency can no longer ensure the privacy of proposals, their review process has ground to a halt. With the deadline to inform graduate schools of her decision approaching in April, the implications of the delay compound the stress of this season of Grace’s life. Grace is not the only person at Hope who is affected by the shutdown.
Hope’s Director of Sponsored Research and Programs, Ronald Fleischmann, says that Hope has seven grant proposals under review by agencies that are currently closed and eight more with a partner institution that receives funding from another closed agency. The faculty who have submitted these proposals won’t receive a decision until the agencies reopen. Because many of these projects were scheduled to begin at the end of the spring semester or the beginning of the summer, a delay in funding decisions might impact whether Hope students will be able to work on them over the summer. In addition, projects that are funded incrementally—meaning their awards are given on an ongoing basis instead of all at once—will eventually run out of time and resources unless the shutdown ends. Scientific research is being delayed and disrupted not just at Hope but across the country.
The Washington Post reports that thousands of scientists who work directly for the federal government have been furloughed. Besides causing these employees to miss paychecks, the furloughs could stall a multitude of government-sponsored scientific efforts including developing effective drug policies, protecting endangered species and exploring new treatments for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Researchers who don’t work for the government but who rely on federal grant money may lose precious time on highly sensitive projects or find themselves unable to proceed with new ones. With every day the shutdown continues, scientists throughout the United States share a growing concern over the loss of funding and progress.
On Sunday, the partial government shutdown that began on December 22 broke the previous 21-day record and became the longest in U.S. history. As President Trump holds out against compromise with Congress on appropriating funds for a border wall, there is no clear end in sight. Despite the uncertainty that surrounds the future of both her country and her education, Grace Kunkel has chosen to stay optimistic. She’s grateful for the graduate school acceptances she’s already received and excited about her upcoming visits to four of the universities this spring. Even so, she’s frustrated by the delay in the decision about her grant. “I know it will all work out in the end,” she said, “I just wish it wasn’t happening now.”