As of Friday, my startup funding has been spent: $0.00 remains. Those were the salad days. I feel really good about all that my lab has accomplished in the last 5.5 years, though of course I’ve had funds trickling in from many other sources. But it is interesting to think back on that $300k and what happened to it. There are just so many things that you don’t necessarily realize about running a lab, negotiating with the bureaucracy of a university, managing students, and just so many opportunities for poor decisions in purchasing.

I have a Bio-Rad vertical gel rig that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been successfully incorporated into a research project in 5 years. That is close to $5,000 worth of a pain-in-the-neck gizmo that just doesn’t perform half as well as the vertical rigs I used in Tom Turner’s lab, combined with the shift in methodology that has put SSCP and other fragment analysis protocols way back on our back burner. But I can’t sell it on it shall sit, hopefully we can find a use at some point. It has a nice big buffer tank, perhaps I should catch some minnows and make a small aquarium out of it (with temperature control!)?

How many frantic purchases with Applied Biosystems or other companies did I make before realizing that each one of those purchases had a hidden $30-40 shipping cost (dry ice, overnight)?

What about the half-broken chair I inherited in my office? I was told that furniture purchases on my startup funding HAD to be through Chastain’s, a furniture place in downtown Athens. Nothing against that business, but the amount of time I spent bouncing on the 5-6 models available in their showroom, only to leave with a $500 chair charged against my startup, would have been better spend buying three chairs from IKEA on my own credit card. Then I could have had different colors for my changing moods as a young professor.

Most importantly, I would have loved to have had the same amount of money with so few strings attached NOW. Just the few examples of poor expenditures noted above, add those up: I could have a draft transcriptome of any species I want for that amount of money. I could have picked a small group of related species, say the freshwater mussels that we worked on, and dramatically improved our marker availability, understanding of molecular evolution, and so on for just 1/10th of that initial startup package.

But that’s how science rolls. We make mistakes. Technology changes. And we keep writing grant proposals to move on.