Yesterday I was informed that I was awarded a small grant. It's only $35k/yr. for two years. Still, that's enough to pay for a pair of hands in the lab for two years. It's enough to get a new project up and running, and to generate the preliminary data needed for a large grant application. And it's enough to keep my lab afloat should my NSF renewal (submitted last week) not be funded first time through.
Many department chairs (and deans) in colleges of medicine tend to think it's NIH R01's or nothing. Maybe an NSF grant, but clearly that's 2nd class money. Small grants such as those given out by many foundations? Complete waste of time. This is a very short-sighted view and, when NIH funding rates are low as is currently the case, can be damaging. Fortunately my chair doesn't think that way. And of course neither do I. In fact my chair, despite having 3 R01's, still applies for the occasional small grant. He uses them to try out new projects/ideas.
Don't get me wrong. One can't, and shouldn't attempt to, run a research program funded solely by small grants. And you cannot, and shouldn't, be awarded tenure if that's all the funding you have (at least not in a research intensive science department). And deans tend to dislike them because they either don't pay indirect costs or pay a small percentage.
[For my non-science readers, indirect costs are funds taken from a grant to pay for infrastructure (ie electricity, phone service, buildings, maintenance etc.). Dean's like this money - the more they have, the more power they have. Hence their dislike of grants that don't provide such funds.]
Still, small grants are wonderful things. As I noted above, they're good for starting new projects, paying for an extra warm body, and, if necessary, bridging lapses in more major funding.