Re your last two paragraphs: a few years ago I wrote down a list of the ten papers I most admired in quantum computing. So far as I know, not a single one of them was funded, except in the broadest possible sense (e.g., undirected fellowship money, that kind of thing). Yet the great majority of work on quantum computing is funded projects, often well funded. My conclusion was that if you’re doing something fundable, then it’s probably not very interesting. (This applies less so to experimental work.)
This, of course, is quite a depressing idea: that the best work is funded at best indirectly by the powers that be. But it hadn’t occurred to me until much more recently that I, as someone who regularly applies for funding can do something about this problem: “My good ideas (all two of them)? Sorry Mr. Funding Agency, I’m not going to let you fund them!” And there is a bonus that if you submit something to an agency and they won’t fund it: well you can live under the illusion that you are doing might make the list of really important research.
Actually I’ve very proud of one research proposal I wrote that got rejected. The reviewers said “this work raises interesting questions” and then “but it’s just too crazy for us.” I mean it sucks to get rejected, but if you’re getting rejected because you’re just too crazy, well then at least you’re eccentric! (A similar story was my dream of becoming a ski bum after getting my Ph.D. in theoretical physics. I mean anyone can be a liftie, but a liftie with a degree in physics? Now that would set you apart! Lifties with Ph.D.s in physics please leave a note in the comment section of this blog 🙂 )