I just started my postdoc. I want to pursuit academic career afterwards. I have learned that research funding is very competitive. In USA, how important is getting fundings for a professor, tenure and tenure track? How important is the publication on your first funding application?
As a postdoc, what can I do to prepare for successful funding application?
Any suggestion would be appreciated.
Publications are key to getting any type of substantial academic funding and funding is the best way (and maybe the only way) of securing a future academic position.
In addition to publishing high quality papers the best way of preparing yourself not only for a funding application but also regarding getting career advice and support is to do networking. One obvious starting point if your current postdoc advisor. In addition talk with people that are a few years ahead of yourself in the career path and area of research that you are interested in and get their advice on how you should prepare and also more specific advice regarding which grants that you may want to look at etc.
I don't know if things have changed in the 25 years since I was looking for an academic position, and my experience was in engineering and chemistry so it might not be applicable to your field. That said, your ability to land an initial tenure-track position depends highly on your success as a grad student/post-doc, and on the recommendations you're able to garther. If you have some top names saying "you should take a look at this person", that's going to make your life much easier.
Initial funding may or may not be an issue. I went to a smaller program at a Tier 2 school, so I did not get much in the way of start-up funds. My post-doc advisor, on the other hand, was able to negotiate a significant start-up fund. It depends on the program - and on your ability and potential.
Down the road, despite all the fancy words people use, tenure is typically dependent on your ability to bring in funding, while funding is highly dependent on publications. It's possible to get funding without publications, but not that common. Publications - by themselves - are generally not sufficient, though.
The competition for funding is fierce right now and it is only getting tougher. If you do not have funding, you will not get tenure. I am not sure what your research area is, but this is especially true with biomedical research. Publications are very important, and crucial with getting funding (you will have a hard time getting funding without publications). The best way to prepare for applications is to go through the process now. There are many postdoctoral fellowships that you can apply for through NIH, NSF, etc. They won't be as involved as grants you would need for a professor position, but it will give you an introduction to the process. There are also numerous training resources out there as well. If interested in finding additional resources, please let me know and I can provide you with some information.