Hope

(by drugmonkey) Dec 07 2016

I recently attended a scientific meeting with which I've had an uncomfortable relationship for years. When I first heard about the topic domain and focus of this meeting as a trainee I was amazed. "This is just the right home for me and my interests in science", I thought. And, scientifically this was, and still is, the case.

I should love this meeting and this academic society.

This has not been the case, very likely because of the demographics of the society (guess) in addition to a few other....lets call them unusual academic society tics.

This year was a distinct improvement. It isn't here yet but I can see a youth wave about to crash into the shore. This swell of younger scientists (stretching from postdoc to nearly-tenured) looks more like modern science to me. Demographically, and on many dimensions.

This gives me hope for the future of this academic meeting.

17 responses so far

Creeping infantilization of scientists

(by drugmonkey) Dec 05 2016

I recently attended a scientific meeting during which it was made clear that their prize for young investigators had an age cutoff of 50 or younger.

Now the award was not literally titled "for Young Investigators" as so many are, but the context was clear. A guy who looks phenotypically like a solidly mid-career, even approaching-senior, was described as a "rising star" by the award presenter.

This is ridiculous.

It is more of this creeping infantilization of generations of scientists by the preceding one (Boomers) or two (preWar) generations. The generations who were Full Professors by age 40.

This is all of a part with grant reviews that wring hands over the "risk" of handing an R01 over to a 30 year old. Or a 38 year old.

I think we need to resist this.

Hold the line at 40 years of age on early-career or young-investigator awards. If your society is such that it only starts the awards at mid-career, make this clear. Call them "established stars" instead of "rising stars".

25 responses so far

Really, it's normal

(by drugmonkey) Dec 01 2016

It's okay. It's perfectly natural and healthy. Everyone does it, you know. I mean, it's not like anyone brags about it but they do it. Regularly. So go ahead and don't feel ashamed.
Continue Reading »

34 responses so far

I blew it, here's the version of 21st Century Cures that was passed by the House

(by drugmonkey) Dec 01 2016

ooops.

I had the wrong version. Thanks to Jocelyn Kaiser of Science mag for alerting me.

The 21st Century Cures site is here and I think the right version of the bill is here in PDF form.

12 responses so far

Overtime rules

(by drugmonkey) Nov 30 2016

So. A federal judge* managed to put a hold on Obama's move to increase the threshold for overtime exemption. Very likely any challenge to this will fail to succeed before a new Administration takes over the country. Most would bet there will be no backing for Obama's plans under the new regime.

NIH is planning to steam ahead with their NRSA salary guidelines that met the Obama rule. Workplaces are left in a quandary. Many have announced their policies and issued notification of raises to some employees. Now they are not being forced to do so, at the last hour.

My HR department has signaled no recent changes in plans. Postdocs will get raises up to the Obama threshold. There are some other categories affected but I've seen no announcement of any hold on those plans either.

How about you folks? What are your various HR departments going to do in light of the de facto halt on Obama's plans!

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*activist judge

53 responses so far

Commercial airlines now refusing to transport lab mice

(by drugmonkey) Nov 28 2016

Via ScienceMag:

Twenty-nine transgenic mice that two Spanish airlines had refused to transport hitched a ride to the Canary Islands on a military plane Friday and are now at their final destination

Y'all looked away when they stopped shipping purpose bred non-human primate laboratory subjects. "Oh please", you thought, "there is no way anyone gives a care about genetic mouse models".

Guess what? You were wrong and Niemöller's principle rules the day.

14 responses so far

Giving Thanks

(by drugmonkey) Nov 24 2016

On this day in the US we celebrate the things for which we are thankful.

I am thankful for the support of the taxpayers of this country who fund scientific research grants so that we all can advance knowledge and improve health.

I am thankful for the hard work of all of the science technicians who anchor the laboratories.

I am thankful for all of the support staff that let research Universities, hospitals and Institutes operate.

I am thankful for all of the scientific trainees who pour their intellects and energy into discovery. 

I am thankful for the Professors and Principle Investigators who struggle mightily to keep all the balls in the air so that the science they love can advance in their own laboratories.

I am also thankful for you, Dear Readers. Thanks for another fun year of discussions on the blog.

11 responses so far

Foreign Applicant Institution NIH Grants

(by drugmonkey) Nov 21 2016

The NIH allows non-US Universities and other institutions to apply for NIH grants. I don't pay much attention to this issue so I don't know how many.
What I am curious about is whether the PIs who review have noticed anything about these applications. How are they received in study sections you have attended? Is there a high bar for the unique environment or capabilities? 
I believe I was on study section during a transition where the foreign applications were essentially treated like domestic apps to where there was intense skepticism. This was around the mid-naughties, approximately a decade ago. 
I'm curious what you folks are seeing. 

26 responses so far

Grant Supplements and Diversity Efforts

(by drugmonkey) Nov 18 2016

The NIH announced an "encouragement" for NIMH BRAINI PIs to apply for the availability of Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Admin Supp).

Administrative supplements for those who are unaware, are extra amounts of money awarded to an existing NIH grant. These are not reviewed by peer reviewers in a competitive manner. The decision lies entirely with Program Staff*. The Diversity supplement program in my experience and understanding amounts to a fellowship- i.e., mostly just salary support - for a qualifying trainee. (Blog note: Federal rules on underrepresentation apply....this thread will not be a place to argue about who is properly considered an underrepresented individual, btw.) The BRANI-directed the encouragement lays out the intent:

The NIH diversity supplement program offers an opportunity for existing BRAIN awardees to request additional funds to train and mentor the next generation of researchers from underrepresented groups who will contribute to advancing the goals of the BRAIN Initiative. Program Directors/Principal Investigators (PDs/PIs) of active BRAIN Initiative research program grants are thus encouraged to identify individuals from groups nationally underrepresented to support and mentor under the auspices of the administrative supplement program to promote diversity. Individuals from the identified groups are eligible throughout the continuum from high school to the faculty level. The activities proposed in the supplement application must fall within the scope of the parent grant, and both advance the objectives of the parent grant and support the research training and professional development of the supplement candidate. BRAIN Initiative PDs/PIs are strongly encouraged to incorporate research education activities that will help prepare the supplement candidate to conduct rigorous research relevant to the goals of the BRAIN Initiative

I'll let you read PA-16-288 for the details but we're going to talk generally about the Administrative Supplement process so it is worth reprinting this bit:

Administrative supplement, the funding mechanism being used to support this program, can be used to cover cost increases that are associated with achieving certain new research objectives, as long as the research objectives are within the original scope of the peer reviewed and approved project, or the cost increases are for unanticipated expenses within the original scope of the project. Any cost increases need to result from making modifications to the project that would increase or preserve the overall impact of the project consistent with its originally approved objectives and purposes.

Administrative supplements come in at least three varieties, in my limited experience. [N.b. You can troll RePORTER for supplements using "S1" or "S2" in the right hand field for the Project Number / Activity Code search limiter. Unfortunately I don't think you get much info on what the supplement itself is for.] The support for underrepresented trainees is but one category. There are also topic-directed FOAs that are issued now and again because a given I or C wishes to quickly spin up research on some topic or other. Sex differences. Emerging health threats. Etc. Finally, there are those one might categorize within the "unanticipated expenses" and "increase or preserve the overall impact of the project" clauses in the block I've quoted above.

I first became aware of the Administrative Supplement in this last context. I was OUTRAGED, let me tell you. It seemed to be a way by which the well-connected and highly-established use their pet POs to enrich their programs beyond what they already had via competition. Some certain big labs seemed to be constantly supplemented on one award or other. Me, I sure had "unanticipated expenses" when I was just getting started. I had plenty of things that I could have used a few extra modules of cash to pay for to enhance the impact of my projects. I did not have any POs looking to hand me any supplements unasked and when I hinted very strongly** about my woes there was no help to be had***. I did not like administrative supplements as practiced one bit. Nevertheless, I was young and still believed in the process. I believed that I needn't pursue the supplement avenue too hard because I was going to survive into the mid career stretch and just write competing apps for what I needed. God, I was naive.

Perhaps. Perhaps if I'd fought harder for supplements they would have been awarded. Or maybe not.

When I became aware of the diversity supplements, I became an instant fan. This was much more palatable. It meant that at any time a funded PI found a likely URM recruit to science, they could get the support within about 6 weeks. Great for summer research experiences for undergrads, great for unanticipated postdocs. This still seems like a very good thing to me. Good for the prospective trainees. Good for diversity-in-science goals.

The trouble is that from the perspective of the PIs in the audience, this is just another rich-get-richer scheme whereby free labor is added to the laboratory accounts of the already advantaged "haves" of the NIH game. Salary is freed up on the research grants to spend on more toys, reagents or yet another postdoc. This mechanism is only available to a PI who has research grant funding that has a year or more left to run. Since it remains an administrative decision it is also subject to buddy-buddy PI/PO relationship bias. Now, do note that I have always heard from POs in my ICs of closest concern that they "don't expend all the funds allocated" for these URM supplements. I don't know what to make of that but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if any PI with a qualified award, who asks for support of a qualified individual gets one. That would take the buddy/buddy part out of the equation for this particular type of administrative supplement.

It took awhile for me to become aware of the FOA version of the administrative supplement whereby Program was basically issuing a cut-rate RFA. The rich still get richer but at least there is a call for open competition. Not like the first variety I discussed whereby it seems like only some PIs, but not others, are even told by the PO that a supplement might be available. This seems slightly fairer to me although again, you have to be in the funded-PI club already to take advantage

There are sometimes competing versions of the FOA for a topic-based supplement issued as well. In one case I am familiar with, both types were issued simultaneously. I happen to know quite a bit about that particular scenario and it was interesting to see the competing variety actually were quite bad. I wished I'd gone in for the competing ones instead of the administrative variety****, let me tell you.

The primary advantage of the administrative supplement to Program, in my viewing, is that it is fast. No need to wait for the grant review cycle. These and the competing supplements are also cheap and can be efficient, because of leverage from the activities and capabilities under the already funded award.

As per usual, I have three main goals with this post. First, if you are an underrepresented minority trainee it is good to be aware of this. Not all PIs are and not all think about it. Not to mention they don't necessarily know if you qualify for one of these. I'd suggest bringing it up in conversations with a prospective lab you wish to join. Second, if you are a noob PI I encourage you to be aware of the supplement process and to take advantage of it as you might.

Finally, DearReader, I turn to you and your views on Administrative Supplements. Good? Bad? OUTRAGE?

__
COI DISCLAIMER: I've benefited from administrative supplements under each of the three main categories I've outlined and I would certainly not turn up my nose at any additional ones in the future.

*I suppose it is not impossible that in some cases outside input is solicited.

**complained vociferously

***I have had a few enraging conversations long after the fact with POs who said things like "Why didn't you ask for help?" in the wake of some medium sized disaster with my research program. I keep to myself the fact that I did, and nobody was willing to go to bat for me until it was too late but...whatevs.

****I managed to get all the way to here without emphasizing that even for the administrative supplements you have to prepare an application. It might not be as extensive as your typical competing application but it is much more onerous than Progress Report. Research supplements look like research grants. Fellowship-like supplements look like fellowships complete with training plan.

20 responses so far

Surgeon General Murthy Issues A Report on Facing Addiction

(by drugmonkey) Nov 18 2016

Surgeon General's Report On Alcohol, Drugs and Health can be found at addiction.surgeongeneral.gov. You may be particularly interested in the Executive Summary [PDF] or the chapter on the Neurobiology of Addiction [PDF].

There was also a brief interview with the Surgeon General on NPR.

A few factoids from the Executive Summary:

In 2015, substance use disorders affected 20.8 million Americans—almost 8 percent of the adolescent and adult population. That number is similar to the number of people who suffer from diabetes, and more than 1.5 times the annual prevalence of all cancers combined (14 million). Of the 20.8 million people with a substance use disorder in 2015, 15.7 million were in need of treatment for an alcohol problem in 2015 and nearly 7.7 million needed treatment for an illicit drug problem.

Substance use disorder treatment in the United States remains largely segregated from the rest of health care and serves only a fraction of those in need of treatment. Only about 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder receive any type of specialty treatment. Further, over 40 percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition, yet fewer than half (48.0 percent) receive treatment for either disorder.

Treatment is effective. As with other chronic, relapsing medical conditions, treatment can manage the symptoms of substance use disorders and prevent relapse. Rates of relapse following treatment for substance use disorders are comparable to those of other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. More than 25 million individuals with a previous substance use disorder are in remission and living healthy, productive lives.

For instance, people who first use alcohol before age 15 are four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol at some time in their lives than are those who have their first drink at age 20 or older. Nearly 70 percent of those who try an illicit drug before the age of 13 develop a substance use disorder in the next 7 years, compared with 27 percent of those who first try an illicit drug after the age of 17. Although substance misuse problems can develop later in life, preventing or even just delaying young people from trying substances is important for reducing the likelihood of more serious problems later on.

Many more people now die from alcohol and drug overdoses each year than are killed in automobile accidents. The opioid crisis is fueling this trend with nearly 30,000 people dying due to an overdose on heroin or prescription opioids in 2014. An additional roughly 20,000 people died as a result of an unintentional overdose of alcohol, cocaine, or non-opioid prescription drugs.

emphasis added.

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