It's been a rough patch over the past two or three years for many NIH-funded research programs. This is not news. The NIH budget flatlines, combined with inflation in the cost of doing biomedical research (BRDPI is a well understood acronym by now), resulted in a budget that undoubled the doubling period. The growth in the research infrastructure that was facilitated by the doubling of the NIH budget had to be pared back. Painfully.
In many ways we are starting to partially adjust. PIs have closed or slimmed their shops. Departed all-soft-money jobs for lower profile institutions with hard money. Left for industry. Decreased the size of their labs. The NIH grant pressure has (seemingly) slackened a bit. Whether because of the reduced demand, because NIH ICs finally got their houses in order and smoothed the payout stream or because some of the 5yr commitments from the end of the doubling finally started to subside I don't know. Things seem ever so slightly better in the past 6-9 mo.
And now, the other shoe is falling. The local Universities are going broke and putting another squeeze on the research scientists.
Going broke may be a bit excessive, but as the Economist detailed, Universities that rely on income from huge endowments to keep the lights on are feeling the pinch. Harvard is freezing salaries and new hires and talk of 10% cuts are rumored. Yale, long touted to have a genius investor/manager at the helm of their investment portfolio, recently announced that they are hurting as well. One of the largest state University systems is belt-tightening and professors are unhappy.
These are but a few examples. I have been hearing near weekly from colleagues at various US institutions about the latest problem. Hiring freezes announced. Cutbacks requested. Salary freezes and reductions announced. Institutional support funds are disappearing. Major infrastructure promises (read: lab space) rescinded.
People are very, very concerned. And make no mistake, this affects the research output in a myriad of ways.
It is interesting that earlier in the year the NIH was talking, here and there, about shifting the funding burden back towards the local institutions. Of requiring more of the much bandied "institutional commitment" in partnership with NIH awards. These recent moves by the local institutions shows that there is no magic pool of local leprechaun gold just waiting to help the NIH fund the research it wants in these economic times.
There is very little constructive to say since the economic woes are at root of this. At the least PIs, you should understand that you are not alone. Many Universities are in trouble and putting the squeeze on their research labs. "Where's my overhead?" "I finally got my grants funded and I want the space you committed to, dammit!" "Fire all those bloody administrators and vice-deans of whatsit you just hired, we're the *golden goose you idiots!" .... I hear this all the time. (No, not just coming out of my mouth.) Most of us are in the same boat or soon will be.
How about you, DearReader? Is your institution flush with cash and laughing at everyone else?
*Update: No really, the golden goose.