YHN is clearly losing it

Feb 06 2009 Published by under Day in the life of DrugMonkey

I find myself in complete agreement with something MsPhD posted at Young Female Scientist:

1. NIH should allow ANYONE AND EVERYONE with a PhD to apply for ALL GRANTS.

Yeah. Open marketplace to compete with your scientific ideas, no gatekeepers like search committees and deans, eh? and in some senses isn't the K99/R00 most of the way there?
Am I really agreeing with MsPhD?
okay, okay, phew. I have some disagreements with the rest of the post, all is well.
but then I happened across an earlier bit:

My thesis lab went broke when I was about halfway through grad school. I didn't know how much more I needed to do, or what it would cost, much less how much longer it would take.
...
Anyway so back in grad school when this happened, the dean gave me some good advice. He told me to put my nose to the grindstone. So I did. That was good for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. It was also bad in some ways I regret more now than I did then. But mostly it was good, and I'm not sure my thesis would have turned out the way it did if I hadn't. I think of my thesis as a solid piece of work, and it's at least partly due to that grindstone-on-nose effect.
I think the key thing was that I was so determined to graduate and show those fuckers in my department that I could do it on the cheap, that I ended up convincing not just them but also myself.

wait...did I say "bit"? I meant epic. As in Beowulf. Go read the whole thing.
It makes sense to me.
Clearly I am losing it.

27 responses so far

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Clearly. YFS believes that if only she were allowed to submit a grant, she would KICK TEH A$$ of NIH, her PI, and all those who have wronged her.
    C'mon -- what kind of triage nightmare would befall these applications? What would be the point?
    But then I suppose I am merely supporting white male privilege.

  • Believe it or not, I was reading YFS even before you guys - hell, even before I had my own blog. Her travails were one of the reasons I got involved in this whole discussion.
    I still contend that she still misunderstands industry and should really give it a shot, hell, maybe even just go for an interview. But her's is a voice that has motivated me, even when I disagree.
    These posts are pure gold. She clearly has what it takes - she just needs to get in a less toxic environment.

  • Pinus says:

    Some might argue that the K99 has too many restrictions on it to be a true open-market type solution. But certainly, it is a step in the right direction.

  • becca says:

    True open-market would dictate non-USian individuals (perhaps not even doing research in the US) would have a shot. As someone who reeks of USian priviledge, I'm not particularly wild about that, although it would be interesting.
    More to the point, doesn't NIH officially 'allow' pretty much anyone to submit a grant? I seem to remember a particular story about a PI who managed to do some pretty impressive science without a PhD (though she may have been HHMI funded- my memory is dim). Aren't the rules based on job title at the institutional level?
    I also wonder that if they changed their rules, if the people doing the gatekeeping into universities would suddenly get much pickier. At least inasmuch as anyone who might be applying for grants would have to be trustworthy enough that they would not waste the grants in ways embaressing to the institution. Which might be good or bad, but would likely add bureaucracy.

  • expat postdoc says:

    re#4: "True open-market would dictate non-USian individuals (perhaps not even doing research in the US) would have a shot. As someone who reeks of USian priviledge, I'm not particularly wild about that, although it would be interesting."
    my response: The NIH does fund F32s for US citizens abroad (I have one). In addition, my Sponsor has an R01 and is not a US citizen and doesn't work within the US.
    I agree that these are the minority of the situations (I think there were only 5 F32s NOT based in the US this FY), but they do exist.

  • neurolover says:

    I think the flaw in this idea is that no matter how much we pretend, it's simply impossible to determine the merit of a proposed project in a 12-20 page application, and even more so when we're asked to rank the applications (making 1% decisions) rather than grouping them in five groups, or something like that.
    By letting others do gatekeeping, too, we add criterion outside of the 12 page application. Is that gatekeeping bad? perhaps, but I don't think it would be worse than that done in the study section.
    (Oh, and I think that as long as the NIH has a rule that you're not allowed to write federal grants while being funded off grant money, that it should be impossible to be 100% supported of federal grants).

  • cashmoney says:

    Oh, and I think that as long as the NIH has a rule that you're not allowed to write federal grants while being funded off grant money, that it should be impossible to be 100% supported of federal grants
    My job only pays me for 40 hr/wk, says so right on my pay paperwork that lists my hourly rate, despite being essentially a salaried employee. Obviously I write my grants on my own time....:-)

  • JD says:

    "NIH should allow ANYONE AND EVERYONE with a PhD to apply for ALL GRANTS."
    Isn't some sort of institutional affiliation a guard (even if weak) against fraud? These are multi-million dollar grants and the temptation to mismanage is high.
    Or is this an issue with only professors being allowed to write grants? I am positive that rule can be relaxed to allow post-docs and research scientists to apply at my institution (although it's a dreadful process to do so as a post-doc).
    But I must admit to not seeing what the key issue is.

  • neurolover says:

    "My job only pays me for 40 hr/wk, says so right on my pay paperwork that lists my hourly rate, despite being essentially a salaried employee. Obviously I write my grants on my own time....:-)"
    At some universities, they make you undergo "compliance" training that explicitly points out that you cannot use the 40/week for the feds, the rest for me. They even make you do calculations, like, "Jenny works 80 hours per week, and is paid for 50% of her time off a federal grant, how much time is that? Louis works 40 hours per week and is paid for 80% of his time off a federal grant, how much time is that?" and "You are paid 50% of one federal grant and 50% off of another. One grant is not renewed. How do you allocate your time?"
    So, this question might be a point of litigation some day, but I think the current NIH instruction is that you are not being asked to work more than 40/week, but that if you do, they're buying 100% of your time.
    There's also all kinds of fun stuff about what counts as "work." NIH grants a special exception for themselves about serving on study section -- you're allowed to do that, even if they're paying for 100% of your time. You're not allowed to teach, though. Not sure if you're allowed to "volunteer" at your children's school and tell them about your science.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    JD, I am not suggesting that anyone be able to accept the award for studies in their garage or spare bedroom. I think of it like the K99/R00.
    The idea being that your ideas should be out there competing with everyone else's. Get an award and then go looking for a job*.
    To address on obvious objection: It already takes many months from review to funding and in the case of the K99/R00 maybe four years from peer review to a person being able to start the research part of the award.
    *One big mystery is whether the K99/R00 is actually working in terms of facilitating junior investigators' job search. The original idea being that they go out and obtain an offer which does not try and screw the person on the basis of having the award in hand. Screwing in terms of the offered startup package, I mean. I am reasonably familiar with five of these awards at present and I see no evidence that the job search has been strongly facilitated. Jobs are being obtained but the process seems just as hard as for anyone else

  • pinus says:

    I know of 3 instances where a K99 aided in getting a job, although I can't speak to whether it was easy.

  • Alex says:

    So, how would this work? If any postdoc can write a grant, what does that postdoc get upon the funding of the grant? A soft money position? Tenure track position?
    I like the idea of something akin to a fellowship for a long-term staff scientist who has his/her own money and just needs to find a lab to work in. That seems to be a plausible approach to the problem of too many PhD's and not enough PI positions. If the grant is funded, the staff scientist presumably is only paying his/her own salary and maybe some supplies, so not contributing to the continued exponential growth of too many PhD's chasing too few PI jobs. And if the grant isn't renewed, one person gets hurt, but at least a lot of trainees don't get taken down in the process.
    Letting anyone write an R01 and then get, say, a soft money position and lab, well, that would presumably mean running a lab, hiring trainees, etc. Seems like a way to continue the exponential growth of science only with PIs who have even less security.

  • JD says:

    re: DM #10;
    It was my understanding that it was already possible for post-doctoral fellows to apply for R01 (at least I've met people who did it) and I am positive that Research Scientists can do so.
    I like the principle of what you are saying but I have 3 concerns:
    1) Institutions often dislike awards being applied to through the institution and then leaving
    2) Logistics -- how can you describe a research environment that might exist if you get a job. What happens if you don;t get a position? Can you keep the R01 and continue as a post-doc in another (possibly unsuitable) research environment? How does the study section handle this?
    3) I dislike the rising tide of expectations that pushes career expectations back further and further. It's already the case that average age of first successful R01 is something like 42. Does the new requirement for junior professor become having an R01? Things shift from "nice bonus" to requirement awful fast if you let them.
    This could easily turn into an extension of the post-doc period -- you stay a post-doc until you do X cool paper AND win an R01 grant.
    Maybe I am looking at this wrong but I worry that this could end up trapping new scientists in the training process longer.
    And, for full disclosure, I am currently a post-doctoral fellow myself . . .

  • DrugMonkey says:

    It was my understanding that it was already possible for post-doctoral fellows to apply for R01
    Yes and no. It is possible for essentially anyone a grant-submitting local Institution allows to be a PI to write a grant for the Institution to submit (remember, the Institution submits the grant). This makes them the gatekeeper. What MsPhD was suggesting (I think) is that any individual be permitted to submit a research proposal regardless of institutional approval.
    Yes this would require some bureaucratic changes including changing (for this specific case or even generally) the "ownership" of the award. Do keep in mind that despite the fact that Universities may not like it when a PI pulls stakes for a better offer, the grants are always relinquished, IME. Ultimately at noncompeting renewal time the NIH ICs can just pull the plug anyway so why would Universities piss them off? PO relationships with investigators tend to be stronger than with local institutions absent those investigators.
    Logistics- don't be absurd. If the system can review the K99/R00, adjustments can be made for this as well. Despite popular view, study section members are not idiots and can do the job they are asked to do (I often point out that the problem is that this job is not made consistently clear from the CSR...)
    rising tide of expectations- Yup. a big problem. Question is, don't we already have this and would a change do more harm or more good? I know of at least one department which has gone from hiring some professors straight out of grad school (!) to essentially only hiring those with existing faculty appointments in the span of about 10-15 years. watch the K99/R00 hires, this will tell us more about rising expectations.
    I will note that my plan works against pushing careers back because individuals could win the award as a postdoc, i.e., much younger than in year 2-3 of a faculty appointment.

  • JD says:

    Given that post-doctoral fellows can already apply for awards with institutional permission, does this not make it an issue of advocacy within one's current institution?
    Or does it really make sense to have a rule that allows people to apply without the institution agreeing? I can see some rather interesting issues that could arise if we went down this pathway.
    I wasn't trying to be absurd with the logistics concern but I will admit that the K99/R00 example cuts against that concern rather effectively.
    I will agree with you that the intent of allowing post-doctoral fellows to apply for R01's is noble. Heck, I am currently being asked to apply for an R01 (as a post-doc) so it's not like I can make any pure stance here against this idea. I just worry that instead of moving up date of first R01 we will delay date of first faculty appointment instead.
    I might be wrong about this (and would be pleased to be wrong about it) but that is my major thought.
    Success often comes from hard work, patience and effort. It's not that I think we should be in a model where the senior scientists dominate but I also recognize that, if the system is working well, the process of building an effective PI isn't simple. It's politically popular to paint PIs as parasites but I have yet to meet one that really fits this description. So far they have been hard working people who put a lot of their lives into their labs (and that includes their students and trainees). Maybe I've just been exceedingly lucky.
    I'd like to see more junior scientist support but I remain deeply conflicted about how to do this. It is remarkable how many PhDs and Post-docs I talk to are bitter and I worry that I'm missing something.

  • I agree with your post, DM (about YFS having written some great posts), but your tone bothered me. It's really a sign that you're "losing it" to hear serious ideas from a frustrated postdoc? I know you and CPP like to point to her as an example of someone who just Doesn't Get It and who Blames the System, but the fact is, she makes a lot of the same types of points as you do, but from the standpoint of someone who feels trapped, instead of someone who is winning the game. (Women in workplace getting shafted; need for communication between postdocs and PIs about authorship, etc etc.) I just don't think it's that remarkable to have found a few gems in her blog. I do so regularly.

  • Chip says:

    does anyone here have experience getting funding from anywhere besides NIH? ....NSF? other federal agencies? industry sponsors? I would like to see more diversity of experience, maybe this is the wrong blog for that...

  • Fred says:

    For those who have served on K99 review committees ... pertaining to these sentences:
    http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-07-297.html
    "This initial phase of mentored support will allow the candidate time to obtain additional training, complete research, publish results, and bridge to an independent research position. The candidate must propose a research project that will be pursued during the K99 phase and transition into an independent project during the R00 phase of the award."
    How much "additional training" should be proposed to be competitive? I spoke with a PO, who suggested that I stray away from my highly specialized research area and learn something (some techniques) completely new in an area I have absolutely *no* experience in at all.

  • expat postdoc says:

    Re#18: That's a good question Fred.
    I'd consider moving back to the states for another year or two of high-profile PDing to apply what I'm doing now to a different model system and hoping get 1-2 years of K99 funding. I'd look for TT positions (I've kept the US network strong while expanding the global one) from day one. Hopefully, then I could then activate the few years of R00 support and roll with that in addition to the start-up money.

  • How much "additional training" should be proposed to be competitive? I spoke with a PO, who suggested that I stray away from my highly specialized research area and learn something (some techniques) completely new in an area I have absolutely *no* experience in at all.

    Here are a few thoughts based on my experiences serving on K99 study section:
    (1) There is definitely a tension between awarding K99s as a "reward" to post-docs who are already highly accomplished--and probably ready to just go right into a tenure-track position--and awarding them to less-accomplished post-docs who can probably benefit more from additional training. I have asked POs how we should balance these considerations, and they have all refused to answer the question and said that it was a matter of judgment for the reviewer.
    (2) The Training Plan component of the application is given a tremendous amount of weight, and so it cannot just be given lip service.
    (3) The PO you spoke to is correct. The most highly scored Training Plans invariably included training in methodological areas that are very different from those that the post-doc already has experience with. Frequently, this involved a "co-mentoring" plan with a co-mentor who is expert in a different methodology from the mentor with whom the post-doc has already published.
    (4) In the absence of high-quality publications arising out of the previous post-doctoral training, any K99 application will be triaged.

  • msphd says:

    uh, thanks, I guess.
    K99s, btw, ARE open to non-US citizens.
    In fact, more Asian males are getting faculty positions these days than US women. Just the facts, man, I'm not making this up.
    Yes, I meant that postdocs should be able to apply for grants. And you're right, NIH doesn't strictly forbid it for some granting mechanisms, but they do for most.
    And universities absolutely forbid it for postdocs, although they don't say it quite that way, and the rules can be bent if you have enough powerful people on your side. But most of us don't.
    Abel Pharmboy has read one of my grants. So to the person who assumes it would be triaged, you're wrong about that.

  • Pinus says:

    Fred,
    For the training component, I would propose 1/3 of something you can already do, but in a new topic that you want to expand in to then 2/3 with new techniques that complement your original method. This ensures training, and also balances personal development and the need to have papers. I have heard from people reviewing K99's that they thought this shows good planning ability. just my two cents.

  • Fred says:

    CPP, Re:

    (4) In the absence of high-quality publications arising out of the previous post-doctoral training, any K99 application will be triaged.

    ... hmph. Is a C/N/S paper "required"? How about 2 pubs + 1 review in journals w/ a decent impact factors within 3 years ... plus, my project (I think) will kick the socks off my speciality and (again, I think) significantly contribute to the broader biological area.

  • Is a C/N/S paper "required"?

    No.

    How about 2 pubs + 1 review in journals w/ a decent impact factors within 3 years[?]

    Assuming these are all first-author pubs, then that should be fine.

  • expat postdoc says:

    re#23:
    use the NIH CRISP database and search %k99%-01% and select the institutes you're interesting in applying to. then dump these names in Pubmed/ISI/Scopus to see what they've been up to.
    it seems like most awardees have ~10 papers (PhD + 2-4years PD) w/3-5 first authorships in solid journals. (Scopus is nice because it separates based on author affiliation).
    also, the training plan makes a huge difference.
    but in the end I heard that the k99 is a real crapshoot, as stated above, because study sections don't know if they should reward success or should promote development.
    it should be noted that an extremely well-written application could easily argue that these are not mutually exclusive and that prior success is a predictor of future development in a related but new field. but i digress.
    NOTE: could someone tell me how to produce those nice quoted indentations found in #23 and #24. Thanks!

  • An anonymous reader says:

    NOTE: could someone tell me how to produce those nice quoted indentations found in #23 and #24. Thanks!

    This is done via use of 'blockquotes'.
    http://www.w3schools.com/TAGS/tag_blockquote.asp
    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/01/quoting_in_comments.php

  • anon says:

    what is the success rate for first-time investigators trying to get their first grant? (on average how many times does the new investigator get a grant rejected before they finally get their first one funded?)

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