Research Institutes, Bottom Lines and Senior Researchers

Apr 13 2009 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

This is such a multi-faceted story I barely know where to start. A recent piece in The Scientist serves as a convenient example of how local research institutes and universities are dealing with shrinking investment income, declining grant success of their staff and a need to think about the future. Although this focuses on one institute and one investigator, no doubt there are other similar situations going on elsewhere.
A news item posted by Elie Dolgin on April 8, 2009 reviews a recent disagreement between the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Stephen F. Heinemann, Ph.D. [lab website]. From the Dolgin piece:

Then the economy tanked, and in January Salk halted all funding stemming from the Salk Institute Council Endowment, which supported Heinemann's endowed chair position and a sizeable chunk of his research. Heinemann still held two grants from the NIH and received support from a private foundation. But with an active mouse research lab that cost north of half a million dollars each year, he couldn't make ends meet without the endowment that paid for 30-40% of his operating costs as well as his salary.


Yeah. I mentioned local Institutions being put in a financial squeeze in a prior post. This is happening all over and affecting faculty and researchers all over the US. These people are feeling quite miffed about the disappearance of funding streams, promised or currently-inhabited research space, increasing cost-recovery and other moves that stem from cashflow problems of their institutions. Of course, NIH funded scientists are royally pissed (as are high undergrad teaching load faculty) because they seem themselves as the golden goose being sacrificed by what appear to be eternally expanding layers of administrative functionaries up to no apparent purpose or good. Whether this is the case at the Salk or not, I don't know. And all we have to go on is the rather Heinemann-sympathetic bit in The Scientist. More of the sob story.

In response, Heinemann laid off six of his remaining staff. A fired postdoc who asked to remain anonymous told The Scientist that the decision to pull the endowment funding came "all of a sudden, without prior discussion." After many years of working at the institute, this postdoc now only has funding until the end of the month.
"I don't know what's going to happen," said Heinemann, 70, who started up his lab at Salk almost four decades ago, but like all Salk professors works on year-to-year contracts funded through grant money alone. "I could easily be out the door." Now, Heinemann is trying to get his students and postdocs jobs elsewhere "before they fire me," he said. Without adequate funding to keep up an active research program, "people aren't going to stay in the lab because it's not a good place to be trained."

All I can do is stare. This situation has complexity, in-fighting and political maneuvering written all over it. There's an allegation that the endowment funding Heinemann's lab was originally funded with cash resulting from intellectual property generated by Heinemann himself- he thinks it belongs to him. Some disagreement as to whether the law permits tapping the principle of the endowment once the interest dries up. The Salk administration gave a no-comment and Heinemann's colleague Rusty Gage was quoted in the piece with what might be seen as a defense of the institute. Ug-ly.
I suspect all we can agree on is that there are some trainees that are going to be in a mighty uncomfortable situation due to no fault of their own. I hope they manage to salvage what they can and move on to their next step in the career path.
The commentary after the piece in The Scientist is... bracing. You might as well read that over. Lots of fighting over the Heinemann lab's productivity (PubMed), whether he should have retired by now, whether he is taking up $$ and space that could support two junior faculty....etc.
Go Read.

69 responses so far

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Wow -- Thanks for pointing to this fascinating (in a train-wreck kind of way) article, DM.
    I'm sure there is a lot behind the scenes, but it seems that neither side has acquitted itself particularly honorably. It can certainly be argued that Heinemann's per-$ productivity has not met reasonable expectations for an endowed chair. At the same time, institutional loyalty should count for something -- senior people with decades of honorable service should not be tossed over the side so abruptly and ingloriously.
    Unfortunately, the ones who face the most dire immediate consequences are the trainees. It is shameful that better provisions could not have been made in this case. But I also fear for the long-term health of our profession, if lifeboat ethics are the only governing principle.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    I have known Steve for many years. Without getting into the specific arguments for or against ending his career at the Salk Institute, his current misfortune should be a red flag to scientists everywhere that the rescession we are experiencing in the US and around the world will not bypass our community. We should expect to hear and read about many more sad stories like Steve's.

  • msphd says:

    I can only laugh at stories like this. Score one for the good guys.
    I agree, the way they did it is crappy, but it sure does sound like this guy was running quite the operation and pissing it away on, what, mice? By the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? Give me a break. I don't feel sorry for him.
    But Sol is right- we're going to be seeing a lot more of this in our "community" as the ripple effect makes its way across the ocean of waste. My whole generation of "trainees" and junior faculty are really in for wild ride... the ones who haven't quit or been laid off yet, that is.
    What's that line from Allen Ginsberg? I saw the best minds of my generation...

  • JohnV says:

    Pissing it away on mice? What's next, fruit fly research gonna be a waste?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    msphd,
    I'm saddened by your ignorant comment "this guy was running quite the operation and pissing it away on, what, mice?" If your whole generation of "trainees" and junior faculty are like you, something is wrong with your teachers.

  • juniorprof says:

    I don't know Steve but I know many of his trainees who are in great positions all over the place. This is quite sad indeed...

  • becca says:

    ...Destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical
    I should be allowed to glue my poster
    I should be allowed to think!

    Oh wait. Ginsburg. Not They Might Be Giants. Well, to each their own. But I think you'd be more cheerful if you listen to my guys.
    That said, I think msphd is right, albeit only indirectly. Knockout mice should be a community resource. Jackson labs is the right idea. Multiple people maintaining half a million dollar a year mouse colonies isn't necessarily a good way to run a railroad. We'd probably need to standardize animal care to get the vets to go with a system that involves more trading animals back and forth, though. The 6-week quarantine is killer from the experimenter's perspective.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    becca,
    I agree with you about the Jackson labs idea. Nevertheless, Steve Heinemann brought many riches to his institute through his many patents, his excellent scientific mind and his mentoring of several generations of great investigators. His contributions to the well being of the Salk Institute significantly surpass whatever he received from them through his endowed chair. In many ways, Stephen F. Heinemann is Salk Institute. The shortsightedness shown by the administration will come back to haunt them.

  • Luigi says:

    Sol and Dave have in these comments previously noted the problem with bureaucratic bloat and how it is increasingly siphoning off money that should be used for research. Anyone who has ever been to the Salk knows darn well that there's a lot of money going through that place NOT in support of research. Janelia Farm has the same problems, but without the productive history of the Salk (Hopefully HHMI will wean that ego-driven monster before too long). Maybe stories like these will be a wake-up call to traditional universities (esp. med schools) that have recently thought it would be 'cool' to be like the Salk. I know of several very smart senior people who have quietly moved from soft-money institutions or med schools to more traditional universities or basic science departments over the past 2-3 years. I expect the trend will continue.
    I feel bad for the senior postdocs in Steve Heinemann's lab, who have a tough transition. But for Steve himself, I think the worst case scenario is that he will take his NIH grants to another SoCal institution and continue no worse for wear than many other researchers these days, probably better because his new institution won't use his NIH grant money to polish the marble walkways.

  • Re becca's comment about mouse supplies--the really extraordinary thing, given how expensive mousekeeping has become for many labs, is that even people within an institute don't pool their resources (at least at any of the places I know).
    The quarantine issue is indeed what keeps people from surviving off Jax, but I think it's embarrassing how often two labs down the hall from each other maintain separate colonies of identical strains. This would be a hugely useful area for NIH to step in with some pilot runs funded by facility grants or whatever would be most appropriate. Once a couple of institutes work out the kinks, I bet a lot of places could cut costs by 10-15%.

  • cashmoney says:

    I think it's embarrassing how often two labs down the hall from each other maintain separate colonies of identical strains. This would be a hugely useful area for NIH to step in with some pilot runs funded by facility grants or whatever would be most appropriate.
    They do. It's called the "Genetic Models Core" of a Center grant or Program Project. They are far from efficient. The PI just maintains more strains. The only way to force efficiency when it comes to mouse strains is to turn off the tap.
    His contributions to the well being of the Salk Institute significantly surpass whatever he received from them through his endowed chair. In many ways, Stephen F. Heinemann is Salk Institute.
    Was, Sol, was. This is the larger issue here. Retirement past 65. It is very, very (very) hard to view the Heinemann lab's productivity as being up to snuff for a Salk Institute investigator who is such a research luminary as you describe. Would they ever hire a new faculty member with such a record? hell no. Would they promote a new hire who accomplished in his first three years what Heinemann has done in the past three? Hell no.
    This is not to denigrate Heinemann specifically. It is to ask people to be realistic about current productivity, future potential productivity, wasted $$ and opportunity cost. Do you really not think there is a young asst or assoc prof at Salk right this instant that would be a better and more productive place to put the money?

  • These washed up old fucks are dragging productive faculty down with them, draining massive resources and occupying valuable space. They had their time in the scientific spotlight, and now they should gracefully get the fuck out of the motherfucking way instead of digging in their heels like petulant four year olds.

  • DSKS says:

    "This situation has complexity, in-fighting and political maneuvering written all over it."
    For good or ill, I imagine the fog of recession comes as a welcome screen for settling old scores and rearranging power structures in a manner that would have been impractical during stabler times.
    Et tu Brute, and all that.

  • Luigi says:

    The last couple comments (#11 & #12) miss the point. The interest on the endowment, and thus the money for Heinemann's lab, went away. It doesn't matter if Heinemann leaves or not. There is no money. It is financially stupid to suggest that the Salk replace Heinemann right now. Doing so will cost the Salk a million bucks in renovation and startup, and then it's still a gamble whether the replacement will be able to get and maintain two R01s. And meanwhile the Salk loses Heinemann's prestige and gets the bitter press it's getting. Smart people at the Salk would have kept Heinemann happy and let him die there.
    No, the real question is: Is there really no money for Heinemann's research? If the answer is really no, then we as taxpayers have to ask where those two R01s are going. Or where the endowment money went. Even if by law Salk can only pay the lab with the interest on the endowment, are they really saying the interest is zero? How is that possible? I can understand how the principal could drop and interest would be reduced. But zero? The only conclusion is that someone is siphoning off money that should be used for research.
    Deadwood isn't taking away the research money. Marble walkways are.

  • neurolover says:

    "But I also fear for the long-term health of our profession, if lifeboat ethics are the only governing principle."
    It's the trend of the world -- winner-take-all tournament models in which you have to constantly run the hamster wheel in order to remain a first seed, for the next tournament.
    I don't know Heinemann well, but on a short meeting, remember thinking that he was a more rather than less generous scientist. Not enough interaction to know the real scoop, but you all know -- there are people who won't talk to you unless they think there's something in it for them, and people who are more generous with their casual interactions.
    My real fear in science that "niceness" (like this) in the tournament model becomes a negative trait, that faces elimination pressure. I fear that, because I think that "niceness" can have a hit on personal productivity, measured in papers/dollar terms, for example. If "niceness" includes real sharing of ideas, resources, and materials, of reviewing competitors work fairly, of mentoring lab members even when the mentoring doesn't have a direct effect on the manuscript generation (or grant writing) bottom line, it can decrease you papers/dollar productivity. And, I don't think that eliminating niceness from the profession will result in better science for the world.
    I don't know Heinemann or his field well enough to know where he falls on this continuum, but I know that sometimes it seems that the people who win the tournaments model bad traits (selfishness, unfair competitiveness, hogging of resources ideas) rather than the good ones (and you'all know which kinds of people I'm talking about).

  • cashmoney says:

    Luigi@#14- Fair enough, you are right. It is just a loss of some of his research support, right? They aren't firing him or anything. Although it sort of sounds like there may be some space reduction going on?
    The only conclusion is that someone is siphoning off money that should be used for research.
    You need to read the papers more. There's a pretty big thing going on with international economics and finance right now. All the gignormously-endowed private U's like Harvard and Yale have seen very, very dramatic reductions in their cashflow from endowment investments. Salk seems to be pretty dependent on such things, given the number of dudes listed as endowed chair of whatnot. I guarantee you those salaries are over NIH cap so keep in mind there is a part (a big one?, who knows?) of their salaries that cannot be shifted onto grants anyway and has to come from other sources.
    Shrink down the investment income far enough and the squeeze is on.
    And remember, there is every chance that the per-PI NIH grant $$ levels have gone down across the board at Salk as well. Maybe not, they are highly accomplished. But odds favor it. So fewer grants means a greater share of the institutional operation falls back on....you guessed it, investment income.

  • neurolover says:

    Physioprof:
    I think you're wrong on this principle -- you seem to be advocating for a short term view of the world, where what you've done in the last 3 years determines your ability to continue for the next 3, and that you play this game all your life. It might, just might, produce greater productivity over all, as long as you believe that nothing ever takes longer than 3 years, but it's an incredibly harsh world. I don't think that science offers sufficient rewards to attract the "best and the brightest" under such a scenario. If you want a world in which you're judged on those terms, there are greater monetary, at the very least, rewards to be had. And, of course, if you think people offer any thing else, other than 3 year chunks of papers, it's not going to really increase productivity, either.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    I fully agree with neurolover's sentiments. Not surprising, there are those who will use this particular case to drum-up their dogmatic view according to which scientists above a certain age are deadwood. The reality is that arbitrarily limiting the age of science practicioners to 60, 65 or whatever, won't solve the real problem science faces today: Trees of all ages will die along the old ones because the forest suffers from the worse drought in decades. Blaming the old trees for the drought is like blaming your English teacher for your foul mouth.

  • Hap says:

    1) How contingent is tenure and promises of institutional funding? How meaningful is tenure?
    2) Cutting off older professors would seem to narrow the timeframe for achieving anything useful as professor in light of increasing ages for receiving initial funding.
    If tenure doesn't mean much and academic jobs go away just like nonacademic ones in bad economic times, what is the point of being a professor, exactly?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    their dogmatic view according to which scientists above a certain age are deadwood.
    Apparently there is plenty of straw to go around. But is this not the flip side of your assertion that age doesn't automatically define deadwood? Isn't it correspondingly your responsibility to differentiate when an older scientist is productive from what s/he is not and is just coasting?
    Or do you really believe that an earlier life of service means that a scientist somehow deserves to live out their natural life enjoying copious research funding, space and full time employment consistent with their peak performance level? Are you saying there should be a reward for past accomplishment totally without expectation of future production?
    I ask this in seriousness. It is a legitimate perspective to take, I just happen to disagree.

  • Hap says:

    Unless your endowment goes to zero, there's still interest. The problem with places like Harvard may have been that they built infrastructure with the expectation of a constant flow of money from their endowments which they assumed to be diversified against the failure of stocks, but which wasn't diversified (and couldn't be) against a significant economic downfall. Heinemann may have too much spending, but unless there constraints on the endowment (it has to remain above $amount, requiring interest to go to rebuilding endowment rather than funding its targets) , something else has to be sucking the money.
    What are you worth if your word is no good? If you make promises and abrogate them at the first opportunity, why should anyone trust you? Since tenure is more or less a big promise, why would you want to work for you? Everyone gets old, and not everyone bats 1.000 for thirty years - if you're going to work on contingency, why not just go where the money is instead of pretending that you have the freedom to do what you want?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM, I know you are serious. First, I don't think that Steve is a deadwood. Maybe if your measure of performance is based on number of publications per time period then, his productivity does'nt measure to some young studs who simply accumulate publications, regardless of their quality. I know more than a few such studs who have 50-page CVs counting 200, 300 and more papers, yet their stature compared to that of Steve is a miniature. The attempt to quantify science and its quality using publications only as the measuring stick begun more than 50 years ago at ISI by Garfield who made a fortune from this venture. Although Garfield has provided us with some tools to measure our scientific product quantitatively and also with the Science Citation Index and thus some qualitative dimension, there are so many other facets to a scientist's productivity that never get into Science Citation Index or any other index.
    When I said that I have known Steve for many years, I meant that I also know of his contributions to the advancement of science, through teaching, mentoring, development of new methodologies and, of course, through great scientific investigations.
    There are others, better than me, who are qualified to evaluate Steve's current productivity and potential future productivity. I will leave such evaluation to them. Nevertheless, I don't think that any of the commenters here, at least based on what they themselves had to say, belong to those who qualify for such an evaluation.

  • becca says:

    DJ&MH- Oh YES! That is so true. Of course, I may just be bitter because my efforts to obtain a certain knockout mouse from a lab down the hall have been thwarted thus far...
    CPP- I can't speak to this individual's worth to the field, but I hope neurolover is wrong and you're basing your judgment on more than three years or so of history.
    Isn't the whole "your value is judged based on the past year's performance" what got us into the financial crisis in the first place? There was massive incentive to indulge in shady mortgage bundles that appear to create great returns over the short term, and over the long term... well, everybody fails, so at least you don't stand out as particularly incompetent.
    cashmoney- I know times are tough. I do read the papers. But I can't help wondering how badly managed the Salk funding (and perhaps the Harvard endowment as well) was if they got into this bind. My mother's union rep came to them, extremely contrite, and announced that in the turbulent market, the pension fund had taken a significant hit. The amount? 4% (Oh noes!11!)
    Granted, people who work for this union aren't about to be high risk/high reward investors (there was really no good reason for my Mom to put up with this employer except the stability of the job, the pension, and the healthcare).
    But, what were these endowment managers thinking???

  • BikeMonkey says:

    S.Rivlin,
    An incomplete look at legacy can be had at one of the academic tree sites like this one
    http://neurotree.org/neurotree/tree.php?pid=4374
    Interested parties don't just have to "know" the researcher anymore to look at who they have trained.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "But, what were these endowment managers thinking???"
    Exactly what the mortgage banks, their borrowers and the investors in the Madoff's schemes were thinking.

  • Sysbioprof says:

    Drugmonkey wrote:
    "Or do you really believe that an earlier life of service means that a scientist somehow deserves to live out their natural life enjoying copious research funding, space and full time employment consistent with their peak performance level? Are you saying there should be a reward for past accomplishment totally without expectation of future production?"
    That's not what I believe. I do, however, believe that there are a huge number of papers generated by people "in their prime" that are meaningless (I am in that age category, and am a prof at a large institution, so I have experienced this firsthand). I just reviewed a paper where the authors had written basically 3 different variations on the same theme and sent them to different journals. Is that really "productivity?" The more I work at this, the more I see most papers as simply "marketing tools." And some people happen to be more into the marketing than others. Perhaps the older folks just get tired of playing that Charade, and so decide to wait until they have something really meaningful to say before publishing.
    People here who think that the last 3 years of publication record can accurately measure someone's productivity level are clueless. I usually don't use harsh language like that, but I cannot think of any other expression for this ignorant attitude. Note that I am not saying that there isn't deadwood, or that deadwood can't be measured. But it takes a lot more than 3 years of Pubmed record to really measure it.

  • Luigi says:

    You need to read the papers more. There's a pretty big thing going on with international economics and finance right now. All the gignormously-endowed private U's like Harvard and Yale have seen very, very dramatic reductions in their cashflow from endowment investments. Salk seems to be pretty dependent on such things, given the number of dudes listed as endowed chair of whatnot. I guarantee you those salaries are over NIH cap so keep in mind there is a part (a big one?, who knows?) of their salaries that cannot be shifted onto grants anyway and has to come from other sources.
    Shrink down the investment income far enough and the squeeze is on.

    I still read the papers. Just moved a crapload of money back into the market. But that's beside the point. The point is: You're still missing the point. Look, this is simple...
    X (Money for research) = Y (Total money coming in) - Z (Money used up by the bureaucratic powers)
    As Y went up over the last century (and particularly in 1995-2002), Z went through the roof. We got loads of soft-money positions and fancy-schmancy institutes and all kinds of stuff. The Salk was a leader. They had marble walkways and an overstuffed bureaucracy almost half a century ago. The trouble is, now that Y is going down, Z is not commensurately reduced. Fancy buildings must be maintained. The administrators are last to go. No soft money person wants to lose their job. As a result, Z is maintained, X drops precipitously, and science loses. Eventually the whole enterprise fails anyway. Or becomes a crazy corrupt excuse to raise funds and nothing else; research facilities crumble and all that are left are crazies who can't get other jobs (You all know the sorts of places I'm talking about. Need I name some?) Either way, it's bad.
    That's why I don't think more money should be thrown at biomedical science right now. It needs a severe pruning. And the stuff happening at the Salk really needs to happen.
    I wish it were happening to others, of course. Steve Heinemann really is a great guy. But this stuff has got to happen. ARRA $ for NIH is just going to prolong the agony or make it worse.
    Current Biology today has a nice interview with Susan Mango. Susan is an extremely lovely and smart person. By coincidence, her interview answers touch eloquently on the need for pruning the scientific enterprise:
    http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(09)00607-1

  • No one has said that scientific productivity should be measured solely on "what have you done in the last three years", other than it being thrown out as a straw man.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Bikemonkey,
    Thanks for the info. I still believe that when someone like Steve is being evaluated, those who have worked with him or collaborated with his team for several years are better qualified than readers of whatever trees are out there. That said, I believe you do not consider Steve to be a deadwood. Correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Luigi says:

    No one has said that scientific productivity should be measured solely on "what have you done in the last three years", other than it being thrown out as a straw man.

    How do you suggest we measure scientific productivity? Especially if we have to do it every 3-5 years (which we do).
    Serious question, not rhetorical.

  • BikeMonkey says:

    That said, I believe you do not consider Steve to be a deadwood. Correct me if I'm wrong.
    I don't believe I ventured an opinion one way or the other on this issue. The only way I would remotely be rendering a judgment on this is in a theoretical grant review situation. The PubMed and CRISP info (and presumably the other sources of support, now withdrawn, would be included in the Biosketch of such a theoretical application) would not lead me to view his application favorably, no. I would be very critical of productivity. Of course, such a theoretical grant application might include a preliminary data section or other information that totally explained or overcame this productivity deficit.

  • How do you suggest we measure scientific productivity? Especially if we have to do it every 3-5 years (which we do).

    It is a combination of actual current output, rate of change of output, and predicted future trajectory of output.

  • Luigi says:

    CPP:
    So you are saying we do a curve fit every 3-5 years and fire (or not fund) the people with negative slopes?
    What are we fitting? What's "output"?

  • Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde says:

    Even if we can agree that a lab in this situation might be due for some downsizing, the fact remains that there are graceful and ham-handed ways for administrators to do this. 3 months' notice on an endowment that has apparently been going on for decades--ham-handed. Any PI watching this would have to question the worth of his/her endowed chair, if that's the way these things are run.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Oh I doubt this was such a complete shocker to Heinemann. You think senior faculty at that dinky place had no idea that endowment $$ was shrinking? Pshaw....

  • JD says:

    "It is a combination of actual current output, rate of change of output, and predicted future trajectory of output."
    You kind of lose me with the last point. Predicting future output is really, really hard and quite error prone. Just think of how often hiring committees (who are often trying really hard to pick an ideal candidate) mess it up!
    The first two are extremely sensitive to bad breaks (over short periods) or tend to bias against junior investigators (if the period covered is long).
    I'm not saying that this can't be done in a principled fashion but it is a very hard problem and most current approaches seem too simplistic.
    Maybe I have missed to good ones?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Productivity report and faculty performance committee's analysis; age of scientist: 63
    Actual current output: 2003- 8 papers; 2004 - 7 papers; 2005 - 8 papers.
    Rate of change of output: +/- 1/year.
    Predicted future trajectory of output: 2006 - 7-8 paper; 2007 - 7-8 papers; 2008 - 7-8 papers.
    Actual current output: 2006 - 6 papers; 2007 5 papers; 2008 - 4 papers.
    Rate of change of output: -1/year.
    Predicted future trajectory of output: 2009 - 3 papers; 2010 - 2 papers; 2011 - 1 paper.
    Recommendation: fire his ass (was not followed).
    Actual current output: 2009 (partial) 5 papers + 3 in preparation.
    "It is a combination of actual crap, rate of change of crap, and predicted future trajectory of crap."

  • Luigi says:

    But was that 2011 publication a Cell or Nature paper?
    Thus the complexities arise...

  • pinus says:

    I think there is probably some weird shit going on behind the scenes for this to be so very public and so very ugly.
    Also, papers in preparation mean jack shit. At least that is what I have been told.

  • cashmoney says:

    I think there is probably some weird shit going on behind the scenes for this to be so very public and so very ugly.
    The only reason this is public is because Heinemann found a sympathetic ear to whine into at The Scientist. If he'd stayed away from the press we wouldn't know about it. Amateur attempt for him to put pressure on Salk.
    Anyone wanna bet whether this story shows up in Nature within a week or so????

  • Luigi says:

    "Also, papers in preparation mean jack shit."
    I currently have 127 papers in preparation. The ones furthest along in the process are written and being proofread for submission. The ones earliest in the process don't have the experiments planned or any data yet.

  • These old fucks need to hang up their motherfucking cleats and get out of the fucking way.

  • The ones earliest in the process don't have the experiments planned or any data yet.

    Have the trainees been born?

  • Luigi says:

    The ones earliest in the process don't have the experiments planned or any data yet.

    Have the trainees been born?

    Dude, you are brilliant! I can request an administrative supplement for underrepresented unborn scientist training and recruitment of otherwise unfertilized ova with exceptional promise!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "These old fucks need to hang up their motherfucking cleats and get out of the fucking way."
    Right. They are the cause of all the problems that science faces today. Haven't you heard? They getting the lion share of all NIH R01 grants; they receive a significant number of HHMI awards (by cheating about their age); they are in control of all the PAT committees and see to it that none of the young tt assist profs get promoted and awarded a tenure; they block publication of scientific papers of young scientists by filling all the editorial board slots of all the important scientific journals and because they are so busy with all these tasks, they have no time to produce any science themselves. Hence they enslave poor gradstudents and postdocs to do the real work for them, while keeping all the credit for themselves.

  • Washed-up old fucks are wasting valuable space and resources. Rivlington, you are to be commended for hanging it up when you were told that you were washed up.

  • BP says:

    PhysioProf,
    Instead of swearing and making unsupported statements, why don't you try supporting your claims of "old fucks" wasting resources and space with some facts?

  • Anonymous says:

    I suspect all we can agree on is that there are some trainees that are going to be in a mighty uncomfortable situation due to no fault of their own. I hope they manage to salvage what they can and move on to their next step in the career path.
    Hmmm...you think it's feasible for a postdoc who got fired/laid-off due to sudden funding cuts to simply "move on to their next step in the career path"?? Since science careers are all about playing the game right, just what is this next step in the career path that can materialize so easily without months of planning ahead and proper positioning?

  • CareBearsRule says:

    A rich lab may give you a chance if you can get a strong recommendation from another PI who knows the PI of the lab you want to get into. Most PI's will be sympathetic to the postdoc and won't hold the crappy (previous) funding climate against you.
    Our devious PI tried to let go of 4 postdocs (citing economic problems) and at the same time hired 5 other postdocs who were let go from their previous lab(s). Someone is always hiring postdocs, at least in our field.

  • Pinus says:

    I have had a few post-docs contact me, saying they are being let go because of financial reasons...while the PIs are hiring new post-docs. I guess saying 'I don't have money' is easier than saying 'I want to hire somebody else that may be better than you'? I have never been in that position, so I can't say.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    I guess those PIs who fire and hire postdocs are all washed-up old fucks.

  • CCPhysicist says:

    You folks need a bit of perspective from a field that has seen this before. I put this link
    http://doctorpion.blogspot.com/2007/07/physics-jobs-part-1.html
    to an article about PhD production in physics (the supply side of a series of articles about the history of jobs in that field) in the comments on your mid-2008 article about funding - since it was most appropriate there. But it also provides some background to the case you discuss here. He's been there for almost forty years? Maybe a PhD in 1966 and a pair of one or two year post docs, then off to the Salk Institute? Quite plausible. That was pretty common in physics for people who got out with their PhD just a year or two before the hiring "crash" that was soon reflected in a sharp spike and steep drop in PhDs circa 1970-71 as sane people finished up quick or bailed ABD and took jobs at IBM or NASA.
    The physics job crash around 1970 was triggered by NSF budget cuts during the peak Vietnam spending years (Nixon's hate for campus protesters didn't help) and the cresting of the baby boom that resulted in a leveling of college enrollments. It was made worse by the 1975 recession (now getting mention as the reference point for current levels of unemployment) even as funding returned. A later peak in physics PhD interest appears related to unsustainable (and unrealized) high energy physics funding for the SSC.
    Now my comment:
    I blame much of the problem in universities on management. Some of those long-term faculty would have retired much earlier if they had been required to have a much (much!) higher teaching and service load as their research productivity and funding fell. If you aren't working lots of hours producing sponsored research, maybe you should be teaching a 3/3 load (or more) instead of a 1/1 load. I once knew the Dean of a major business college who did something like that. He promised new faculty that they might have a 1/0 load in the early years if they were really productive in research, but that they would shift to a 2/2 or 3/3 load later on (to provide teaching relief to new faculty) if their research effort declined.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CCPhysicist,
    I think there are several studies conducted over the past 50 years or so, showing that the "life expectancy" of physicists is much shorter than that of biologists. Physicists are known to bloom quickly, reaching their peak in their late 20s early 30s and to decline in both productivity and originality thereafter. Those very studies (I'm sorry for not being able to quote them at the moment) found out that biologists' careers peak much later (early 40s) and do not decline as fast. Thus, I believe that comparing physics to biology (biomedicine) in these respects could be somewhat misleading.

  • The problem is that a lot of the washed-up tenured asshole old fucks are in medical schools where there isn't really anything unpleasant to force them to do.

  • Luigi says:

    The problem is that a lot of the washed-up tenured asshole old fucks are in medical schools where there isn't really anything unpleasant to force them to do.

    Thus the main argument for replacing them all with soft-money positions.
    The problem is that these soft-money workers have to bring in lots of money just to survive -- a first R01 to pay the mortgage, a second R01 to do science. Which makes the bringing in of money their #1 priority. Which leads to increased desperation, increased incidence of fraud, less interest in sharing, less interest in training, and widespread exploitation of postdoctoral and graduate student labor.
    Maybe a little deadwood isn't so bad?

  • whimple says:

    One problem is the monotonically non-decreasing salaries of tenured faculty. People pulling in extramural funding get their salaries jacked up dramatically, but then when they lose the capability to bring in the external cash, their salary doesn't go back down to the level it would be at if they were hired on the basis of doing teaching, or service, or nothing at all, or whatever it is unfunded tenured faculty do all day long.
    The NIH could fix this problem by allowing PI's to write cash payments to themselves into their grants without requiring these payments to be percent effort of an institutional salary.

  • Actually, many medical schools compute faculty salary as "base + supplement", and tenure rules allow for faculty to have their supplement portion cut by a certain percentage per year until it is gone. In practice, I have never heard of this being done involuntarily. What I have heard of is faculty choosing to forgo part of their supplement as salary and use it to fund research expenses.

  • Luigi says:

    What Comrade says also goes for non medical basic science departments. Most academic basic science department salaries are about 25% soft money. Medical department percentages are generally more, and range wildly, usually from 50% to 100%. It seems to me that the higher percentages are correlated with higher institutional 'prestige', and generally higher salary. Which means some positions have less financial security, but also generally better financial upside. This situation, I have been told, was not always so. Old hands have told me that med schools generally used to be populated by M.D.s on 0% soft money instead of the Ph.D. professional grant writers that now tend to fill the buildings.
    Both NIH and NSF allow one to ask for whatever salary one wants up to the maximum institutional allowance. Which means one doesn't 'have' to take all the money as pay. Like CPP says, lots of people forgo some potential salary to have more for the lab. I've done that myself.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Both NIH and NSF allow one to ask for whatever salary one wants up to the maximum institutional allowance.
    Not exactly. There is a cap on the salary that can be charged to federal grant funds. See this summary for recent years. Current cap is $196,700.
    As far as I know anything over that has to be paid from nonfederal sources. Of course, money is fungible so in reality, who knows.

  • whimple says:

    That's all fascinating, but it doesn't change the fact that underfunded or unfunded senior tenured faculty are being paid vastly more than their objective worth. The salary of one thumb-twiddling former basic science medical school department chair could pay the salaries of 4 or 5 nurses over at the hospital.

  • whimple has these fucks in her department!!!

  • whimple says:

    I speak in purely hypothetical terms, of course.

  • Sure thing! HAHAHAHAHAH!

  • Luigi says:

    That's all fascinating, but it doesn't change the fact that underfunded or unfunded senior tenured faculty are being paid vastly more than their objective worth. The salary of one thumb-twiddling former basic science medical school department chair could pay the salaries of 4 or 5 nurses over at the hospital.

    But the salaries of those 5 nurses could support 30-40 migrant farm workers! I mean, seriously, what's more important -- IV drips and sponge baths, or getting your freaking FOOD picked? I'm going with the food. Let the dying die already.
    And actually, while I'm thinking about it, I bet we could even replace those farm workers with little children from India or SE Asia that will work for basically nothing. Getting them here would be a pain, but you could probably fit 100 of them in each shipping container.

  • ANON says:

    A word... have a little respect for China and India. Both are major nuclear powers and have large potent militaries.
    In contrast, most of Europe, Australia and Canada are sissy, slave states of the US, completely dependent on the US for everything. Funny that China and India get slammed despite the fact that they are not the ones living on scraps of food thrown by the US.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Hey Whimple, I take exception to that comment! As a new department chair in a medical school at a MRU, our nurses are paid waaay better than that. I am sure that salary would barely fund three of them!
    As for the value of a basic science chair, it goes slightly beyond their personal salary coverage. Its those douchebags that pass you over for more qualified, less whiny, scholars.
    Doc F

  • Luigi says:

    How much is whimple worth? Does he ever care for patients or does he just spend all day in his lab indulging his intellectual hobbies?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    I wonder how many washed-up old fucks are still occupying positions in CPP's department? Of course, I won't be surprised to hear that there are none, though I won't believe it. The question is, does this bully has the balls to expose those washed-up old fucks or is he just another coward and, consequently, a bully?
    CRNAs' salary is higher than that of many full professors in many institutions.

  • [...] CVs that you can drive the ParanoidApplicantTrain through. The wrong doctoral Uni/program. Dismal productivity in a crucial stop. No post doc. Too many postdoc years. A less-than appointment. Seeming lack of [...]

Leave a Reply