I had a query from a reader today which put me onto something new. So I though a few of my readers might like the opportunity for yet more
time wasting critical career-related research.
One of the many past times of the NIH-funded research scientist is best described as...whinging...about indirect costs. Otherwise known as "overhead", the indirect costs of an NIH award are that bit of extra cash above and beyond the amount needed for the actual conduct of the research plan that is awarded to the University.
Scientists are exceptionally fond of one particular complaint which is "Where in the hell is my overhead going since you re-charge me for every dang thing I can think of that might be overhead costs?" Arguing about local mistreatment of your heroic
golden goose scientist is all fun and games but there is another complaint which is even more entertaining because of inter-institutional warfare. It goes something like this:
"I hear [insert local institution, generally of the small, private, not-for-profit and exceptionally well-known variety] gets 100% overhead!!11!!" This is generally followed by much ranting* on topics such as the waste of taxpayer dollars, insults directed at the personal habits and scientific output of the institution mentioned and the additional laboratories that could be funded at "normal" overhead institutions for the same NIH dollars.
At any rate I was answering the aforementioned reader inquiry, which was about how to snoop on the amount of money awarded to specific projects. As we know one of the central failings of CRISP was the lack of information** about the size of award. I pointed out to the questioner that the CRISP-replacement, RePORTER, pumps out the Total Costs for each award listed. This number includes both the Direct Costs (i.e., the research budget) and the Indirect Costs (overhead) and I was explaining that unless you know the negotiated overhead rate for the institution in question you would only get a general idea about the size of the research part of the award.
I was next about to point out that ResearchCrossroads also only gives the Total Costs. Re-verifying this, I ran across the subject of the post. A link under their Search menu that allows you to:
It is a simple matter to search for your favorite institute whom you suspect of skimming more than their fair share of overhead. You don't even have to get the full title right, a keyword will do. A couple of clicks and you have the last three negotiated overhead rates. No more speculating and rumor mongering needed, you can have the actual overhead rates (which do change periodically for reasons that are not known to me).
Happy Searching and Happy Kvetching!!
*Yes, sadly, Your Humble Narrator is not immune to such weaknesses
**All joking and prurient interest aside, it actually is very useful for newcomers to the NIH grant game to gain an appreciation not just for the topics and investigators that are funded by the NIH and its respective ICs but to know the size of the award as well. The size of an award is not supposed to figure in the merit review but...come on now. Program staff are also quite free with the "too big for britches" rationale.