Nope, I just get my regular salary...

Jan 04 2010 Published by under Careerism, Conduct of Science, NIH

A recent discussion thread moved into the topic of proper/improper expenditures under NIH grant awards. Our beloved commenter Uncle Sol Rivlin observed that

The bigger the money the more daring and crooked are the crooks. Science absolutely does not prevent the crooks from acting crookedly.

No, it doesn't. But there isn't a whole lot of money to be made for the majority of us in science. And I think what trends over into a sensationalistic focus on cases of severe malfeasance gives a distorted perception of how the vast majority of scientists operate in their daily lives. I just don't think that being focused on strategies for keeping the grant money flowing to keep your 5 person lab afloat is the same think as taking hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in consulting gigs to BigPharma. Obviously some would disagree.
Thinking on the money issue, however, brought me back to one of my favorite things to ponder, i.e., how the taxpaying public views my career.


For those who may be potential trainees, of course, it is necessary to emphasize just where along the track of "education" that this becomes a paying job. Most people I speak with recognize, however, that I have a job doing science.
I am frequently found explaining how my soft-money job is supported by their taxpayer funds and how NIH grants fit into that equation. People with whom I speak periodically are well aware that sometimes I'm stressed about grants and sometimes I'm happy with a new award. What is interesting is a concept that the occasional person seems to assume- based on familiarity with business, I guess. Something I'd never really thought about until the first time someone asked.
Many nonscientists think that somehow my compensation should be tied to grant "success". Meaning that when I'm flying high on a new Notice of Award from the NIH they assume that somehow this will increase my salary.
Nope. It doesn't work that way. Yes, a new grant award assures some fraction of my salary for another interval of up to 5 years but that's about it. Additional grants merely divide up the responsibility for paying a salary that is dependent solely on local payscales and promotions.
Anyone else had to disabuse a nonscientist of this notion that additional grant success should result in better personal income?

36 responses so far

  • blf says:

    [T]here isn't a whole lot of money to be made for the majority of us in science.

    That just means Big Pharma, or perhaps their Reptilain Overloads, are not happy with you…
    </snark>

  • Anonymous says:

    The new scheme of awarding "extra" salary based on grant success at universities where there is university-based salary support does mean that for some group of people, their salary does go up, directly (rather than indirectly in the form of promotions based on success) when they get a grant.
    (but, this soft money grant-support stuff allows troubles me, since, I still think that the only people supported 100% on federal money should be employed by NIH. If I were in charge, I'd immediately demand that no more than 80% of any PI's salary, i.e. someone who is permitted to submit PI grants be placed on federal grants. And, I'd say that you had to commit at least 20% effort in order to be a PI on a grant).

  • becca, FoLizards says:

    I, for one, welcome our Reptilian Overlords. Better living through pharmaceuticals.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Many nonscientists think that somehow my compensation should be tied to grant "success". Meaning that when I'm flying high on a new Notice of Award from the NIH they assume that somehow this will increase my salary.

    The number of people in business -- even highly-placed, well-compensated ones -- in business whose compensation depends on project success is very very small. I've worked in some pretty big companies, and even the highest levels of the adminisphere almost always get bonuses based on the corporate bottom line rather than individual projects.
    Even startups are only different in that the corporate bottom line is an individual project.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM, You unfortunately chose the wrong comment of mine to build your post on. Comment #48 on your previous post is much more relevant:
    "Are you surprised by some of the schemes that universities' administrators and lawers invent where grants are involved? Many of these institutions find all kinds of ways to profit greatly from NIH grants, though the PIs and the CoIs usually are not included in these profits. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Some PIs have even tried to embezzle their own grants. A bad idea that usually brings the Feds right into your office."
    The schemes I mentioned are mainly those devised by the institutions where the grant awardee is employed. I have also, as you can see, mentioned that PIs and CoIs do not usually benefit personally from the award, though I must agree with Anonymous that in the majority of the Research I academic institutions, winning an NIH grant award can make the difference between one having a job, a promotion and a tenure and one finding oneself unemployed. I believe that using the success of scientists in receiving extramural grants as a major standard in determining whether or not they will be promoted and awarded tenure is wrong, leaving many excellent scientists out of a job.
    As to the crooks and their crooked ways, I will comment separately, soon.

  • whimple says:

    You could explain that if you don't get grants you get fired and you're happy when you get a grant because it means you can (temporarily) keep your job.

  • Stephen says:

    Someone needs to address this argument specifically in the context of climate change research. It's perhaps one of the most persistent and insidious climate denier arguments, and has only gained further traction in the wake of the "ClimateGate" e-mails, e.g.: http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=289

  • Here's an on-going crook story:

    What the fuck does this have to do with the post, you fucking gibbering smegstain?

  • anne says:

    CPP,
    What happened ? Did anyone blind you with Science ?. Here you go
    When I'm dancing close to her
    "Blinding me with science - science!"
    I can smell the chemicals
    "Blinding me with science - science!"
    "Science!"
    "Science!"
    Mmm - but it's poetry in motion
    And when she turned her eyes to me
    As deep as any ocean
    As sweet as any harmony
    Mmm - but she blinded me with science
    And failed me in geometry
    When she's dancing next to me
    "Blinding me with science - science!"
    "Science!"
    I can hear machinery
    "Blinding me with science - science!"
    "Science!"

  • namnezia says:

    I'm obviously missing something here... what is everybody bickering about?!

  • anonymous says:

    The bickering is just about a very trivial matter: Some Faculty get an X salary, some other Faculty get 10X and some administrators get 100X + outside bonuses.
    What's the difference ?. The X guys get fired if they don't get NIH funding. The 10X guys don't get fired because they get more NIH funding; the 100X guys stay forever due to the magnitude of their job ( firing the X guys and promoting the 10X).
    Do you need a PhD in the obvious?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Anonymous (#12), Well said!

  • namnezia says:

    Anonymous: I'm not talking about that bickering, I'm talking about this:

    Here's an on-going crook story:
    What the fuck does this have to do with the post, you fucking gibbering smegstain?

  • anonymous says:

    Hi
    "Here's an on-going crook story". That's about a 1000 X guy (s)
    " What the F does this have to do with the post, you F gibbering smegstain?".
    Namnezia, For this I have to take a PhD in the obvious.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    namnezia,
    For CPP, misconduct in science is a very marginal issue. My experience over the past 30 years indicates otherwise. Moreover, it becomes ever more significant as money and science are even more entangled together. The number of crooked scientists, academic administrators and university lawyers is on the increase constantly and they are contaminating the whole enterprise. To claim that academic misconduct is marginal and has nothing to do with the way scientific research in America is being funded is a shortsightedness at best and an idiocy at worse.

  • DoucheMonkey, do you really think it improves your blog to let this fucking senile asshole derail every single fucking discussion here to his pompous smarmy fucking obsession with finding misconduct under every single fucking rock in the universe and aggrandizing his own purity? Seriously?
    This sleazy fuck doesn't have a single relevant useful thing to say about *anyfuckingthing* and is only obsessed with stroking his own imaginary massive cock of moral rectitude.

  • becca says:

    CPP- of course leaving S. Rivlin's posts up benefits the DM blog. Afterall, who else would inspire you to coin such turns-of-phrase as 'imaginary massive cock of moral rectitude'? I've tried and I can't get such from you. Perhaps I lack an imaginary massive cock of moral rectitude. Alas.
    Anyway, out of curiosity, if people *could* have jobs where they got bonuses based on how many grants they got, would you want that? Or would you rather the department/university met out the same money for something nice and dependable, like better benefits (unless you work for Google [and maybe even then] you can always use more benefits)? Personally, I think better onsite daycare or free gourmet food would make me work my ass off, but the bribery would ruin the fun.

  • anne says:

    Listen CPP,
    I don’t know what are you about and I can understand that you’re all immersed in your research, your training students, your writing….So was I when my full occupation was science. I never thought that scientific misconduct could be widespread and never came to my mind that “science” “scientific management” and “money” could be such an intimate TRIO IN LOVE. I was truly blinded with science.
    It just took to find myself forced out of my job and indicted (I mean it IN-DIC-TED) to have the time to read the newspapers carefully and follow the leads on “scientific trends” to put together the pieces of the puzzle taking place at my academic institution. My blindness started dissipating then !!!!.
    My humble advice is that if you really care about your science, you should (at a minimum) question your view that misconduct is a marginal issue. You might find convincing answers that your view is correct. And if so my sincere congratulations. If on the other hand you find answers indicating the “no marginal at all” nature of misconduct, you’d better start working on the issue to get things corrected. It is in the best interest of your science and that of all your colleagues.
    Are you tenured ? Even if you are, your tenure is not a sure bet!. You can be on the streets rather easily. I saw that at my own institution before my departure.

  • My humble advice is that if you really care about your science, you should (at a minimum) question your view that misconduct is a marginal issue.

    My humble advice is that you pull your fucking head out of your fucking ass and look for some evidence beyond the obsessive ravings of a senile fuckwad that my "view [is] that misconduct is a marginal issue". You lose all credibility when you mindlessly vomit back up Rivshit's demented talking points.
    My views of the prevalence of scientific misconduct have fuck all to do with the fact that every single topic on this blog does not need to turn into a discussion of Scuzwit McRivshit's imaginary massive cock of moral rectitude (you're welcome, becca!).
    Listen "anne", I don’t know what are you about and I can understand that you’re all immersed in not having a fucking clue what you are talking about, but my humble advice to you is to get a fucking grip on yourself, before you turn into another gibbering Rivshit.

  • anne says:

    Wow CPP,
    I am impressed with your language. To be honest I am not used to it. I guess that civility is not about language. However, you force me continuously to go into the urban dictionary to get a sense of what you're talking about. I'd never thought that my English was so poor.
    Good luck to you and your fighting Rivlin and Rivlin fighting you. Good exercise to keep your weight on check.

  • What a fucking mess this is. But as for the comment at hand:
    Anyone else had to disabuse a nonscientist of this notion that additional grant success should result in better personal income?
    No, but I've had to repeatedly disabuse my mother of the notion that I am not a complete failure if I have my Ph.D. in X Engineering and am making less than 40k a year! I have found it generally impossible to explain the ways of science and funding to non-scientists. I try though, I try...

  • whimple says:

    Anyway, out of curiosity, if people *could* have jobs where they got bonuses based on how many grants they got, would you want that?
    Here this is department specific. A percentage of the indirects are sent back to the department and the department can use that cash for whatever it wants, including salary bonuses. Some do, some don't. From N=2, those that give PIs cash salary bonuses are doing better than those where the money winds up in some often squandered slush fund.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Anne,
    I know it is a humbling experience to find yourself being awashed by a torrent of frofanity one doesn't hear even in the most notorious jails. I have faced this torrent for the past two years or so and I must admit that after a while one get used to the fact that for different people there are different feathers they put on their hats. For CPP, the feather is his language. That's his trade mark and, unfortunately, there are many readers here who enjoy his language and cheering it. As to his reaction to my raising the issue of scientific misconduct when the discussion turns to science and money, I do it because this is the heart of the problem science faces today. Just as elected politicians are being corrupted by money to the point of affecting us all, so do scientists and administrations of academic institutions are being corrupted by the strong ties between scientifc research and money. CPP has already marginalized the role of scientific misconduct in science five years ago, when he received an e-mail promoting my book about the topic. His e-mail response to me then was as adamant, minus the profanity. He did not want to hear about it then and he did not believe that his students and post-docs should be aware that corruption in science exists, let alone is turning to be a growing problem.

  • namnezia says:

    Rivlin:

    I do it because this is the heart of the problem science faces today.

    You really think this is the greatest problem facing science? More than diminishing NIH budgets, resistance of a large proportion of the general public to scientifically sound theories (such as evolution, global warming or vaccines), poor science education in schools, lack of a diverse scientific community, poor overall scientific literacy, bias in the grant and paper review process toward more established investigators, animal rights fanatics, etc.? Really?

  • whimple says:

    CPP is ok. His shtick is sort of like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, except that Triumph is funny. They have about the same degree of useful contribution to the discussion of science.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    namnezia,
    Yes! I believe that scientific misconduct and corruption is the heart of the problem science and its scientists face today. I did not say it is the greatest problem, though it is, I believe, one of the great problems science must deal with. Lately, the NIH budget has not diminished, rather, it grew significantly, especially with the stimulus money. And I bet you that with this increase, we will soon also witness an increase in cases of misconduct. Poor science education in school is a real problem, but not necessarilly the problem of science itself. It is more a problem of our society in general, a society that despite its reliance on science and scientific development, elects to believe in religious BS more often that it is willing to believe in scientific facts. Bias in grant and paper review process is directly connected to scientific misconduct and the reliance of scientific research today on a funding system that is biased toward specific scientific projects and scientists. Animal rights fanatics are a problem, though it is dwarfed compared to the problem of scientific misconduct.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    CPP has already marginalized the role of scientific misconduct in science five years ago, when he received an e-mail promoting my book about the topic. His e-mail response to me then was as adamant, minus the profanity. He did not want to hear about it then and he did not believe that his students and post-docs should be aware that corruption in science exists, let alone is turning to be a growing problem.
    Let me remind all my Dear Commenters that one thing I take seriously around these parts are attempts to out or even speculate on the identity of pseudonymous or anonymous commenters. Beyond what they themselves leave around voluntarily on the public side of blogs, that is.
    I include suggestions or insinuations that one has prior or ongoing contact with a person. There are two reasons, equally important. First, the usual one that I respect people's reasons for selecting pseudonymous or anonymous handles unless their conduct is really, really egregious. Second (and this is one you may not think of first off), if you go around speculating or insinuating someone is a particular online personality and they are not this person, you could cause them undeserved grief. Occasionally I hear from a friend or colleague that they have been suspected of being me, for example.
    To my knowledge, the online persona and/or gmail address of "PhysioProf" does not date back 5 years so this comment is very likely to fall into the second category. Given the opinion this commenter holds about "PhysioProf", well you can see where it would be unfortunate if he had the wrong person in mind, eh?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM,
    No intention on my part to expose the identity of CPP or anyone else's. Simply indicating that I know who's CPP, does not in any way expose his identity or hint at my willing to do so. On the contrary, I will protect his real identity just the way I protect mine. The only reason I mentioned the "five years" thing had to do with the specific stands that he and I have taken on the issues being discussed here and the fact that his stand has a history, which goes beyond the period of time on this blog. If my comment has created the wrong impression regarding my intention, I apologize. Let me assure you again that I will never be the one to violate the anonymity of any blogger or commenter.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yes but are you getting my point that you may think you know who PP or I or anyone else around these parts is IRL but you could be barking entirely up the wrong tree? And that even if you are correct and you do have prior interactions, the fact that your references to specific situations you were involved with tends to leave breadcrumbs? This is what I am talking about. I go beyond naked and obvious statements that AnonyX = Dr. So and so.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Got you. Won't happened again!

  • DSKS says:

    "I guess that civility is not about language."
    I think you're confusing civilization with the internet.
    Rivlin,
    Obviously there is misconduct in science - it's dominated by people - but this needs to be put in relative context.
    Firstly, the effects of such misconduct have consistently proved to be effectively self-policed and corrected; more so than in many other human institutions. MBAs and MDs circle the wagons en masse the moment there's a rumour that a fraternity brother might have his hand in the biscuit tin, which is why wrongdoing in these cases is usually spectacularly advanced by the time the feds finally show up with the cuffs. With the scientific establishment it's a fucking shark frenzy if anyone is deemed to have simply got it wrong, let alone done wrong.
    Secondly, the total cost of life scientists gaming the system is marginal compared to the analogous shit that goes down in the defence industry, health care service, social security, and other Big Money ventures.
    At best, the academic scientist can perhaps hope to attain the relative criminal status of a 9 yr old stealing the odd Kit-Kat from the news stand compared to the pros shaking down the tax payer elsewhere.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DSKS,
    Your attitude and beliefs regarding scientific misconduct are, at least in part, responsible for the increase number of such cases and the creation of a corrupt culture among scientists and science administrators. It is incorrect ot assume that wrongdoing in science is self-policed and corrected. Plagiarism, stealing of data and ideas and even falsification is not always discovered and corrected. Monkey business with public funds is not always self-policed and punished. There are many more scientists who know about a peer or a colleague who's involved or was involved in wrongdoing yet, they will turn their heads the other way or simply keep quiet. Estimates are that for every Ahole that commit a misconduct in science, there are anywhere from 20 to 30 quiet aholes who know about it and do nothing. I think that the quiet aholes are as guilty as the one who commit the wrongdoing. Just because fraudsters in science are dealing with lesser money than the mafia, does not mean that their crimes are of lesser impact or that they should be treated differently from any other criminals.

  • CPP has already marginalized the role of scientific misconduct in science five years ago, when he received an e-mail promoting my book about the topic. His e-mail response to me then was as adamant, minus the profanity. He did not want to hear about it then and he did not believe that his students and post-docs should be aware that corruption in science exists, let alone is turning to be a growing problem.

    Rivshit, you paranoid demented senile fuckup.
    If I ever did receive some deranged spam e-mail from you shilling your self-published fish-wrapper drivel, only in your fevered sicko dreams would I have ever responded to it, any more than I ever respond to Nigerian spam or PLEEZ-YOUR-PARTNER-GROW-YOUR-MASSIVE-COCK spam.
    Now get a fucking grip on yourself, asshole. Maybe your wife can make you a nice bowl of Malt-O-Meal with some prunes. A good shit might take the pressure off your brain and relieve some of your symptoms.
    Oh, and as DrugMonkey mentioned, any more paranoid loonie fantasties about how you "know" people on this blog and your nasty delusional ass will be banned immediately. Zero tolerance, you sick sad fuck.

  • Apologies in advance for responding to the original post, albeit late and missing the lively discussion.
    My previous institution would routinely publish in the dead-tree university news the full dollar figures of recently-awarded grants. The indirect costs would also be added to the figure, making a then $175K/year grant look around $250-260K. So, a 4-year R01 back then woyld still look to be over a million bucks, right? I'd have students come up to me and congratulations me on my millionaire windfall, assuming that this money went entirely into my pocket, and ask why I was still driving the same shitty car.
    So, I would actually take time once a semester to explain to my students (B.S. pharmacy students then) how much it takes to pay, say, 25% of my salary, a postdoc, and a technician, plus the 27% or so in fringe benefits that "the university pays" to those lucky enough to be employed. Students had no idea that the postdocs and graduate students there had to be paid by us; their impression was that they were university employees provided to us to do our research while we counted our million dollars. Add reagents, common equipment maintenance, etc., and they saw right quick what "my" million bucks went to. This was useful for two reasons: 1) to help students understand why we did research even though they were told "teaching is the most important thing we do at this university" and 2) enhance the respect they'd have for the level of science being done in the labs they though were just dabbling in some foolishness.
    They began to understand, in essence, that each prof was a free-agent, small-business owner that operated in a collective or co-op where they could share in some higher-ticket common instrumentation.
    I'd also share with these students, in general terms, what a new assistant professor makes after a BS, PhD, and 3 to 6-year postdoc (was $50K at the time) versus a fresh BS in pharmacy - back when it was the entry-level degree, it still paid $60-80K/year. Today, PharmD graduates easily make $90K while new assistant profs in our market get $70-75K. They were amazed that the people teaching them made less than they'd make their first year with a BS.
    Okay. Now I'm depressed.

  • anne says:

    @ Abel Pharmboy
    Thanks for your post. It seems both realistic and helpful to hear.
    I agree that the majority of scientists work very hard, are honest, try to maximize their chances for keeping the job they love as long as possible. It’s a matter of vocation and enjoyment in spite of the many sacrifices that the job brings with it.
    I think that there are also few scientists and research/academic environments not adhering themselves to the rules of science. The checkpoints do not work properly and the problem is that of “unchecked growth” and the potential for becoming ‘invasive’.
    Not addressing the problem is a problem for the whole body. Addressing it with the wrong approach or putting the emphasis where there is no abnormal growth yet might be counterproductive. Addressing it in the open, integrating the full range of experiences and resources, can be not only therapeutic for the small abnormal growth but also shed light on preventative strategies. The latter being the most critical for a healthy, vigorous and expansive life.

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