We occasionally lapse into discussions around here on various career and grant related topics. One that emerges now and again is what constitutes an acceptable Impact Factor of a journal. Yes, higher is better but out in the real world there are a lot of us publishing most of our work in journals with impact factors that are an order of magnitude lower than Glamour.
I make a big point out of field specific expectations- this is a well known, well discussed..... and generally ignored property of the IF. Nevertheless if we limit ourselves to NIH-funded biomedical research and excuse ourselves from discussing outlier scores....."society level" journals are generally going to be below 10 IF, most frequently in the 2-6 range and with a gut-feeling point of deflection around IF 4 or 5. As in the number of journals really thins out past this point. Whether that reflects some objective or arbitrary standard of quality...that's a debatable point. At any rate, there are those that sneer at journals of almost any IF below Glamour level (i.e., north of 20). Some, such as my coblogger PhysioProf, are known to make comments suggesting that the expected norm is something other than what I describe it to be.
Something else we talk about now and again has to do with the desired target lab size as expressed in Direct Costs value of extramural funding. This is the cash value you have to spend on supplies, personnel, equipment, etc in a given year. The R01 from the NIH is theoretically unlimited however the cap for writing a modular budget (instead of full itemization of expenses) is $250,000 / yr and you have to get special permission to even submit one for over $500,000 per year. Under the presumption that most newbies try to stay under the modular cap (and they should in most cases) my recommendation is that even a starting-out lab should be trying to land 2 R01s. I.e., I suggest that you need $500,000 in direct costs just to give yourself a fighting chance at scientific survival and (modest) success. There are those, likely those that are still fighting just to get one-R01 level funding, that argue that this is wild excess and the source of all that is wrong with success rates at the NIH grant getting game.
Well, wouldn't you know, Director Berg of NIGMS has yet MORE data for us to geek over and it is relevant to these two discussion points. He has a new post up on his blog reviewing the scientific output of NIGMS grants first funded in 2006. Out of nearly 3,000 investigators
...the median annual total direct cost was $220,000, the median number of grant-linked publications was six and the median journal average impact factor was 5.5.
I was particularly struck by the second figure.
A plot of the median number of grant-linked publications from 2007 to mid-2010 (red circles) and median average impact factor for journals in which these papers were published (blue squares) for 2,938 investigators who held at least one NIGMS R01 or P01 grant in Fiscal Year 2006. The shared bars show the interquartile ranges for the number of grant-linked publications (longer red bars) and journal average impact factors (shorter blue bars). The medians are for bins, with the number of investigators in each bin shown below the bars.
Look at that interquartile range for the IF of the journals in which the papers were published. Up to the total laboratory R01/P01 funding level of $500K in direct costs per year, the 75th percentile is still only around an IF of 7.5-8. And the 25th percentile is below 5.0. So even if you do not account for subfield differences already there is plenty of evidence about what is a "normal" IF level for NIGMS awardees. And that norm reads one heck of a lot closer to my concept of normal than that of the GlamourAdvocates around these parts.
The second point is the obvious support for my position that around $500K / year in direct costs is a good target because the number of publications increases pretty steadily up to this point and then flattens out from ~$600K-$1M in direct costs.
There are a couple of interesting questions that naturally occur to one upon reviewing these data. First, the relationship between number of publications linked to a grant may be increasing because you can list more than one grant for a given paper. So if you have two or three grants, it is possible that you have a sort of convenient synergy. Sometimes one project is going better and leads to an extra publication- if you list both of your grants, this might be slightly overcounting the impact of the project which isn't going so well and would not have produced that paper in isolation. Second, it could be that as you get into the zone well north of $500K, you start reaching a different type of laboratory. One that focuses more heavily on GlamourPubs is going to (inevitably?) trade IF for number of publications.