Jan 19 2011 Published by under Careerism

Linear, sigmoidal, arc and exponential.

I'm certain you can find career paths of biomedical research PIs that can be so described. You can think of the dependent variable as a conglomerate measure of lab size- people, funding, space, collaborations and vigor.

I used to see a lot of sigmoids in my subfield peers.

A slow start, struggling to land that first major funding. Hard to find or hard to fund postdocs so making do with techs, undergrads and maybe a grad student who don't know any better.

Eventually things click, the grant clouds pour down direct costs rain and the postdocs come a-running.

A successful career launch.

It feels as though I'm seeing a lot more interruptions lately. Peeps who I thought were, and should be, on the steep part of the curve suffering an interruption of some sort. Not always sure why...after all it's kinda rude to front your colleagues about perceived slowdowns. Unless you are the Chair, I suppose. I tend to assume it is because the grant dice just aren't coming up. And there is very little room for error in the current funding environment. Very different from when I was just getting started in my independent phase.

Watching the people that I like take a hit in what should be a time of scientific vigor in their career path is unpleasant.

6 responses so far

  • I'm seeing it here too. We've got folks that are were racing up the ladder and seem to have lost their footing for one reason or another. But then on the other hand as a sign of it not being so bad, I'm seeing some other folks weather the storm and come out just fine after a period of no funding.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "weather the storm".

    yeah, don't mistake me as saying these people have it worse than anyone else. they still have it way better than someone just starting out. but still. it is a hard thing to see all that momentum come to a crashing stop.

  • anon says:

    yep. Been there. With funding lines around an impossible 10% or so, it's a crap shoot. The worst thing you can do is to treat those colleagues of yours as though they had something wrong with them (which is what I was subjected to). They are working their asses off and doing the best they can - not any different from what you did.

    I don't know what the answer is, except to change expectations for new assistant profs. I had too low of a startup package - no extra money for peeps, nuthin. It's unrealistic to think that a new person could bring a substantial supplement to their startup package early on. Maybe the Janelia Farm model is a better way to go these days (ie, funding should go to a department and be doled out equally to all faculty members and thereby change their focus to research and teaching rather than fucking grant writing all time).

  • Anon2 says:

    I'm going through this right now, it's such a downer (no pun intended). It is nice to hear that others have been through this and found the light at the end of the tunnel. The clock is ticking, though... Luckily my chair went through this as well, so she's sympathetic. But she had tenure, I don't. I just found out that my latest grant will not be funded. Have several more in the pipeline, but I'm not feeling so hopeful today. There are few things more painful than waiting 6+ months just to get a negative response.

  • [T]hey still have it way better than someone just starting out.

    What are you, fucken nuts? Someone just starting out has a motherfucken start-up package.

  • drugmonkey says:

    track record of NIH funding, pubs from own lab, tendrils of preliminary data all over the friggin' place.....still better than the start up package.

    I mean, I'm assuming here that the mid-career person is running on fumes, not sitting on the side of the highway with a blown head gasket and four flat tires.....

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