The previous director of NIGMS, Jeremy Berg, continues his established interest in transmitting NIH career and grant award data to you, Dear Reader. This is, in essence, a guest post. I received the following email...
Hi DM: I was reading your recent post and remembered that I did some analysis at NIGMS that I presented at our advisory council and on other occasions, but it predated the Feedback Loop.
The study was to look at newly funded assistant professors or equivalent ranks from 2004-2006 (360 individuals) and to examine the times (in years) between when they received their BS/BA degrees, when they received their doctorates, when the started in their assistant professor positions, and when they got their R01s (manually from their biosketches). The results are attached. The median time from BS/BA to funding was 15 years. The average age of award was estimated to be 38 years.
Let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to post this if you want.
I most certainly do want. Take a gander at this, folks (click to embiggen).
Now obviously the 360 individuals are but a tiny slice of the NIH-wide pool of PIs. And the 2004-06 window is just one point along the long trendline that we were just discussing. Still, it reflected the situation in one IC right at the time the NIH was getting exercised over the 42 years-to-R01 graph. So it hits the right note.
As a completely untethered personal opinion, I think graduate studies that last 6.7 years are far too long. If I was running the zoo I'd like to see that median back at 5.0 and be much, much peakier. That long-ish tail extending to 10 years and beyond is ridiculous. The post-doctoral training interval, I have less problem with. Five years doesn't seem too horrible. Although I suppose that could be shaved back a little bit too.
The time to first award after appointment just puts a histogram on the problem that we already know about. Again, were I the Boss of Science, I'd want to get major funding in the hands of good people faster. If you work backwards from the population that eventually won an award, i.e. are "deserving" in some sense, wouldn't you rather they had the $$ as early in their independent career as possible?
It would be really fascinating to know if the ESI hoopla has shifted this distribution back to the left by any significant amount.
Now thinking about these data some more....wow, take heart o ye of dismal training experience! I was thinking about the prediction for success/failure for a half second until I realized these data only capture those who were eventually successful at landing an R01 from the NIH. Look at those 10-18 (!) year grads. Look at the poor souls stuck for 10-15 years in postdoctoral hell. Sure, they are the exceptions to the distribution and no doubt the successful exceptions to the distribution of folks who got stuck for that length of time in graduate school or postdoctoral "training". But it was possible for some to succeed at last. Wouldn't you like to hear their stories? I know I would....