Rockey posts better numbers to assess the "too many mouths" hypothesis

May 02 2013 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH

A new post at Rock Talking has responded to queries raised by many, including YHN, about their prior depiction of applicant and application numbers. My skepticism was based on my own myopia, given the types of investigators that I am around and know the best.

This surprised many of us on the Twitters. I don't think I know of any active scientists who are submitting less than several NIH grant applications per year. If I did know of them I'd be kicking their butts!

This was in response to the following:

First, the total number of these applications has almost doubled—from 25,000 in 1998 to almost 50,000 in 2011 (see figure 3). The average number of applications per applicant has also risen slightly (from 1.3 to 1.5) and that contributes somewhat to the total increase in demand, depicted by the red portion of the bars in figure 3. However, the major contributor to the increased demand is a large growth in the number of applicants—from about 19,000 in 1998 to approximately 32,000 in 2011.

The prior way of looking at applicants merely asked how many submitted at least one application in a given year and was therefore insensitive to a change in rate. An investigator who submitted one grant in any 5 year interval was counted in the denominator only for the year of submission. So if she changed her rate to once every year, nothing was altered in the aggregate stats- it would still be one application per investigator per year. The new post at Rock Talking takes the more realistic step of asking how many investigators there are who have submitted within a 5 year rolling interval.

There were 55,750 applicant PIs in the 5 year interval ending in 2002 and 83,546 in the interval ending in 2012. A 50 percent increase in the number of mouths at the trough. This is a depiction of the change that I find much more realistic and believable. The post also gives a better look at the churn rate for applicant PIs

Applicants did apply more often, but the changes were rather small: the total number of applications per investigator in each 5-year period increased from about 2.7 to 3.1 (or from 0.54 applications per investigator per year to 0.62). The percentage applying in only one of the five years in each period decreased from 45% to 40% and the number of investigators applying in four or five of the years in each period increased from 12% to 18%.

I am still surprised, but this just indicates that my perceptions are swayed by being in contact with the most active seekers of funds from the NIH. The bigger labs. This dovetails with my moderate surprise that the vast majority of PIs hold only one or two grants and the plurality holds only one (over 70% of PIs). To belabor the point:

It appears the number of applicants has contributed more. Let’s do the thought experiment. If there had been no increase in applicants and only the observed higher application rate (from 0.54 to 0.62 applications/investigator/year), the number of RPG applications would have grown 16% from 148,878 applications in 1998-2002 to about 170,000 in 2008-2012 instead of the 258,802 that we actually saw. On the other hand, as noted at the beginning of this blog, the increase in applicants alone would produce an increase of about 50%, from 148,878 to almost 225,000.

So we are back to our understanding that the increased competition for funds (74% increase in RPG applications) reflects an increase in the number of applicants. This coincides with the ~50% increase in applicant institutions, seen from about 1998 to 2012 as well. There is one simple conclusion that is supported.

Too many mouths at the NIH trough.

In contrast, this new analysis from Rock Talk, combined with the prior grants-per-PI analysis, shows that *greedy fat cats and furiously-submitting soft-money **GrantHounds contribute much less to the current problems with low paylines and/or success rates.

Additional reading
Does the NIH support too many Principal Investigators?
Preparing our gunsights: What types of investigators exist in the NIH system?
Reconsidering the "too many mouths at the NIH Grant trough" hypothesis
The real problem with the NIH budget is the growth in the number of mouths at the trough

__
*alleged

**rumoured

60 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    KILL THE... KILL THE... the... someone who isn't me?

    A lot of people are screwed.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I guess the 5 year window thing explains why the the upward slope is still almost constant, but surely this has to flatten out soon.* How many places are still expanding their basic research in this climate?

    *One assumes it will eventually have a negative slope when the Great Die Off really gets going.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Jeezus, why is this taking NIH so long to figure out? No freaking wonder that they can't cure cancer. They can't even solve elementary business management issues.

    NIH needs to STOP incentivizing the creation of new applicants. Kill training grants and/or at least STRONGLY encourage the movement of PhDs into not-federally-funded-research careers.

    There are lots of ways to do this. Just kill the training support. Cap the amount of training salary allowable for projects. Shift incentives so that pay goes to techs or anyone else that is not a PI wannabe but can get the science done. Kill support for academic programs. Stop the new investigator perks. Kill the K99s or change them so they facilitate transition from academia to industry. etc etc.

    Otherwise, I might have to write to my congresspeople and suggest some business management oversight... If NIH doesn't want that, they need to get their freaking act in order.

  • The Other Dave says:

    As for your last sentence, DM, remember that the 'number of grants per investigator' thing was bogus to begin with, because it doesn't include the vast majority of researchers that have 0 NIH grants. If we assume that everyone who wants one applies, and most people only apply for one at a time and are satisfied with one (a dodgy assumption, I know, but let's go with it), and funding rates are 5%, then the number of PIs with 0 grants pretty high. The average number of NIH grants per NIH-eligible PI is probably really somewhere about 0.05.

    And anyway, how does that absolve the soft-money investigators & institutions? There was still a substantial increase in number of grants submitted per investigator. Why do you think that was, especially given that average grant size increased quite a bit over the same time. And how many of the 'additional/independent investigators' are actually soft-money research assistant professors that are really part of an existing PI's lab?

    And where do you think all these extra PIs came from anyway? Outer space? No -- they were produced via exploitation of grad students and postdocs over the past 20 years. The cost of supporting the product of that exploitation is now hitting NIH. Who did the exploitation and created the problem? The same people who are now clamoring to preserve the status quo.

  • Joe says:

    Is there any way to figure out who these new applicants are?* What proportion are in academic positions or research positions? How many are underlings in big labs, i.e., super-post-docs that have been given a title that allows them PI status? I don't know how it is where you are, but we have only managed to add faculty when we lose them. We just stay even. Some of our people have stopped writing grants. So we are not adding mouths to the trough that way. What I have seen increase is MDs in people's labs and staff scientists in people's labs writing grants.
    * I think we need to know who the new people are (or who all the people are) if we are going to consider The Other Dave's suggestions for stopping the increase in applicants.

  • coldhot3 says:

    If the payline is so low and investigator on average submit so few grants. There should be large gaps between two NIH funding, who fund them in between? Or there is a hidden elimination process in adjunct or associate professor level that massive enough to kill most PI-wannabes after 2-3 grants?

  • odyssey says:

    The increase in applicants will slow and reverse. It might take a couple more years to be really obvious, but unless there is a miraculous increase in NIH funding, it's inevitable. It won't require any of The Other Dave's suggested fixes. Institutions will deny tenure to the unfunded and rid themselves of the tenured long-term unfunded (tenure is not the protection people think it is). Yes, they will initially hire new junior folks to fill some of the vacancies, but decreased overall funding levels will mean the start-up fund pools will dry up too, putting an end to that.

  • dr_mho says:

    Can someone remind me what the fucking problem is? All this competition appears to make life difficult for individual applicants, but I don't see evidence that it is negatively impacting the Science output of the US as a whole.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    (tenure is not the protection people think it is)

    At most places your tenure is linked to your department, so if your department goes, so does your position, tenured or not.

    I've heard rumors that my previous institution is making a move to "consolidate" the departments into centers, formally abolishing the departments and thus allowing them to throw out unfunded tenured folks.

    Good times...

  • Dave says:

    TOD continues to believe that the NIH has all-of-a-sudden been wiped from the face of the earth. He also continues to believe that private industry is suddenly interested in performing basic research again and is the answer to all of our problems. Laughable.

    The reality is that the NIH will likely see it's budget (mostly) restored in the next fiscal year, many PIs will throw in the towel or retire, youngsters will not even consider a career in science, and things will start to improve. If we are smart, we will learn from this period and make long-term changes that improve the career prospects for all of us.

    This crusade against soft-money researchers who are "clearly just super post-docs" is ridiculous and just shows how many people have no understanding of how life off the tenure-track (or in a medical school) actually works. It also makes people believe that the only way to do research is to do it on the TT and that is just not the case. Sick of this infanticide and selfishness.

  • odyssey says:

    AcademicLurker: There are other ways of getting rid of tenured faculty without changing department structures. Basically you make them want to quit. That process has been initiated here.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @dr_mho: I am a fan of competition. I think it can be efficient. But the success rate now is too low. It is widely acknowledged that it is not possible to reliably discriminate between good and bad science at current funding rates. The increased burden of keeping funded also imposes overhead costs that reduce the overall efficiency of science.

    In other words: NIH funding is a lottery, and it's a lot of work buying tickets.

  • Joe says:

    @odyssey "Institutions will deny tenure to the unfunded..."
    Assuming a 6-year tenure clock, things will therefore get better in 2019, or maybe 2017 if you time it from the end of the ARRA awards.

  • dr_mho says:

    @TOD
    "It is widely acknowledged that it is not possible to reliably discriminate between good and bad science at current funding rates"

    No - it is widely acknowledged that discriminating between the top 10% and the top 15% is unreliable. But even if it's random within this group, you are still guaranteed of getting the top 15% of science funded.

    "The increased burden of keeping funded also imposes overhead costs that reduce the overall efficiency of science."

    This is an assumption, and I do not know of any data supporting it.

  • The Other Dave says:

    dave said: The reality is that the NIH will likely see it's budget (mostly) restored in the next fiscal year, many PIs will throw in the towel or retire, youngsters will not even consider a career in science, and things will start to improve.

    Dude, have you been paying attention? Even without the sequester (which is a 5 year law LOVED by politicians because it allowed them to cut the budget without anyone specific taking blame.), the NIH budget is still not big enough to supply money to all the applicants. The problem we are talking about here existed even a couple years ago, when NIH budgets were at their highest in history. Think of this as a deficit problem if you want -- expenses (people) are growing faster than income (NIH budget).

    As for the problem being solved by The Great Cull, you and I are 100% in agreement.

  • odyssey says:

    Assuming a 6-year tenure clock, things will therefore get better in 2019, or maybe 2017 if you time it from the end of the ARRA awards.

    No, it'll happen sooner. IME the ARRA awards did little to benefit people who weren't already funded. And 2017-2019 doesn't take into account the many junior faculty who started prior to ARRA. They're headed into the meatgrinder now.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @mho:

    1) Funding rates are not at 15%

    2) How many R01 applications have you submitted lately? Wouldn't you rather be doing experiments or writing papers or mentoring? Or at least screwing around writing comments on this blog

    (Disclosure: I admit it. I *should* be writing on that third Aim. But it's some boring technical crap I gotta lay down about stuff I am doing with a collaborator. And there's a seminar in few minutes. And cookies should be out any minute now. So I am having a little trouble staying focused. Sorry.)

  • pablito says:

    1) Funding rates are not at 15%

    Research project success rates for the NIH were 17.6% in FY 2012 and 17.7% in FY 2011.

  • Ola says:

    What I find intereststing (even a bit amusing) about the graph above, is that it appears to level off in 2008-09, then pick up again. WTF? Did everyone just decide to not bother submitting grants when the financial crisis hit? What was the demographic change underlying this blip? Some ideas... Maybe with the crisis or the impression that it was coming, departments stopped hiring, which would suggest the growth is in new folks at old institutions, not new institutions per se. Or maybe everyone was looking for an excuse to get out of science and the crisis gave them (or more likely their chairs) the shove needed to make it happen? Or maybe grant administrators were all tied up the ARRA so they couldn't handle so many new applicants? Either way, it's the most interesting feature of an otherwise boring graph.

  • RadScientist says:

    So I know this is an ongoing discussion about who we cut in order to have the new reduced NIH budget match up better to the number of scientists, but I'm just curious as to your opinion Drugmonkey...what do I do with this information? I'm in my 1st year of a 2nd postdoc (after a prestigious one abroad), who has just gotten a score of 20 on my F32 application, which in any other year would evidently be fundable, but this year has fallen into the "it's approved for funding but we don't know if funds will actually be available, so wait and see", which so far has lasted three months. I love science (more the ideas than the benchwork), I have a supportive PI, I have long wanted to have my own lab despite being fairly realistic about the challenges (hmm...no one is very realistic about their own future, so maybe substitute "educated" in that sentence), but....I look at the applications for industry jobs and just think, maybe it would be nice to have a job with a steady, liveable income that wasn't constantly teetering on the edge of the abyss? If I left academia, in addition to being personally quite sad to give up the dream, I also feel I'd disappoint a lot of people who've invested in my potential, but if I stay...what are my chances, really?

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Ola- ARRA I bet. I think those apps are excluded so probably people's effort was siphoned off. Also, ARRA led to some pickups in early 09....another application suppressing effect?

    RS- the only responsible advice is to tell you to get out of the NIH extramural system if you possibly can. There is no sign of radical improvement ahead that I can see.

  • Anonymous Postdoc says:

    RadScientist's post reminds me of how sometimes when I discuss possible faculty positions and our futures with my fellow post docs, and mind you these are people with k99s or CNS papers or famous bosses, I still feel like we are acting out some modern day Of Mice and Men bullshit. We'll live off the fat of the land. Upon further reflection, given that it is my friends rather than myself with the prestige markers, I might be the Lennie of this scenario.

  • Grumble says:

    "I look at the applications for industry jobs and just think, maybe it would be nice to have a job with a steady, liveable income that wasn't constantly teetering on the edge of the abyss?"

    Industry jobs *might* be more stable, but I've also heard stories about how biotech and pharma companies are notorious for shutting down projects and laying people off with little if any notice. That sounds just about as insecure as academia at the moment.

    "If I left academia, ... I also feel I'd disappoint a lot of people who've invested in my potential, "

    That is the WORST possible basis on which to make your decision. Those same people who "invested in your potential" also profited from your work, if you are referring to your PIs and collaborators. You need to decide based on what YOU want and need, not other people's supposed disappointment.

  • Grumble says:

    @ola:
    "What I find intereststing (even a bit amusing) about the graph above, is that it appears to level off in 2008-09, then pick up again. WTF? Did everyone just decide to not bother submitting grants when the financial crisis hit? What was the demographic change underlying this blip? Some ideas... Maybe with the crisis or the impression that it was coming, departments stopped hiring, ... "

    That is exactly what I think happened. I managed to get hired just before this, but kept my eye on the job postings. I was just floored by how few there were in those years. It's definitely picked up since then.

    "which would suggest the growth is in new folks at old institutions, not new institutions per se."

    Bingo. I think the vast majority of the increasing # of applicants since 2002 is due to new positions created by established colleges and med schools. This is because there is NO DISINCENTIVE for colleges to "invest" in new lab space: they explicitly expect a return on that investment with overhead costs brought by new investigators' grants. The fact that the curve continues to increase indicates that colleges continue to play this game.

    At what point can we expect the curve to fall off? When new investigators really can't get grants any more, thus making college's return on investment negative. Then they'll stop hiring and the curve will flatten. Right now, the majority of new hires are able to get grants, and that will continue for the foreseeable future - so expect the funding rate (and size of the average grant) to continue to decrease. My worry is that when equilibrium is finally attained, the funding rate and grant size will both be so low that PIs will be doing literally nothing but writing grants. It already feels that way to some of us.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    The number of applicant institutions is 50% higher than the low of about 98-99, Grumble. This is down from a peak, too. Of course that was from Rockey's one year analysis an it would be interesting to see it as a rolling 5 yr bin.

  • mikka says:

    So the consensus is let the old retire and/or stop asking for money, let the kids go to applied/engineering research and, most applicable to me, let the young die off.

    Fuck all of you. I am one of those "produced via exploitation of grad students and postdocs over the past 20 years". I didn't turn this into a "game", you did. Now you tell me that the rules have changed, because there's too many of us and you want to keep playing, so fuck me.

    If that's the "game" we are going to play I swear to Cthuluh that any paper, grant application, even lowly abstract from an established investigator that falls on my hands is going to get an utterly unfair assrape, and I would urge all other new PIs to do the same. You have your Bentleys, we have babies to feed. And I may fall but I hope take some of you with me.

  • Joe says:

    @mikka "So the consensus is.... let the young die off."
    Why do you assume the die off will be in the young? The NIH funds at a higher rate for NIs. Multiple private funding agencies only fund new investigators. Start-up packages are 3X what they were a decade ago. Universities (mine and a few others I have personal knowledge of) are only hiring people that they are convinced will get funded and tenured. Departments will need these stars to succeed to keep the budgets balanced, so they are putting more effort and money into helping them.
    The untenured may be the easiest to get rid of, but I suspect that the die-off in terms of who is funded in the future will be visited on investigators of every rank and age.

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    "Why do you assume the die off will be in the young? The NIH funds at a higher rate for NIs. Multiple private funding agencies only fund new investigators."

    This is only delaying the pain and feeds into the extremely cynical, and likely extremely accurate, assessment by Grumble that institutions are happily feeding off the indirects of new investigators funding, then replacing them with NEW new investigators when the old and busted new investigators can't get grants.

    (Query to Grumble and the general audience: I thought that startup funds were supposed to be the skin that the institutions put into the game that would limit this kind of behavior? I haven't heard anything about startup packages getting smaller relative to a decade ago, and the job offers which have been offered to people in my network have been described as having generous startups.)

    Anyway, letting the young die off at the moment when their NI, or at most ESI, status wears off is not better than letting them die off at the postdoc-faculty transition stage. It is worse.

  • Grumble says:

    "The number of applicant institutions is 50% higher than the low of about 98-99, Grumble. "

    Yes, but what fraction of the increase in applicants is from new institutions? Probably not much: a "new institution" almost by definition is submitting just one grant, whereas large colleges submit many, and many more as they grow.

    "I thought that startup funds were supposed to be the skin that the institutions put into the game that would limit this kind of behavior? I haven't heard anything about startup packages getting smaller relative to a decade ago, and the job offers which have been offered to people in my network have been described as having generous startups."

    I think start-up packages are generous because colleges want to attract the best applicants. When they decide to expand or renovate lab space, they figure in the cost of start-up packages based on the going rate.

    As for "skin in the game," I would argue that colleges don't have enough skin in the game. Basically all they need to do is raise enough to expand their lab space. Then everything is paid for by grants and overhead: the research that will go on there, the students who will be trained there, the salaries of the PIs who will run the lab, and the administrative costs of owning the space: every dime of those costs is paid for by Uncle Sam.* That is simply not sustainable. That's why I advocate cutting overhead rates. Colleges need to find other ways to pay for some of these expenses. Cutting overhead would nearly instantly restore balance to this insane system: we'd see the new applicant curve drop off quite rapidly.

    *This isn't strictly true because even soft money faculty have to have some portion of salary paid for by the college: it's illegal to write grants while being paid by the government. But it's a shell game: colleges get those overheads, put them into a big pot, and magically the money is no longer federal. Watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat, Rocky!

  • mikka says:

    Joe

    1. the higher rate for NIs is only to try to overcome the extensively documented bias of study sections against new PIs. At best, it only levels the playing ground. At worst, the study sections react to that by awarding worse scores. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. You can't seriously think that the bias problem is solved, let alone flipped in the NI's favor.

    2. Those private funding agencias you mention can only support a minuscule fraction of the NI pool. And for those that are funded the support is not renewable.

    3. Startup packages have tripled in 10 years? My cursory research says they doubled. Even assuming you are right, BRDPI adjustment tempers my enthusiasm, and I'm not counting the recent increase in bennies for grad students and postdocs. I will concede that my startup does give me a leg up, but if that wasn't there NIs wouldn't have even one leg to stand on.

    4. Universities are hiring fundable people. I don't know if you mean that since I was hired I was considered fundable, or that previously they merrily hired unfundable people, and that the latter will be the victims. Either way I fail to see how that helps me. If you are saying that because of the job market in the last few years the current crop of TT/NTT NIs is particularly competitive (and you bet your ass it is) and that will protect the NI from the great cull, I can only say that I hope you are right.

    You are right that the cull will affect everyone, but I feel like it's specially unfair for NIs. I also assume that every cross-section is now feeling that they are being unfairly targeted. I was mad when I wrote my comment. I'm sorry if I sounded like a sniveling whiney asshole, but I barely see my family as it is, and all I read is that that things are only going to get worse. Please understand.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    mikka-

    I do hope that part of what these blog discussions do is show how everyone has a righteous argument for why they are not the problem and that other guy, over there, needs to be culled. Righteous and angry.

    I likewise hope it shows that Lord of the Flies style behavior wrt grant, manuscript and career review is a very bad road for us to go down. I certainly hear oldsters (who have influence and power beyond themselves) raging about some Asst Prof X who clearly screwed them at grant review combined with dire threats of revenge. I tell those people they are being idiots too, btw.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Joe-

    mikka is right that the ESI/NI breaks on paylines are in a constantly running battle with study sections further lowering scores. (Entirely predictably. This is why I think this bandaid is stupid and they should have fixed review itself. ) Zerhouni was quoted in news bit in Science to this effect after only one or two FYs of the ESI pickups. IME this hasn't changed...in part because reviewers anchor their behavior around a perceived payline.

  • WS says:

    Whoever came up with our NIH system for funding scientific research is a fucking (evil) genius. It is a lot like the Hunger Games that the NIH puts on for its own amusement, and the more participants they can throw in to get slaughtered, the more amusing it is. Does anyone know of any degree other than Ph.D. where people are paid to get the degree? That should be a strong hint, to anyone considering graduate school, about its value.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Really WS? Really?

    C'mon now.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    WS,

    I don't blame the NIH. They're doing the best they can while being overwhelmed with applicants. I blame schools of medicine.

    The real culprits for the current crisis are the SOM deans and other upper admins who continued to endlessly construct new research buildings and expand their programs with no thought for sustainability beyond a vague notion that the NIH budget would just go on doubling every few years forever.

    One hopes that the crash that's now getting started in earnest will lead to a change in how things are done.

  • TheThirdReviewer says:

    No, it'll happen sooner. IME the ARRA awards did little to benefit people who weren't already funded. And 2017-2019 doesn't take into account the many junior faculty who started prior to ARRA. They're headed into the meatgrinder now.

    Do most places not give out some "bridge" funds? Some admins have to be at least partially human right? Nobody likes firing people they know and interact with everyday. That means the Great Culling may be a little later, or at least it will be painfully drawn out at some places.

    This is only delaying the pain and feeds into the extremely cynical, and likely extremely accurate, assessment by Grumble that institutions are happily feeding off the indirects of new investigators funding, then replacing them with NEW new investigators when the old and busted new investigators can't get grants.

    As for this...the bump for new investigators may lead to something like this.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    From whence are these "bridge funds" to come? Leprechaun hoards?

  • The Iron Chemist says:

    From what I have seen, some institutions/departments are realistic about the new world order with respect to funding. Others, regrettably for the junior folk, are not.

    With respect to the NI/established debate, until recently the general consensus was that the second grant (first one as a non-NI) was the toughest one to get. That certainly isn't the case anymore.

    Things have certainly gotten more cut-throat, and I fear that the "unfair assraping" alluded to by Mikka is more prevalent than most of us would like to admit.

  • Joe says:

    mikka,
    The way that the private agency funding helps NIs is that you might get tenured with an ACS or AHA grant in the current climate even without an NOH R01. I've seen it happen, though it's still a hard sell at promotions & tenure committee. The R01 pink sheets need to sound really good so that the committee will think that in previous years and future years you would have gotten it.
    University hiring has gotten more conservative for TT positions. In the past departments might take a risk on a someone they liked, but now they want the super-star or someone who already has funds. I see the difference a lot with spousal hires. The school kicks in 1/3 of cost, the main hire's dept kicks in 1/3, and the dept is asked if they want the spouse and will kick in the last 1/3. It used to be an easy sell (a faculty member for 1/3 the price). Now they better be really good.

  • Grumble says:

    Bottom line: don't marry a crap scientist.

  • Industry Scientist says:

    Grumble: "Industry jobs *might* be more stable, but I've also heard stories about how biotech and pharma companies are notorious for shutting down projects and laying people off with little if any notice. That sounds just about as insecure as academia at the moment."

    Depends on the company. There's a lot downsizing at Big Pharma, but there's also a lot of growth in Biotech. Our company is far more stable than academia at the moment and the career tracks in industry are much better (for PhDs) and much more attainable (it's easier to become an director/associate director of a lab division than it is to get a TT professorship, IMHO). You work hard and meet your goals in industry, you're promoted.

    I will say though the one thing which surprised me the most about switching to industry was, despite the stress and pressure of deadlines, they pale in comparison to the stress and pressure of constantly having to secure funding. The work and hours you put in is about equal, but I've been far less stressed in industry than when I was as a postdoc. And I enjoy my work far more as a result (actually earning a livable salary with benefits for the research I do does also help in that regard).

  • drugmonkey says:

    With respect to the NI/established debate, until recently the general consensus was that the second grant (first one as a non-NI) was the toughest one to get. That certainly isn't the case anymore.

    HAHHAHAHAHAAH!!!! Yes, the "general consensus" among those who are trying to get their second grant, for sure.

    This doesn't mean it is true though.

  • odyssey says:

    Do most places not give out some "bridge" funds? Some admins have to be at least partially human right? Nobody likes firing people they know and interact with everyday. That means the Great Culling may be a little later, or at least it will be painfully drawn out at some places.

    You don't make tenure on bridge funds. If, and that's a big if, there are bridge funds available.

  • odyssey says:

    The way that the private agency funding helps NIs is that you might get tenured with an ACS or AHA grant in the current climate even without an NOH R01.

    YMMV.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I posted a polite version of my 'suggestions' (first post above) in the comments on Rockey's blog and it was deleted within hours. Part of the problem is that they don't want debate. Their argument has been -- and always will be -- that the solution to the problem is more money from congress. They are as selfish as any government agency out there and are willing to throw a generation of scientists under the bus so they can point to the carnage in the quest for more allocation.

    But back to the discussion here... (I type while the equipment gathers prelim data for my proposal...)

    So I am one of these tenured bastards submitting proposals and clogging up the system, driving rates down and making you young guys look crappy because I have bunches of people getting preliminary data, established collaborations, and a lab full of nice stuff collected over a decade of funding.

    What do you think I should do? Stop submitting proposals so that the system unclogs, funding rates go up, and postdocs and new PIs feel better? Retire on the lack of money that I never saved because I didn't have a job either until I was almost 40 years old? And if I retire then my university would have to spend another startup package and lab renovation to replace me with someone with no teaching or mentoring experience, just as I take on more of these responsibilities.

    Look, I am not happy about the funding rates or Great Cull either. I have seen friends and colleagues lose jobs and homes and sometimes have to leave the country. But think carefully before you decide who should be culled.

    The country and institutions are going to be reluctant to get rid of people and things in which they are already heavily invested. It is easier, and arguably more sensible, to turn off the pipeline. All the new investigator perks in the world are not going to change that. Do the math. It takes more than the first R01 to pay an institution back for your hire. As DM pointed out -- the money for that stuff doesn't come from leprechaun hordes.

    Sorry that some of you have to read about reality on the internet. Blame your advisor(s).

  • mikka says:

    I overpowered my skepticism about people getting tenure on an ACS (20% indirects? I don't see my university going for that even in the best of times and the pink sheet better be glorious reading considering the A1 limit) and I went to the ACS website to see if I could convince them that yeast will cure cancer. I was welcomed with this bit of news:

    "IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Cancellation of Spring 2013 Grants Cycle
    The American Cancer Society Extramural Grants program is exploring ways to more cost-effectively conduct its peer review process in order to maximize the dollars that go toward research and training and minimize the administrative costs associated with the program."

    The optimist in me thinks that it is what they say it is, and are trying to fix the low funding rate lottery by fixing peer review and increasing the research funding share of their budget. The pessimist says that they are doing it to save one funding cycle. Both mean that they are short on cash, so there goes my plan.

  • drugmonkey says:

    it was deleted within hours

    looks like it is still there to me, paranoid TOD

  • The Other Dave says:

    Here is a vivid memory of mine: After a couple months of grad school, the dept head and chair of the program came into the first year class and told us that grad school was going to be a lot harder than undergrad, and the job of a scientist only gets harder after that. He was right.

    Start asking older faculty what the easiest most fun time of their training and career was. It will probably be whatever most of you are moaning about now. It doesn't get easier. You must learn to love the challenge and every stupid thing about being a scientist. You must love reading incredibly boring shit that has a 99.99% change of never being relevant. You must love sucking up to people you despise because they are powerful. Rejection must perversely fascinate you. You must embrace the illogic of bureaucracy and get joy from filling out forms. You must be happy in situations where there is never 'good enough', no one to watch for and fix your mistakes before you are crucified for them, and if you're working in the right environment everyone is smarter than you (and probably knows it). You must get used to being the villain who has to deny admission and fire people and tell people stuff that they thought about and worked on for months or years is crap, even when you know it will destroy them or their career, because it's true. And science is all about getting to truth, no matter how dark and cold and horrible and merciless.

    And yet, and yet.... I also still think that I have the best job in the world.

    Keep that in mind, folks. You are competing with addicts like me. I will keep slaving over and sending in applications even when the funding rate is 0.01%, because I BELIEVE in what we're doing, and love writing and telling people about it.

    5% funding rates?! Awesome! I will pick a penny out of a dog turd.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @DM: Holy crap. You're right. Weird. I could have sworn it was gone. I take back every bad thing I ever said about NIH. I am sure that right now my comments are the focus of an emergency meeting filled with NIH administrators excited that the solution to everything is right in front of them. Too bad I used a bogus email, or no doubt they'd be contacting me to replace Collins.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @odyssey: I serve on a university-wide panel that decides whether to give out 'bridge funds'. They are intended to be exactly what they sound like: A 'bridge'. Successful applicants need to make a strong case that with specific preliminary data, they will have an R01 in the bag. They need to explain why those data are crucial, how they'll get that data, and WTF they were doing when they had funding before that they don't already have the data.

    'Bridge' funding is not meant to be merciful. It's an investment.

  • MorganPhD says:

    @Mika,
    I recently spoke with some of the ACS fundraisers and my program officer (I'm currently funded with them) and it seems they really are trying to figure out peer review issues. The system as of now sort of stinks (scoring is like kindergarten where the top score is "Outstanding") and they're debating who is eligible and some other things (ie. should non-US citizens be eligible).

  • Grumble says:

    "scoring is like kindergarten where the top score is 'Outstanding'"

    Yeah, see, if you use numbers from 1 through 9, that's much much MUCH more sophisticated. ESPECIALLY if 1 means good and 9 means bad. That's so damn sophisticated, it took me half my scientific career to figure it out.

    Now I'm going to guffaw myself over to the bar and drink myself stupid over that horrible "more mouths at the trough" graph.

  • miko says:

    "Successful applicants need to make a strong case that with specific preliminary data, they will have an R01 in the bag."

    WTF does a rational argument that ANYONE has an R01 "in the bag" look like at 5% paylines? "I've kidnapped my PO's children?" Bridge funding works like every other administrative goody in the world --- you are the relevant chair/deanlets broseph or not.

  • whimple says:

    The number of mouths to feed is a direct function of the indirect cost rate. This has been known since shortly after the launch of Sputnik (1957) when there was a huge push to get the country to do more research, but universities weren't interested in federal dollars because they lost money on the deal. The solution to this problem was to raise indirect cost rates, to incentivize the universities suitably to increase their demand for federal research dollars. It's perfectly obvious that if there is now excessive demand, the way to throttle that back is by scaling back indirects.

  • WS says:

    "And yet, and yet.... I also still think that I have the best job in the world.
    Keep that in mind, folks. You are competing with addicts like me. I will keep slaving over and sending in applications even when the funding rate is 0.01%, because I BELIEVE in what we're doing, and love writing and telling people about it.
    5% funding rates?! Awesome! I will pick a penny out of a dog turd."

    Let the Hunger Games begin!! TOD, I think you will be the last man standing. Qapla!! (that's Klingon for success).

  • whimple says:

    I wonder whether TOD's trainees are as motivated as he is?

  • Dave says:

    I've kidnapped my PO's children?

    Only works if you're in the grey zone.

  • clueless noob says:

    What advice do you have for a noob now fully enmeshed in the NIH extramural system? I'm one year into a 2-year LRP contract (which I'll need to renew for another 2 years), 6 months into an R21, with a pending K23 (5 years of 100% FTE). (I got very, very lucky this year.) My plan is to hunker down for the next two years and focus on publications and training, then in year 3 start submitting a steady stream of R01 applications from the R21 pilot data (which is allowable for mentored career dev awards), sustain that pace until one sticks, and then hit the job market again in search of a hard money position. Is this anywhere near the mark?

  • RadScientist says:

    Thanks for the honest advice DM. Actually, I got my start as a pre-IRTA and would love to get in on some INTRAmural NIH funding, but from what I've heard about those job searches I'd have more luck trying to get an RO1 funded to do unicorn research.

    @ Grumble, I want to do science, more than anything. I love it. What I was trying to say about other people's opinions, is that I think they would say I have what it takes to do good science and contribute to the field, and I can understand why they want to encourage me. It just seems a shame to keep losing people like that. I realize that doesn't make me special, and there are plenty of others like me. In fact, this whole funding squish really makes it seem like we're a dime a dozen. And as for the stability of jobs in industry, like "Industry Scientist" seems to be pointing out, if you're going to face the possibility of losing your job, it might be a bit nicer to have been adequately paid and been able to build up a cushion, unlike the pathetic savings I have right now. And, frankly, if I'm going to lose my job, I might rather have it happen quickly than over a long period of trying and failing to get grants, with the constant stress and fear of failure.

  • RadScientist says:

    Also, @DM and the other Dave- I think I'm actually saying that my stage is the people who should be culled. I'm not mad at ESIs or 65 year old tenured faculty for getting grants- if I could ever get to their stage, I would want to keep doing science forever too! And I can't see any justification to sacrificing them to make opportunities for my untested self. But I think that funding scientific research, in addition to creating cool jobs, is really important and beneficial for American society and the economy (as well as the world!). So, I'm really worried about what this "too many mouths at the trough" phenomenon means for all of us in the long run.

    I will say, I think indirect costs are excessive. But acknowledge that they might actually be totally reasonable and I just don't understand why.

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