Something seems wrong with this tenure math

Jul 17 2013 Published by under Academics, Anger

Prof-like Substance has written a post wondering if the grant-related criteria for tenure have been modified in the face of the current funding environment. One of the comments drew my eye. Elsa said:

We have monthly workshops for new faculty sponsored by the dean's office and were recently told that "NIH funding rates are at 10-15% but we expect all of our faculty to be in the top 10-15%." Large state school R1.

Deans who expect all of their faculty to be in the top 15% of all scientists funded by, for example, the NIH are delusional. That's the first problem. Especially if you are in a large state school with a heavy research mission. There have to be at least 50 of these, by anyone's criteria for "large state school R1", in the US. The Rock Talking blog indicated there are something on the order of 85,000 applicant PIs to the NIH. Gating on R01 apps only, there are about 1,200 applicant institutions (1,900 counting all application types). Fifteen percent of 85,000 is 12,750 investigators. If these are evenly distributed between 1,200 or 1,900 institutions, we end up with 8-11 top-15%ile investigators at each institution.

Now, we don't know the size of the skew in the distribution and my estimate of 50 large state schools is rough. It also overlooks the big private universities and medical schools as well as a couple of moneybag$$ research institutes. Luckily, there is the NIH RePORT. Ranking applicant institutions by aggregate funding in FY2013 I'm down to 200 places and still seeing Universities that might be seen as "large state schools, R1". Especially by their own Deans of Research and/or Faculty. The Universities around a rank of 200 are landing about $8 million, each, from the NIH so far this Fiscal Year. Let's suppose that the above 12,750 top-15%ile investigators were distributed only to these 200 applicant institutions- we end up with only 63 investigators per institution. From this analysis, the Dean would have to be overseeing only 63 faculty to make the expectation a valid one.

Soo...that leads to another question, how many awards per institution as we descend the ranks? Well ranking the FY2013 table by the number of awards, I make it to about 115 applicant institutions with more than 63 awards. Obviously, some subset of investigators are holding multiple awards so this is a very rough indicator. But still. The idea that only about 60 or so professors are seeking NIH funding from these rather large state Universities that slot in around the 116 total-NIH-funding rank is absurd. Clearly there are many, many more.

The abovementioned expectation was also, I remind you, directed at the first 6 years of a professor's career since this is when the tenure decision comes. These poor suckers have a very narrow window to get their NIH grants funded. That's a further absurdity in the expectation.

Finally, to undercut both my analysis and the expectation that triggered this post.... NIH grant success rates are per-application and do not reflect the per-PI success rate. We have not yet see, to my recollection, is a per-applicant success rate across a 2-3 year interval. It is likely higher than the NIH's per-application success rate but I really don't know that for sure. If it is substantially higher then succeeding in time where the NIH success rate is 15% is going to be available to more than 15% of all applicant PIs.

OTOH, the RockTalk analyses (here, here, here) argue that the massive increase in applications is being driven by more applicants, not by the same number of applicants submitting more grants. So it may be that the per-PI success rate really doesn't differ much from the per-application success rate.

109 responses so far

  • There has to be a similarly...unbalanced... logic when it comes to NSF funded researchers as well. At least for my program, our funding rates have been sub 10% for years (5% last year).

    I have found the discussion of the tenure math to be interesting and horrifying. The horrifying part: If institutions keep holding tightly to the grant=tenure criteria there's a whole generation that is just going to get flushed down the tubes. This really seems like insanity. The interesting part: Replacing those fired untenured profs w/ new profs who might have a chance at getting grant \( requires start-up money. I don't know how it works at richer institutions, but there's no way we have F&A (or indirect if you prefer) \) flowing in at a high enough rate to offset the start-up costs of a large-scale grant=tenure purge. Fortunately, my institution (r2 or research high, whatevs) does not have grants as a tenure criteria.

  • Dave says:

    Like I said, the more scarce the money becomes, the more our admin is expecting us to bring in. It is completely detached from the reality of the situation and they all believe that "their" PIs are the best in the business, which is a laugh at my place. They are expecting soft-money faculty to be paying >90% of their salary which, in this climate, is essentially impossible from federal sources alone.

    However, what is becoming apparent is that a lot of our senior faculty are very,very bad at writing grants and the tightening budgets are revealing this in a big way. A full prof tenured colleague of mine just got scored in the 83%ile (!!) for a VA Merit Award and one of the major criticisms was that the grant was so badly written that it was literally impossible to follow. I don't think tenured faculty should be leaving that kind of low-hanging fruit for review panels to pick. It's hard enough as it is.

    So, there is certainly some cleaning that the admin does need to do. The question is will they make the right decisions when cull-time comes?

  • Neuropop says:

    Cull time came and went and I got culled with 1 R01 as PI, 1 R01 as co-PI (the mechanism required at least 2 PIs), an active NSF grant and no wet lab. The party line was "we expect you to have that level of funding anyway".....So I am on the lookout for a new place to be.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Morgan Ernest: My previous institution has been doing this. They offer assistant profs startup packages several times larger than when I was starting, and have been booting people out as early as the 3rd year review if they don't have RO1 level funding.

    It's insane. This has got be be losing them money even faster than keeping some underfunded tenured faculty around would.

    I'm glad I escaped.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Neuropop- are you saying they expected *more*???? Or that this was no protection once they decided they were unhappy with your science?

  • Neuropop says:

    DM -- I don't think they expected more, but yes, this was no protection once they decided that there weren't enough glamour pubs.

  • Grumble says:

    From the perspective of someone at a med school, where tenure is handed out like the goddamn crown jewels (i.e., only to those who poop diamonds), the discussion of whether tenure decisions should depend on grant funding is just silly. Of course it does. EVERYTHING depends on grant funding.

    If you're at an undergraduate university and there's not enough teaching for you to do to justify your salary, you're in exactly the same boat. Who is going to pay you, if not you?

  • BugDoc says:

    "Deans who expect all of their faculty to be in the top 15% of all scientists funded by, for example, the NIH are delusional. "

    Except at the University of Lake Woebegone....

  • Dave says:

    Cull time came and went and I got culled with 1 R01 as PI, 1 R01 as co-PI (the mechanism required at least 2 PIs), an active NSF grant and no wet lab

    Huh? This needs some elaboration.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Well that is certainly an important lesson for us all Neuropop.

  • Neuropop says:

    Dave: I do pen & paper/computational work in a primarily empirical department in a med school. As DM said before, all the funding was no protection once they decided that the science wasn't glam enough.

  • Dave says:

    @Neuropop: this was a tenure decision, right? Ivy?

  • Dave says:

    ...all the funding was no protection

    Call me dense, but I don't know what this means.

  • Neuropop says:

    Dave: Yes, tenure decision but not Ivy.

  • Neuropop says:

    Dave: DM's words....

  • meshugena313 says:

    Wow, this is some scary shit. And hell, if you need to shit diamonds in order to get tenure then you'll soon need to go to a surgeon to get your kishkes and ass repaired - I guess you'll go to the fancy surgeon at your fancy institution, bringing in new money!

    Our dean has been sending out threatening notices to secure more funding or risk getting salary cuts up to 50%. Of course this is now all the faculty talk about in somewhat open revolt, but to what end? No recourse.

    Our dean actually referenced the plan in place at Pitt, which explicitly cuts salary or culls people at less than 75%: http://www.medfaculty.pitt.edu/documents/Performance_Plan_and_Evaluation_Update_SOM2.pdf. This doc doesn't even seem to have any loopholes! At least my institution has flexibly worded policies.

  • Alex says:

    In my world of small colleges and "regional" state universities (focused primarily on undergrads), they aren't requiring grants yet, but they're certainly thirsty for them. It seems like every undergrad-focused school out there has decided that research grants are the right way to fix their budgets.

    If this were 1997 I would see their point. But Veruca Salt had a nasty split, so we're past that point.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    The questions at the end of the UPITT video are priceless.

    Why didn't anybody ask the Dean how much of his $450K salary he was supporting through his NIH funding?

  • Juanlopez says:

    Drugmonkey, the math is more complicated because grants cover multiple years, of course. Your calculations are only per-year. On the other hand, it's virtually impossible to cover the whole PI salary from a single R01. Impossible from NSF, AFIK. I bet that even many Big shot profs don't cover 75% of their salaries from federal funding, especially with the salary caps. They may get a lot of money, but they are also expensive to maintain.

    PITT did another interesting thing to make it even more difficult for faculty to cover their salaries: PITT negotiated an increase in indirect rate, but NIH and other institutions will not increase the rate on grants already awarded, so PITT will take the difference from the direct costs. Considering fringe and other costs, the grant money going to the institution is more than 50% of the award.

  • NIH Budget Cutter says:

    It's time to face the music for all that unfettered PhD cloning.

    By the way, the pain is only just beginning. According to the Budget Control Act of 2011, aka "the sequester," there is yet another round of spending cuts coming next year. It's gonna be a bloodbath. LOL. Good luck with that!!!

  • Dave says:

    The most shocking thing is that there is no scaling back in admin when grants are no longer coming in (this is a no brainer). Instead, places like PITT are raising F&As to continue to make budgets. This is the opposite of what they need to do. Moreover, at places like mine they are giving merit raises to all staff (not faculty) and at the same time freezing faculty promotion and hiring and travel. Oh, and they just announced a website redesign and are in the process of coming up with a new strategic plan. Both are employing outside consultants and are costing 100s of thousands of dollars. They are addicted...

  • NIH Budget Cutter says:

    "Deans who expect all of their faculty to be in the top 15% of all scientists funded by, for example, the NIH are delusional."

    Yep, that is a pretty dumb proposition. But not as dumb as failing to consider the consequences of training a gazillion students and postdocs to compete for a piece of the pie.

  • Dave says:

    That one lady hit the nail on the head though. To make up over 75% of your salary from NIH grants, you will need way over 2 R01 level grants, and most likely 3. That is laughably unrealistic for the majority of med school faculty.

  • Ola says:

    @Dave, depends on your salary I suppose. If you can't pay 75% from direct costs on 2 RO1s, I'd say it's time to rethink your salary. When did having PhD non-clinician full professors at the NIH salary cap suddenly become acceptable.

    Re: original topic, every Dean has Lake Wobegone Syndrome, it's a condition for the job.

  • damit says:

    At my institution the expecation is now codified also at 75 percent coverage...with the extra little jewel that tenured faculty undergo a 15 percent annual salary cut if they are not reaching that.

    Coupled with pretty draconian nonrenewals of contracts for nontenured people who either didn't reach that level or whose grants ran out...

    I am covering...and am "rewarded" with being on the "death panel" to review people for salary cuts. The really striking thing about that was, last year..,they did not take any of our recommendations. All was done by a formula, and the reviews were largely overruled.
    I had people furious at me for a couple of weeks, until we all realized it was all for show.

    Needless to say...I am on the market.....

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    damit -- without outing yourself, what type of institution are you at?

  • The Other Dave says:

    I hate having to compete against these people at med schools who need to bring in so much of their salary. They're desperate, so they 'massage' their data.

  • dr24hours says:

    This whole discussion is the great unintended consequence of federal funding of science. It's a noble thing to do. But the result is that savvy administrators learned that they can grow fat parasitizing scientists. And we just stand there and take it. One reason for outrageous F&A eating up the NIH budget is the massive over-regulation of science. Another is the simple avarice of the parasite class.

    Ola- you criticize a scientist for too high a salary? It's the administrators who should be capped.

    We need a general science strike. Not against the NIH funding lines. But against the university system that considers us nothing more than a revenue stream.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Med school deans and army generals are similar in that they benefit from the short sighted confidence of young fools.

    Second rank to the fore! Fire proposals at will!

  • AcademicLurker says:

    While my current institution is much better than the place I left, nevertheless at this year's State of the School address from the Dean, they put up a chart with rosy budget projections about how our extramural funding will grow by leaps and bounds over the next 5 years.

    I'm pretty sure that every dean at every institution in the country is doing the same thing. It's like collective psychosis.

  • Grumble says:

    dr24: "This whole discussion is the great unintended consequence of federal funding of science. It's a noble thing to do. But the result is that savvy administrators learned that they can grow fat parasitizing scientists. And we just stand there and take it. One reason for outrageous F&A eating up the NIH budget is the massive over-regulation of science. Another is the simple avarice of the parasite class. "

    It's actually not the "over-regulation of science" that's the problem. The problem is that NIH buys hook, line and sinker into the idea that it needs to pay for *all* of a research project, including rent, utilities, and "administration" (such as 25 deanlets per 200 faculty). Why should that be?

    What's happening here is that colleges have almost no "skin in the game." They see that NIH will pay for everything, so they have little incentive to find ways to pay for the day-to-day operations that support researchers. So of course that means they are incentivized to build more and more lab space as an "investment", which means there are more and more profs, which means competition for grants gets to be harder and harder, which means deans then say, "whoa, we can't afford you little fuckes who can't pay your goddamn salaries, so get the hell out so we can hire someone with 3 Nature papers from his post-doc." And the cycle starts all over.

    What needs to happen: Congress has to step in and force NIH to limit F&A. It's as simple as that. The system is spinning out of control and perpetuation of this absurd cycle is ultimately going to have a huge impact on scientific productivity.

  • Dave says:

    Ola is absolutely right in his last post. A complete re-evaluation of how government funds scientific research is in order. And a fresh look at how institutions are abusing their position by not paying for - well, anything - is needed. If the cuts continue in 2014, it will be the only way as we will be facing mass layoffs. Tenured or not, it will be a financial exigency orgy on campuses across the country. The GOPTea want to cut 20% from the NIH next year and, while I think it wont be that bad, another 5% cut is more than likely at this point.

    And we should all be asking how $30 billion a year is not enough. It fucking well should be.

  • Dave says:

    @Dave, depends on your salary I suppose.

    Not really. You can't really request more than 30% from a single R01, so even if that is 30% of $35K/year, it's still only 30%. What you are talking about only becomes a factor if you are close to the cap. I only know one or two profs at my place who are close to the cap and, yes, they are struggling to cover anything close to 75% and they are looking at very large salary cuts.

  • Grumble says:

    "It fucking well should be."

    Not necessarily. It depends on how fast you want scientific advancement to happen. $30 billion is a tiny drop in the overall budget, yet it pays for itself many times over. I'm not sure you can say the same thing about our massively more expensive military.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I'm not sure you can say the same thing about our massively more expensive military.

    Unfortunately "But look how insignificant this is compared to our bloated defense budget!" is an argument that is always true but never effective.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You can request whatever the heck you want in terms of effort on a single R01. From 0% because you have an endowed chair or something, all the way to 100%.

    Also, you can propose 30% and after funding charge 75% rather trivially.

  • Dave says:

    You can request whatever the heck you want in terms of effort on a single R01

    But I have seen comments on here recently where grants have been dinged for requesting high effort levels, like >50%. Especially for young investigators/ESI.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What is wise from a grant-getting perspective is not always the same as what is permitted by the rules.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    My strategy, btw, is to match the effort request to the number of awards that appear in my bio sketch for each proposal. I might go to 50% if I'm at a low funding ebb. 15-20% if I'm looking flush. I don't think I've ever seen any complaining about too much or too little effort proposed. Certainly not in years.

  • Dave says:

    What is wise from a grant-getting perspective is not always the same as what is permitted by the rules.

    Ha!

  • dr_mho says:

    All I can say about that Pittsburgh shit is holy fuck! We have nothing like that institutionalized "supervising" of PIs here (private northeast R1). Is this pretty common for others?

  • Dave says:

    Yeh, pretty much. Seems a lot of places are instituting faculty "compensation plans" that are designed to match salary with grants. Haven't seen an administrator "compensation plan" yet though. Still waiting for that one........

  • Eli Rabett says:

    "Deans who expect all of their faculty to be in the top 15% of all scientists funded by, for example, the NIH are delusional. "

    You forgot homicidal

  • The Other Dave says:

    Grumble: "What needs to happen: Congress has to step in and force NIH to limit F&A. "

    Yes, exactly. Is anyone from congress reading this?!

    The problem is, I think Congress doesn't get that much into the nitty gritty. They just allocate, and it's somewhere in HHS or NIH that details like F&A caps get set. Does anyone here know for sure?

    In which case, it will never happen because high power institutions (which are 'high power' mostly because they consume the most grant money) would scream, because it's them that would be disproportionately hurt by a cut in F&A. So Harvard med school and Johns Hopkins and UCSF will say how the changes will cripple U.S. Biomedical research, and people will listen, and the places that aren't already rolling in money will eat cake.

    I saw some graph a few months ago that showed that funding rates at a few U.S. institutions have been going up while rates in general have gone down. So not everyone is suffering the same. The money is just getting more concentrated in a few places. Is that a bad thing? Or is it good because it focuses research money in 'centers of excellence'? This latter approach is what places like Germany have explicitly taken in the past few years. Did it work for them? I have mixed feelings. I see some really good places in Germany doing phenomenal stuff, but also a lot of waste and extravagance in some of these centers.

  • Dave says:

    I'm not sold on the whole "Center of Excellence" thing, but you are right in that it is possible that what will happen is that research will become more concentrated in a few "elite" institutions. Especially if budgets continue to drop.

    In regards to the F&A, I was under the impression that universities essentially lobby congress for their F&As and then that sort of trickles through the official channels until it gets approved. I could be very wrong though. But I don't think congress comes up with the values themselves.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Yes, Dave, per: http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/EOP/OSTP/html/analysis_univ.html

    "F&A rates are established through negotiations between the federal government and individual institutions.The established rates are used to bill the federal government for the F&A cost portion of federal programs, when not restricted by program statutes or agency policies. "

    This document, by the way, supports the Dean's argument (discussed here in some other post) that institutions don't recover all the costs of doing research.

    But of course that's 'the costs of doing research' according to some fat cat institutional administrator, who considers his fat salary and 35 assistant vice deans for administrative money spending as legitimate 'costs of doing research'. I think it's also influenced heavily by the needs of research institutes and small businesses which may not yet be profitable. They have no other source of income (tuition, state funds, etc), so they either cover their F&A costs (by debt, if necessary) or go out of business. Thus, a reasonable argument could be made that capping F&A would primarily hurt tech startups. Congress obviously would want the opposite. I don't know (because I'm not in business) whether the tax treatment of R&D expenses is enough to recover much.

  • coldhot3 says:

    I think the "Center of Excellence" thing doesn't hold water because such center of excellence need PhD and postdocs trained in other place to do the basic works. If other places lose research capacity all together, how could they produce quality undergrad and PhD for "Center of Excellence" to consume?

  • Juan Lopez says:

    "Centers of excellence" is the name given to the few selected places getting funds. It is already common elsewhere in the world, especially developing countries. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy because, being the only funded ones, they do the best work (often the only work), at least locally.
    I don't support the concept because it further polarizes the community into haves and have nots. It reinforces the self-perceptions of entitlement.

    Coldhot3 - typically "centers of excellence" produce enough offspring to perpetuate the place. By virtue of their uniqueness many offspring go on to high-ranking spots in admin and government, or other centers of excellence. Naturally, later they believe in the system and it becomes so difficult to change it. Every now and then an exceptional outsider is allowed in, and though uncommon, touted as proof that the system is not exclusionary, just excellent.

  • Beaker says:

    Of course money is becoming more concentrated at elite institutions. There was a discussion a while back on this blog about NIH funds per capita, ranked according to various metropolitan areas. Big northeast coast cities (Boston, NYC, Philly, Balmer), along with a few prestigious west coast schools, get the lion's share, even when corrected for population density.

    This is not particularly surprising, nor it it necessarily a bad thing in times of austerity. Considering who holds sway on study sections, this trend is likely to continue. I wouldn't be surprised if the issue of concentrating monies in the elite schools has been discussed explicitly in private conversations among the powers-that-be.

    Further, if we consider that institutions with big endowments are better equipped to survive austerity, once the austerity ends, those same institutions will more quickly be able to complete for any new funds. Bottom line: the Great Cull will hit the poor preferentially.

  • Grumble says:

    "it will never happen because high power institutions (which are 'high power' mostly because they consume the most grant money) would scream, because it's them that would be disproportionately hurt by a cut in F&A"

    High power, low power - doesn't matter: if an institution gets F&A, they are going to oppose a reduction in all this free money. Any change Congress makes would have to be driven by some powerful group that's opposed to F&A for its own reasons. This would seem like an obvious position for the Tea Party fruitcakes to take, but they are too stupid to take such a nuanced view. All they want to do is cut taxes and smash gov'mint with large blunt instruments, not reform fiscal policy in a well thought-out way. So, with no advocates, F&A reform is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future (or beyond).

    (And yes, F&A rates are not set by Congress, but are negotiated by institutions. That doesn't prevent Congress from setting up guidelines to cap or reduce F&A expenditures. All they need is the political will.)

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    I am a chair of a department at a large public university (in the med school). We have been discussing the idea of the R01 or equivalent being an absolute necessity for tenure. Even our med school Dean thinks that this idea as an absolute will cost us our seed corn if we promotion and tenure committees are too rigid.

    We are looking at ways to develop deferred action or even (*gasp*) award someone tenure without being PI on an NIH grant as long as other metrics for excellence in scholarly work are met.

    Team science criteria are also becoming part of the equation for assessing scholarly work.

  • eeke says:

    fyi, NIH policy on F&A rates for SBIR/STTR is that a request of up to 40% does not require justification, but greater than that does:
    http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-09-038.html

    My husband has been a participant on a number of these awards, and their F&A request hovers around 10%. A small business does not have this massive, over-inflated administration that a university does. I think there is a glaring abuse of indirect costs that needs to be evaluated, and those who deny it are themselves delusional.

  • Beaker says:

    Dr. F, in addition to the seed corn argument proffered by the Dean, are tenure committees also discussing the issue of hypocrisy? If a significant portion of committee members are unable to sustain NIH funding themselves, then how can they in good conscience expect Jr faculty to do it?

    Grumble, I agree with you about F &A rates being too high. However, in the short term, won't lowering these rates just make research faculty appear less valuable to the University and thus more subject to further culling? Since the deanlets control most of the purse strings, if they can't get themselves paid from one slush fund, they'll just find another.

  • Beaker says:

    Or, to restate my last sentence: if the plane is going down, the deans and administrators will ensure that their life jackets are well-secured before attempting to help others.

  • Dave says:

    We have been discussing the idea of the R01 or equivalent being an absolute necessity for tenure.

    It will basically come down to the fact that if you insist on it being a requirement for tenure, then you better go looking for that 3 Nature paper post-doc that Grumble was talking about because you will be needing to replace a lot of your TT faculty. Like DM says, the math just isn't in your favor.

  • Dave says:

    If a significant portion of committee members are unable to sustain NIH funding themselves, then how can they in good conscience expect Jr faculty to do it?

    Same way that some douchebags on NIH study sections demand multiple CNS papers from young faculty when they themselves haven't held a grant or published in a decent society-level journal for decades.

    Let me know when you find the ladder......................

  • drugmonkey says:

    Same way that some douchebags on NIH study sections demand multiple CNS papers from young faculty when they themselves haven't held a grant or published in a decent society-level journal for decades.

    I have never seen a grant reviewer on study section hold an applicant to a standard for publication that diverged significantly from their own. Just Saying.

    Feelgood, where in the FUCK have you been man? We miss your comments.
    We are looking at ways to develop deferred action or even (*gasp*) award someone tenure without being PI on an NIH grant as long as other metrics for excellence in scholarly work are met.

    So this implies that at present you have a firm R01 criterion for tenure, yes? And you are gradually, as an institution, realizing that this is untenable. Can you describe the degree to which your fellow faculty are clued in to the modern reality and how many are cluelessly stuck in the past? Is this change coming with resistance or with enthusiasm?

  • Bashir says:

    Is there any reason not to let non-R01 getters go? There is an amply supply of postdocs/PhD's who have potential? Its a buyers market for R1 universities. Why not take a chance upgrading?

    Serious question. It seems like the "market forces" suggest you can always go back to the well to get a younger, and maybe more fundable researcher.

  • neuropolarbear says:

    There's a huge cost associated with each hire. If you let that person go, you are out 500-a million bucks, plus salary for that time.

  • Grumble says:

    Beaker, lowering IDC rates will indeed cause colleges to suddenly realize they have too many faculty. I'm not proposing it as a means of reducing "the cull," but as a means to realign the system so that, in the long term, the number of faculty competing for NIH grants is in line with the amount of money actually available.

    And I'm not just proposing this because I "got mine" and now everyone else can suffer. Whether or not IDC rates change, I'm just as much at risk of being culled as anyone else.

    Bashir, the position that deans seem to be taking nowadays is that hiring new faculty is an investment (of start-up money, lab renovation costs, and faculty salary). As with any investment that isn't doing well, the investor has to decide when to cut his/her losses. My college (and I think many other med schools) has fairly explicit guidelines that are essentially deadlines for producing an R01, and amount of salary that needs to be covered for faculty at each level. So, the answer to your question is that deans ARE firing non-R01-getters, but it often takes a few years because it's not always clear when to cut the loss.

  • Beaker says:

    Bashir, two factors warp the economics of the market forces. At the level of new investigators, the university investment for start-ups can easily approach $500K (or more--depends on the field and on the school). The university is betting that, over time, this money comes back to them in the form of overheads (mainly), plus service/teaching, and prestige, It takes a while for most newbies to get funded, and if they don't compete successfully, it takes a while before that is known with confidence. Even 3-Nature paper superstars often get dinged their first few tries at study section, owing to poor grantsmanship--or because the package they presented at their job talk was not representative of their potential to get NIH funds.

    At universities that obtain their start-up funds from different pots of money, it may indeed be fiscally sensible for them to cut the losses on one start-up investment ASAP and try their chances on the next new young, sweet thing. In this model, seed corn is cheap and the hope is that one of those new seeds will grow really fast and produce golden, delicious ears of corn already at next harvest. This is unlikely, but somebody has to win the lottery....

    At the senior end, tenured profs past their sell-by date are difficult to jettison. The "cut 20% of their salary per year" squeeze may work, but those profs are wily characters; they know how to work the system and find ways to hang around regardless. Few would complain if they hung around as emeriti, collecting little nor no salary; they are often good teachers, and they can be amusing at tea time.

  • anon says:

    Re: culling the non-R01 succeeders & hiring anew: at least 3/5 of the TT hard-money campus interviews I went on last season were explicitly only considering people who already had grant money in hand. I would not be surprised to see that trend continue, low-ball start-up funding, and start poaching funded faculty to replace those who don't make the tenure cut due to insufficient grant funding.

  • whimple says:

    ...award someone tenure without being PI on an NIH grant as long as other metrics for excellence in scholarly work are met

    How do you achieve excellence in scholarly work without resources? Seems like this limits the cases to someone who does some zippy-whippy technical thing (functional MRI?) such that they help funded PIs stay funded even if they can't get themselves funded.

  • I have never seen a grant reviewer on study section hold an applicant to a standard for publication that diverged significantly from their own. Just Saying.

    Indeed, it is more generally the opposite problem: study section members who only publish in shithole sub-dump journals discounting the time, effort, and resource investment required to produce high-quality high-impact research publishable in top-quality journals.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Get nailed for shitty productivity, did ya PP?

  • Lee says:

    Anon "low-ball start-up funding, and start poaching funded faculty" This concerns me the most at my institution. As faculty at a "high research institution" our funded and successful faculty are constantly being lured, and the faculty that are really successful leave for better deals. This also comes at a time with diminishing state appropriations, and a delusional chancellor that thinks that our overall grant funding will increase by 20% in 2 years and we will train 15 more Ph.D. students. As a result of the decreased state funding, the school is cutting our core facilities, increasing animal care costs, among other things. I see this as a way for the admin to do what Pitt is doing a little at a time. "We" don't meet these metrics for research funding, funding falls, the cull continues along with a hiring freeze and a redistribution of the responsibility to less faculty. All done by Admins that have no "skin in the game".

    The students aren't immune to this either. Overall, student tuition continues to go up at ~6%+ per year, and GA's and GRA's are not available for Masters and below.

  • damit says:

    Geez, guys....I don't know what study sections you sit on, but when I (and my reasonable colleagues, that's not all, but it's a quorum) see a person who's done what they said they would do, published in good journals (and no they don't have to be CNS but it better not be all PLOS ONE or similar vanity press), then you ask if they have a good plan going forward. Meaning of course these days does this person get to keep it as opposed to the gozillion of young guns who have great stuff.

    It's tough times, no doubt, and you'd better deliver when you get that RO1. Don't forget there is surely someone else who is pretty doggoned good in the que too, or even someone who's been around a long time who's addressing what you are. And then ask yourself if you did all you should before blaming the study section, who are generally doing all they can under very difficult circumstances, and also remember program can overrule if you are addressing a unique need.

  • Grumble says:

    "at least 3/5 of the TT hard-money campus interviews I went on last season were explicitly only considering people who already had grant money in hand"

    Interesting. In other words, experienced soft-money faculty are smothering hard-money schools with applications - so those schools say WTF, we can get someone for cheap who already knows knows how to write a decent grant, so why should we hire some unknown?

    What's interesting is that all these applications are coming from people who used to scoff at teaching. Now they see the ship sinking and it's time to jump off. Call me a rat, but I might join them. No sense waiting until we're completely underwater and there's no more room in the lifeboats.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Interesting. In other words, experienced soft-money faculty are smothering hard-money schools with applications - so those schools say WTF, we can get someone for cheap who already knows knows how to write a decent grant, so why should we hire some unknown?

    I work at a big state research U. Almost all of our hires lately have been well-funded productive people fleeing soft money institutions.

  • bob says:

    "PLOS ONE or similar vanity press"

    Fucking hell. Just goes to show how hard it is to change people's attitudes to publishing. Sounds like you're still judging based on where people publish not what they publish. "They don't have to be CNS old chap, but it sure does help wot wot!"

  • damit says:

    Ummm....bob....you do recognize that you provide a direct, 180 degree contradiction of your own position within a 3-sentence narrative?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What is "vanity press" anyway damit? Why does this apply to PLoS ONE? What other journals are in this category?

  • Dave says:

    Vanity press? Nice.

    At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what he says since young researchers are being filtered by CNS pubs anyway. Playing around with OA blog journals (except the glamor ones, of course) is for the HHMI types, not post docs.

  • dsks says:

    "Get nailed for shitty productivity, did ya PP?"

    The reviewers must have neglected to read through the 10 figures worth of productivity crow-barred into the supplemental data of each listed pub.

  • clueless noob says:

    Vanity press is pay-to-publish, but I wouldn't have thought that particular pejorative applied to PLoS ONE.

  • damit says:

    Well....as I have been repeatedly told by the thousands of ass editors at PLOS ONE, I am not permitted to evaluate impact on the field. Or even originality.

    Couple that with a fairly high author fee....it's a vanity press....

    Publish somewhere real.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Such as?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Meh, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In terms of being interesting and useful the "hit rate" for papers in my subfield that appear in PLOS ONE is about as high as that of most society journals.

    I'd rather decide for myself what counts as impactful then let someone obsessed with what's trendy do it for me.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Damit-

    Apparently you have not paid the page charges for a journal lately? The PLoS fee is not radically higher.....I think I just paid about $600 for *excess pages* for a manuscript tha met the word count, btw.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Vanity press is pay-to-publish...

    So we're all publishing in vanity presses now?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Two societies I belong to - ASPET and RSA - have page charges for their journals. Are these "vanity press"? Yeah, no.

    So your "pay to publish" is clearly bogus. Again, what defines vanity press?

  • Mike says:

    Pay to publish + Will publish anything = Vanity press

    Plos One obviously only fits one of the two requirements.

  • damit says:

    Come on....you know damned well what I am talking about.

    PLOS ONE, by its very ground rules, does not permit reviewers to comment on the impact or originality of a manuscript. This removes one of the most significant parts of the scientific review process....

    If you'd rather I call it a blog, then that's fine too.....I prefer vanity press as it captures the overt for-profit element in the PLOS ONE business model.

    Like it or no, publishing exclusively (or predominantly) in such journals is not going to help you get or renew an RO1.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Damit- Obviously opinions vary on whether the estimation of importance from three reviewers is of any value at all. You grasp this, right? And have read and comprehended the arguments? It's fine to disagree but it isn't fine to be ignorant of the opposing position.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    How grant reviewers view publication in any particular journal is never a sure bet. I once even had to take a fellow panel member to task for busting on an applicant for productivity when there was a Science paper published. Yes, me, defending a GlamourDouche!

    I've seen the same ~set of journals described alternately in glowing terms and as indicative of crap science (a la PP's usual).

    Only time will tell how PLoS ONE is viewed in any given study section.

  • Dr Becca says:

    This removes one of the most significant parts of the scientific review process....

    I'm sorry, what? Silly me, here I thought the purpose of scientific journals was to make knowledge available to the public, not to reward researchers with the sexiest story. If PLoS ONE openly declares that the work they publish doesn't have to be earth-shattering, but DOES have to be scientifically sound, properly controlled, etc, I don't see how we've lost a "significant" part of the review process.

  • Beaker says:

    I don't understand why the arguments about PLoS One are so polarized. Can't both sides be right? If you have never published pedestrian science, that is because you are in a position to sit on boring results and keep them to yourself. On the other end of the scale, if you only publish pedestrian science, then you aren't pursuing your experiments optimally.

    During the part of my training when I worked in a big-ass glamour lab, I sometimes saw non-exciting results set aside and ignored. The experimental design was solid and the conclusions were sound...but they were a big yawn. That lab was in a position to focus on only the highest impact findings. In retrospect, some of those boring results would have helped the field in general and prevented other labs from having to repeat the experiments and publish the same boring results. Furthermore, if some of the more pedestrian controls got published on PLoS One, perhaps the supplementary data sections of high-impact journals wouldn't have to be so big and hard-to-read. You just cite the PLoS paper and move on. The glamour labs put a lot of their PLoS One-worthy data in the supplementary data section--which is worse than publishing it in PLoS One!

    On the other end of the spectrum, if a lab cranks out only PLoS One or equivalent, then perhaps they aren't asking the right questions. Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em and all that. A good experimental design should have the potential to turn up something unexpected and exciting. If your batting average for discovering something worthy of high-impact journals is way below the Mendoza line, then perhaps you shouldn't be in the Big Leagues. When you do make that big discovery, it is worth fighting for and spending the time and resources to publish in a tougher journal. You should not expect if you choose to publish it in a dump journal that the field will easily appreciate its awesomeness.

  • damit says:

    OK.....things seem to have come full circle as my original comment that seems to have raised so many hackles was (relating to getting/renewing a grant) "they better not be all PLOSONE or similar vanity press".

    Note the key word ALL.

    I do have pretty strong feelings on PLOS ONE, and if they hit a little too close to home for some, I make no apologies for that. My original comment was intended to be helpful. There are so many nonsensical comments from individuals I suspect have had a driveby or two at study sections who want to tell unsuspecting noobs they must have a CNS paper per year or they'll never get or renew an RO1, and I was attempting to counteract that. Just publish consistently and not solely in dump journals and you should be fine.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    It isn't whether it "hits too close to home", you are not even a pale imitation of PP on the topic of pedestrian science. It is whether you have any actual rationale or not. Whether you've actually thought about the stuff you say or whether you are just parroting shit the old pharts say in the Faculty Club.

    I am intensely curious about why people hold their little ideas about nearly everything in the science careers

  • damit says:

    OK, DM....hope your grant applications are articulated a little more clearly than that last post. Occasionally I step in and comment to try and defuse some of the angst you generate in the youngsters. I am sorry that it threatens your grand little perch as chief sage in your little blog.

    As to "not being a pale imitation" of your bete noir Physio Prof...and "parroting shit"....usually when a fella resorts to ad hominem attacks it's pretty clear they don't have anything.

    But of course you could publish that in PLOS ONE, now couldn't you?

  • drugmonkey says:

    when a fella resorts to ad hominem attacks

    Really, I expect a little more. "ad hominem" refers to an attempt to diffuse your argument through personal insult. As in, "you are a pale imitation of PP and so therefore your viewpoint on PlOS ONE is stupid". Instead, I'm asking you to further explain your viewpoint on PLoS ONE, while knocking down your apparent arguments vis a vis "pay to publish" and about what is important/significant/whatall AND ALSO calling your value-laden criticisms of PLoS ONE a pale imitation of PP. This latter is merely descriptive.

    get it?

  • dr24hours says:

    Ad Hominem also refers to distracting from or derailing argument by resorting to insults, or responding to arguments with insults instead of making a counter argument.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    No, actually it doesn't. Dumasse.

  • clueless noob says:

    Speaking of tenure math, how do hiring or promotion/tenure committees see MPI R01s? It seems it could be a case where 0.5 + 0.5 = 2. Are these analogous to "co-first author" papers, i.e. where only the contact PI would be taken seriously, or does the non-contact PI actually get full credit for the R01?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    I think this might vary from institution to institution. At my institution (and others I am aware of), it would depend on how much indirects you are bringing in. If the two components are equal $, then they would be viewed pretty much equally. At some high-prestige institutions, I have heard that MPI's are downgraded, but that may be changing. In particular, I think that savvy deans are aware that there is strength in numbers and that membership in large Consortia is a good way to increase your success rate.

  • A wise man once said the following about the ad hominem fallacy:

    The thing about appeal to ridicule and ad hominem is that they are both thrown around indiscriminately and incorrectly by dumbfucks who don’t like it when people mock them for being dumbfucks. If you are a ridiculous fucking idiot and I ridicule you for being a ridiculous idiot, that is neither appeal to ridicule or ad hominem.

    It is only appeal to ridicule or ad hominem if we are engaged in argument and I argue that *because* you are a ridiculous fucking idiot, your assertions must be false. If we are not engaged in argument, and I mock you for being a ridiculous dumbfuck merely because it amuses me to make fun of you for being a ridiculous dumbfuck, then there is no ad hominem or appeal to ridicule fallacy.

  • dr24hours says:

    And the ad hominem attacks all succeeded! The debate became about the nature of the logical fallacy, and not the substance of the original questions.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What you mean is that your tone trolling was successful. Congratulations on your derail dude!

  • dr24hours says:

    I didn't start this one. I offered a definition.

  • dr24hours says:

    But I'm glad you have a name you can call someone who calls out your bullshit invective. It must make you feel good to be able to insult people to no purpose rather than engaging them meaningfully. Especially when you don't have a leg to stand on!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I have many legs to stand upon and I also occasionally insult people for being a dumbass. Like you are when you are doing your tone trolling schtick.

  • damit says:

    whatever, man...I am tired of arguing with fools.

    I just hope the noobs realize how much of the "advice" you provide is sheer nonsense.

    I would hate to think that somewhere theres a lowly assistant professor publishing everything in PLos One who thinks she'll get her grant funded b/c she uses a particular style for reference citation.

  • whimple says:

    Damit is right. You'd be stupid to publish in PLoS One if you had any better options. It doesn't matter whether PLoS One is factually inferior, if it is perceived to be inferior by people that have some control over your fate (tenure committee, study section etc.) then it IS inferior.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Who said assistant professors should publish everything in PLoS ONE, damit? I missed that.

  • damit says:

    Sigh....knowing this is going to turn into more nonsense....

    The original post that got your little panties all twisted was refuting your constant drumbeat of "you must have CNS papers or your grant is dead."

    Scroll up.

    I said if you publish solid work and it's not ALL (emphasis added) in PLos one or the like) then you should be ok.

    You know, I am starting to think that the most frequent commenters here (including the host) have what amounts to drive-by experience at CSR.

    Assistant professors, let the reader beware. You'd probably be better served by finding a colleague who has been appointed to a study section in your field to talk to rather than reading this.

  • drugmonkey says:

    your constant drumbeat of "you must have CNS papers or your grant is dead."

    Do you ever READ this blog?

    You'd probably be better served by finding a colleague who has been appointed to a study section in your field to talk to rather than reading this.

    Do you ever READ this blog?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I said if you publish solid work and it's not ALL (emphasis added) in PLos one or the like) then you should be ok.

    of course it was your identification of PLoS ONE as "vanity press" that drew my questions, not any of the other distractions that you want to make this about. I am still waiting on a clear explanation of what defines "vanity press" and how PLoS ONE qualifies. Someone suggested the pay-to-publish but clearly that isn't it, given page charges at numerous journals of good to excellent reputation.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "I am still waiting on a clear explanation of what defines "vanity press" and how PLoS ONE qualifies. Someone suggested the pay-to-publish but clearly that isn't it, given page charges at numerous journals of good to excellent reputation."

    Oh, DM, you silly goof. You know what Vanity Press is. And you know that Cell and Neuron are also Vanity Press. Who cares? Publisher business models are irrelevant.

    I think we all agree that reviewers are often lazy and use journal reputation as a proxy for scientific quality. This has important implications for tenure and funding and any other situation where one's productivity is judged. Thus, it is good advice to know which journals have good reputations, and publish in them if possible. This will help you look good to reviewers.

    Is it so tough to say that?

    Can we move on now? Isn't it time for a scintillating new post?

Leave a Reply


1 + = eight