Another BREATHTAKINGLY out of touch comment from the NIH Director and the Deputy Director in charge of Extramural Research

Oct 02 2013 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Careerism

this comment is bylined from Francis Collins and Sally Rockey:

There have been concerns expressed that NIH is not doing anything to limit the number of Ph.D.s being produced. It’s important to remember that NIH does not control graduate enrollments. We are, however, firmly committed to the premise that bioscience Ph.D.s provide invaluable contributions to a whole variety of fields. Furthermore, there is no definitive evidence that Ph.D. production exceeds current employment opportunities.
Emphasis added.
This is why we can't have nice things. Because the two most important administrative persons at the NIH are fully committed to pretending that they do not understand that their enterprise depends on the exploitation of doctoral "trainees". They simply cannot acknowledge that a constantly turning-over stream of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows generates more work for less money and therefore is essential to the system as they know it.
Yes. It is true that PhD holding individuals have vanishingly low unemployment rates in these times of economic downturn. It is also true that even graduate students (under the NIH extramural umbrella*)  make far, far more than minimum wage.
But we need to have a discussion about timeline, the years spent in various uncertain "trainee" job descriptions, the hours of work and the carrots that are being extended, never to be eaten. We also have to have a discussion about what job people enter graduate school thinking they are in training for. And what their chances are of obtaining those jobs. And what balance of "cheap labor" versus "training" is really being accomplished under the broad auspices of the NIH extramural system of support for science.
We also need to have a discussion about motivations of individual behavior under the increasingly competitive system and whether it has reached a tipping point in which the labor exploitation is no longer worth it.
If competition leads to faking and fraud, this costs an awful lot of NIH money when other people have to unpack why their experiments based on a prior finding are not working. If the competition leads to secretive, noncollaborative, scoop-laden dicing for Glamour publications, at some point this is costing the NIH money and progress. Duplication of work, if motivated only by secrecy, costs the NIH money. It costs progress.
If people feel betrayed by the system, they may just.....slack. Phone it in. Spend all day playing Candy Crush instead of working because they have to just put in their 3-5 years of postdoctoral work before schlepping off to an industry job. Or trying to be a NIH SRO or Program Officer. Or Glamour Mag editor. Or whatever your "alt career" du jour happens to be.
Leadership is not just keeping the leaking ship on course, Drs Collins and Rockey.
Sometimes it requires patching some holes, painting the hull and tuning up a balky engine room.
Sometimes it requires thinking harder about the before-the-mast swabbies who are keeping your vessel afloat.
*most of the broadly-defined biomedical programs

55 responses so far

  • The Other Dave says:

    What they meant to say is...

    There is no definitive evidence that U.S. Biomedical science can remain competitive without continued exploitation of cheap 'trainee' labor.

    It's like when garment manufacturers talk about how nice it is of them to provide jobs for indonesian children.

  • katiesci says:

    What really bothers me about this is that the NIH very clearly admits they have low confidence in number of graduate students that end up in each career sector.

    http://report.nih.gov/investigators_and_trainees/ACD_BWF/index.aspx

    Sure, there's a really low unemployment rate at the end of this tunnel but what kind of jobs are they getting in the end? Lab technician? Consulting? Telemarketing? McDonald's? The NIH wants to do a better job of tracking but wants to turn a blind eye until then.

  • DJMH says:

    /looking up Candy Crush

  • dsks says:

    It's debatable whether these alternative careers really benefit from 5-6 yrs of grad school, as opposed to a 1 yr masters and some on-the-job training. Far from being the tangible career-improving qualification it once was, the PhD for many people risks becoming more akin to a certificate of commendation for public service. Thanks for your time, here's a "I helped Teh Scienze" sticker, all the best for the future.

  • Kimbral says:

    The problem with Phd's are they can make someone overqualified. At the same time employers value job experience more than they value graduate work in most cases. I don't know that it's even worth the money or time to get a Phd these days.

  • Dave says:

    It makes no sense to me whatsoever that NIH money is going toward training PhDs for "alt careers". I just dont get that.

    I personally think it's time for a new NIH director. The fact that he is claiming that because there are plenty of post-doc jobs ("employment opportunities") then there is no problem, is baffling to me. Does he see the bigger picture? It also is sooooooo frustrating to me that the he makes statements like "It’s important to remember that NIH does not control graduate enrollments". Surely he recognizes that the flow of NIH money DOES play a significant role in regulating graduate enrollments in biomedical science across the country, whether that is the intention or not. How do they not see this at the NIH? I swear on my life, Collins has no clue.......

  • Joe says:

    PhD programs should keep up to date information on their websites on current employment of former trainees. Students considering the program can then see where they might end up and what fraction has ended in academia (if that is something they are considering). Of course the job market has changed in the time it took those graduates to get to the real job, but the info may still surprize some naive students.

    @The Other Dave. PhD thesis work may also run fine using children from foreign lands.

  • Busy says:

    The problem with Phd's are they can make someone overqualified.

    I know this is a common statement, and I hear it used to be equally common in computer science. However, sources tell me that over the last 20 years companies have learned that about one PhD for every 20-40 programmers is actually a very good ratio** and, no, they are not overqualified. Simply, there are enough sophisticated problems arising in day to day programming to keep that one PhD person occupied.

    So in reality "you are overqualified" really meant "I have no clue what types of problems you can solve for us, but that doesn't mean there aren't any".

    **Some companies, such as Google, have an even higher PhD-to-programmer ratio.

  • drugmonkey says:

    dsks really nails it. doing this job first (the scientific version of the conservation corps) delays people's entry in to the "real" career, aka alt-career. so if all that "training" isn't necessary then it is still exploitation.

    DJMH- I dunno, autocorrect suggested that when I typed in "Tetris".

    Dave- of course Collins has a clue. he's not stupid. he knows the drill. He is just obligated to parrot the lines that keep the NIH from admitting they depend on a constant-turnover young workforce. Also, I've noticed that you can tell the NIH is lying through its very teeth every time it starts arguing that they have no influence over what Universities do and how it is all their (the Universities) fault. see: soft-money job categories, postdocs on grants and graduate enrollments.

  • Dave says:

    Also, I've noticed that you can tell the NIH is lying through its very teeth every time it starts arguing that they have no influence over what Universities do and how it is all their (the Universities) fault. see: soft-money job categories, postdocs on grants and graduate enrollments.

    Not sure I understand what you're saying here.....?

  • drugmonkey says:

    The NIH frequently hides behind the canard that they cannot tell a University what to do.

    They argue that they cannot have any influence over extramural treatment of scientists because they have no direct mandate authority.

    I've seen them claim this in the face of people criticizing the expansion of soft-money faculty that took place over the past 20-25 years.

    I've seen them argue this about postdocs that are paid under the R awards instead of fellowships.

    Now they are claiming this about PhD production.

    It is total nonsense.

    They have a tremendous bully-pulpit, first and foremost.

    Second, they do have a tremendous amount of discretion in what they do and do not fund. Tremendous discretion to raise eyebrows and tut-tut about Training grants, for example. It would be well within their rights to say "we're not funding this TG to your department because you suck at placing tenure tracks". Well within. Just like they could tell a University that they were very much unhappy with the ratio of soft to hard money faculty and they won't be making as many pickups, thank you.

    sure, some of this might have to be off the record. But believe you me, University grants offices are highly attuned to the slightest whisper from the NIH. Smart local Presidents and Chancellors are too. There's all kinds of stuff they do in response to rumored requests and requirements that happened at some University half way across the country.

    The NIH could snap the Universities into line in a heartbeat if they chose to do so.

  • NIH Budget Cutter says:

    The only thing that can be done is to make noise, political noise that is. And nothing would shock the NIH and its inaction more that the firing or public shaming of a high-profile NIH administrator. The NIH is government, after all.

    I have lost confidence in Dr. Collins as the Director of NIH and will share those views with my Representatives once the shutdown is over. Having other voters follow suit in their respective districts might be enough to raise the issue in DC so that Dr. Collins is confronted about such matters by Congress.

    I personally would love to see Dr. Venter as the NIH Director. He is bold about science, thinks outside the box, and is really in-tune with technological innovation and the applications of biomedical sciences for mainstream society. He kicked Collins' ass once before (Celera v Human Genome Project), and I am sure he'd do the same once again.

    But the priority right now should be to wake up the NIH. Whining about Collins' leadership to Congress is really the best and possibly only way to accomplish that.

  • At this point, post-doctoral 'training' has become the PhD level equivalent of 'interning.' Until NIH is given a reason to change though, it won't.

  • The Other Dave says:

    DM has it exactly right, where he says above that Collins knows damn well what's up, but is playing a political game.

    Cheap trainee labor and the current 'winner takes all' structure of biomedical science are exactly what the research powerhouses need to keep going. They don't want to spread the wealth. They don't care about science being 'fair'. They don't give a shit what happens to former trainees, as long as it doesn't hurt the machine. And the 'machine' is exactly who has Collins' ear.

    And what's the problem with it being a 'machine' anyway? Fuck all you lazy-ass Ph.D. whiners. Get a real job if you don't like what you're doing. This ain't about you. This is about giving the taxpayer what he wants. And what the taxpayer wants is the cure for cancer he was promised back in the 1970s, and a fix for Alzheimer's, and new antibiotics, and more ways to be fat and smoke and drink without dying.

  • The Other Dave says:

    You know why the military budget is bigger than NIH's budget?

    Because the military can say that they protect you. NIH only makes promises that are never kept, and spouts gobbledeygook about stuff no one understands.

    And the military can point to once great countries toppled, and cities laid waste, and say 'we did that'. NIH can't point to nothing except how much money they spent to find out obvious shit like the fact that being fat and lazy is not good for you, and that death is still inevitable.

    Collins and Rockey aren't out of touch. They're just desperate. Because people are looking hard at government programs, and asking hard questions.

  • DJMH says:

    ToD, right on! The military tells us the truth* about what they can and will do, which is awesome.

    * Minor exceptions: Abu Ghraib, "Yellow cake uranium," "This will be a cakewalk," etc.

    I am in favor of a Sorting Hat approach after 1.5 years in the Ph D program, so that people who aren't going to need a PhD for their real lives can get out before wasting their prime internship years.

  • seen this yet by Henry Bourne? have not yet read it through (i'm giving a talk at a conference this week, a bit busy) but it sounds relivant to your points.

    http://elife.elifesciences.org/content/2/e01139

    Point of view: A fair deal for PhD students and postdocs
    Abstract
    The relentless expansion that threatens the sustainability of biomedical research in the US takes a heavy toll on young researchers.

  • The Other Dave says:

    DJMH: The yellow cake and cakewalk stuff was civilian intelligence and leaders. Abu Graib was a military fuckup, sure. But that's actually another win for the military. The military routinely takes high school losers and turns them into the most ferocious destructive force the world has ever seen within a few years. NIH? They spend years and years coddling people through graduate school, then find out they STILL are not competent to do science on their own. So they spend millions more supporting 30 year olds with PhDs through more years of 'postdoctoral' training, and many of those people STILL aren't capable of doing anything useful with a million dollar R01. Don't tell me that this is because science is hard. 50 years ago there was no NIH, people started doing science with just a Ph.D. and 4-5 years training after high school, and gave us general anesthetics and vaccines and antibiotics and all kinds of useful stuff that changed the world.

    Seriously: Compare 1920-1970 (pre NIH) for medical advances. Then compare 1970-now (post NIH). If NIH were a 'treatment', and the last century were a medical trial, then NIH would be deemed extremely expensive and noneffective.

    THAT is what has Collins and Rockey on the edge. They are riding a sinking ship, they know it, and no captain wants to go down with the ship.

    FWIW, I think the comment above suggesting Venter as a possible NIH head is something worth seriously considering. The problem is that he pissed off the 'establishment'. But if they see him as their only hope...

  • DJMH says:

    "Abu Graib was a military fuckup, sure. But that's actually another win for the military. The military routinely takes high school losers and turns them into the most ferocious destructive force the world has ever seen within a few years."

    Yeah, once you've expressed this as your opinion on Abu Ghraib, you've invalidated everything else you've ever said. Because (a) torturing detainees has been a reliable feature of all of human history, and (b) if that is a win, I don't want to see a loss.

  • sciencedude says:

    I went to Sally Rocky's blog and invited she and Francis to come here and defend themselves. To say there is no evidence we are producing too many PhDs is beyond clueless. Its insulting. The question is who do they think they are fooling with such a stupid remark?

  • foobar says:

    If universities were required to publish accurate and transparent job placement statistics for doctorates then the market might correct by itself. An analogous market correction has already taken place among law schools once accurate job placement statistics became widely available.

  • Grumble says:

    TOD, I think you're really off your rocker if you think the NIH hasn't accomplished much since it was established. It's true that a lot of what it's accomplished has been incremental, and that it's the accretion of these incremental advances that we hope will eventually result in big advances.

    But some of those big advances have already happened. Who is dying of HIV infection now in this country? Is cancer treatment becoming more or less effective? Do you really think that you'd be answering the same way if the NIH didn't exist?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I think you're really off your rocker if you think the NIH hasn't accomplished much since it was established.

    Unfortunately it's a popular delusion in some quarters.

    I believe it was in this very comment section a few years ago that some drive-by commenter tried to push the claim that HAART had nothing to do with NIH supported research.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @Grumble...

    HIV? That's your killer example? Where's the goddamn VACCINE?! Cancer treatment? Seriously? The lower death rates are mostly due to earlier detection. Where's the fucking CURE that was promised when [what became part of] NIH was founded back in the late 1960s/early 1970s (NIH currently peddles the historical myth that it was 'founded' back in the late 1700s, claiming a military hospital as it's origination. But this is recent propaganda.)

    This is exactly my point. NIH, whether due to poor political skills by scientists or just the very nature of biomedical science, looks like a really shitty investment compared to so many other things. You want to use taxpayer dollars to save and improve life? Then explain why NIH is a better investment than something obvious like free health care or more food stamps or free ubiquitous public transportation.

    It is easy to sit in front of a computer and criticize Collins and Rocky, but I don't see anybody here doing any better at coming up with good arguments to fund NIH. You really want them to say that there are too many biomedical science Ph.D.s? What do you think congress will do with that juicy bit of information?

  • drugmonkey says:

    TOD- you are just like that dipshit whining via his Dick Fucking Tracy PlusELEVEN cell phone because science hasn't given him a personal jet pack yet.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    TOD, you really lost it. 30 billion a year for NIH even in all its history is a small fraction of what was spent in the invasion of Iraq. Orders of magnitude! Want to compare what has been accomplished with what was promised?

    And yes, science is much more difficult than blowing things up! How long does it take for a living being to grow and develop? How long does it take to kill it?
    You are right that NIH is not necessary for science. Perhaps you also noticed that there were wars and some rather fierce warriors many years ago. It took some guts to fight with swords and spears.

    The money spent on NIH and science, even with so much waste, is way, WAAAAY, more effective at making ours a better world than the money spent on weapons and destruction. Remember that science is far more than just vaccines. You think that ultrasound, CAT scans, MRI and stem cell therapies would be here without NIH? Ask people with kidney stones or appendicitis who were treated before NIH how it was. If you think that medical science hasn't really advanced since the 70's, you haven't stepped into a hospital or pharmacy lately.

    We scientists, and NIH, should be doing a better job at telling people the successes. But people expect to live forever... or it was wasted.

    Of course some people way over-sell stuff. Venter, in particular, was part of the club selling the idea that getting the Genome was enough to bring all the cures. Are you sure he would not do this at NIH?

  • Busy says:

    Cancer treatment? Seriously? The lower death rates are mostly due to earlier detection

    This is BS. Either you are very ignorant or trolling with such statements.

  • The Other Dave says:

    What I am trying to do here, folks, is GET YOU TO UP YOUR GAME.

    Iam not anti-NIH. I am an NIH-funded biomedical scientist. But I am sick of whiney pathetic entitled-scientist blather screwing it up for everyone.

    Instead of calling me a BS-filled troll, Busy, you should have come back with a startling anti-cancer success. How about childhood leukemias?

    And then, while you were at it, you could have noted the success of bone marrow transplants in general -- which are stem cell therapy -- and how basic science into cell development and differentiation, which Dolly the cloned sheep was an important experimental milestone and not the weird monster people assume, has led to the REALITY of stem cells now used to grow entirely new fucking tissues, with organs not too far in the future.

    REPLACEMENT FUCKING PARTS FOR HUMANS. WE HAVE THEM NOW. All thanks to NIH-funded 'esoteric' basic research. Followed up by NIH-funded clinical studies and treatments.

    And all the vaccines for new diseases. Those flu vaccines that keep THOUSANDS of people from dying every year.

    A zillion other examples.

    NIH saves lives. Now and decades from now. It has been doing so since inception.

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE just learn one or two examples of dramatic NIH successes and toss them out there whenever you can. If everyone did that, there wouldn't be a problem.

    Whining about how tough it is for people who've spent their whole lives ins chool does not impress anybody. vague esoteric bullshit doesn't impress anything. Learn to justify yourselves to taxpayers. BECAUSE YOUR LIVING DEPENDS ON IT.

    Thank you.

    /rant off

  • Grumble says:

    Gee, TOD, the body is complex. It takes a long time to figure out how it works and find cures for all the zillion things that can ail it.

    Complaining that NIH is ineffectual because we don't have a HIV vaccine yet is like flying a 747 halfway across the world and complaining that it's as slow as a sailing ship because it's not as fast as a Concorde. A lot of people are alive today because NIH-funded research led directly to HIV treatments. Why dismiss that so easily? And in fact the same is true for cancer, whether you wish to believe it or not.

    Really, TOD, let me know when you finish the 4th grade.

  • Grumble says:

    Huh, sarcasm doesn't come across well on he written page, does it, TOD?

  • Juan Lopez says:

    TOD. Next you age going to tell us that those were not really your posts, and that you are going to dedicate yourself to tracking down the criminals who took your good name and trashed it.

    Go get them champ!

  • iGrrrl says:

    So, ToD, your original post was an attempt to get other people to 'up their game', and you did it by posting something you don't actually believe, trying to get a response. IMO, this is the worst form of trolling. It helps no one. Please reconsider your strategy in light of what you actually want to accomplish.

    A lot of people in the trenches of day-to-day science don't get to see (or don't pay attention to) how the work gets turned into patient-oriented success. Some post-doc or grad student that worked on the basic science of vABL back in the day and has moved on to other things may not even know about imantinib. Or they may not make the connection unless they look up the drug for other reasons. What would be helpful would be to share those stories, or point to web sites that do.

  • Evelyn says:

    I have some faculty working on regrowing organs from donor stem cells. It's pretty awesome.

  • sciencedude says:

    Cool, I hope they have perfected the process by the time I need some new organs.

  • miko says:

    So....substantive arguments are going to sway the opinions of the US voting public and the actions of congress and the NIH leadership.

    Yeah, that usually works.

  • Ola says:

    So at our illustrious institution, we've been told the grad' programs will be cut back next year, but it has absolutely nothing to do with giving a flying fuck about the students themselves. No, it's all about how much money is in the Dean's treasure chest to cover them for the first year while they're doing rotations. As faculty we're going to be given the option - start paying for student stipends while they're rotating in your labs, or just accept there will be less students in next fall's incoming class. Naturally, the second option is favored by most.

    Economics of med/grad schools (the ones without big endowments) will shrink graduate programs. Anyone who thinks that universities are going to cut back out of some kinda concern for the well-being of their trainees, is fuckin' delusional!

  • NIH Budget Cutter says:

    @Ola

    Graduate education is US has completely lost track of its primary function--education and employability.

    What happens in biomedical research happens in all other grad school fields: Young minds are used and abused as nothing but cheap labor and with absolutely no regard for their future well-being. I blame the Boomers and their limitless selfishness, but that's another topic for later discussion.

    And as you can see from your Dean, the decision to "educate" young minds or not is based entirely on budgetary issues. Since the NIH is the largest benefactor, the size of the NIH budget is directly proportional to how many young minds are "educated." Cut the NIH budget and fewer young ones will be "educated," which in turn will lead to fewer PhDs begging for funds year after year and a more balanced biomedical workforce.

    The other solution would be uncouple the NIH budget from PhD and post-doc production. The NIH could do that with a stroke a pen if it wished to. For instance, the NIH could simply state that R01 funds can only be used to pay for salaries and not stipends. To many of you there is no difference between salaries and stipends, but the legal differences are profound. In short, such a policy would severely reduce the number of students, discourage importing post-docs, and promote the hiring of permanent staff.

    But we all know that the whole system is hooked on the cheap labor of grad student and foreign post-docs, and that it has no regard for opportunity costs or externalities. Therefore, we know the NIH will not change its policies.

    Consequently, the only logical solution for the problem at hand is,

    CUT THE NIH BUDGET.

  • NBC-Fan says:

    I've been lurking this blog/site for months now. Thx for it, DM. It's great.

    I have followed all of NBC's posts. He/she posts little but is always right on the money. I don't know why so many of you rail against him/her. If anyone has any issues against him/her posts, argue about the argument instead of attacking the person. Ad hominems are silly and do no good. Same with TOD. He's great as well.

    And about ad hominems, CPP is the king/queen of those. His/her posts contribute nothing intellectually, just meaningless rants. I bet he/she is an old, cranky dinosaur-professor, aka dinossor.

  • Grumble says:

    "And as you can see from your Dean, the decision to 'educate' young minds or not is based entirely on budgetary issues."

    Doh, it takes money to educate people. No money, no education.

    That's especially true when the students are getting paid to get an education.

  • Dave says:

    The other solution would be uncouple the NIH budget from PhD and post-doc production.

    I agree, but I seriously doubt the NIH is prepared to make these types of decisions.

    @TOD - nice u-turn, but the problem with your "strategy" is that it is the same approach that the NIH and Collins have been taking with congress and the public. It is not novel and, unfortunately, it has not worked very well. Did you not watch any of FC's testimonials in front of congress? They were bored out of their fucking minds and couldn't give a flying fuck about all the cool stuff that has been done with NIH money. i think only 2 or 3 even showed up. The NIH should have made it all about JOBS and the economical impact of the budget cuts from the start.

    Why do you think Babs Mikulski cares so much about the NIH? Because of advances in cancer, HIV, organ transplantation? No. It's because the NIH is in HER DISTRICT and she doesn't want a bunch of ex-NIH employees voting when she is up for reelection.

  • miko says:

    IP check on NBC-Fan.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    NBC-fan: Oddly enough you did not give any arguments supporting the points by NBC or TOD. You just said that you agreed and therefore that their points are good. You don't like CPP's points, so he a dinossor.

    Here are some arguments: NB's argument is: A, B and C are wrong. Consequently, the only logical solution is cutting the NIH budget. Adding "Consequently" and "the only logical solution" to a sentence does not make it so.

    Now some logic: cutting the NIH budget will make it even harder for people to be financially supported to study or do research. Therefore cutting the NIH budget is not a solution to the problems of funding in science. Therefore it is not a solution. Therefore it is not the only solution. Therefore it is not the only logical solution. The argument is akin to saying: the ship is taking water and we don't know how to plug the leak. Consequently, sinking the ship is the only logical solution.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    NBC-fan: forgot to add that I agree with you. DM's blog is great.

  • GM says:

    The Other Dave October 3, 2013 at 4:19 am
    Seriously: Compare 1920-1970 (pre NIH) for medical advances. Then compare 1970-now (post NIH). If NIH were a 'treatment', and the last century were a medical trial, then NIH would be deemed extremely expensive and noneffective.

    If this was medical trial, nothing would be concluded from it because of the sample size.

    Don't tell me that this is because science is hard.

    That's precisely the reason

    HIV? That's your killer example? Where's the goddamn VACCINE?! Cancer treatment? Seriously? The lower death rates are mostly due to earlier detection. Where's the fucking CURE that was promised when [what became part of] NIH was founded back in the late 1960s/early 1970s (NIH currently peddles the historical myth that it was 'founded' back in the late 1700s, claiming a military hospital as it's origination. But this is recent propaganda.)

    There are lots of unjustified assumptions behind that reasoning. The major one:

    1) You are assuming that it is possible to cure cancer
    2) You are assuming that all it takes to cure cancer in the promised time frame is smarter people working on the problem and better organization.

    That's magical thinking, not one grounded in reality

    There is no evidence to back up those assumptions, if anything what we have learned so far from decades of studying cancer is that while it will be possible to completely cure some cases of cancer it is quite likely we will never be able to cure it completely. It's hard to beat evolution.

    That's not the fault of NIH, it's the reality of the situation. Also, it's not the fault of the honest scientists working on the problems that politicians made promises without really understanding the subject or that scientists themselves are forced to make outlandish promises in order to get funding because the public as a whole has this deeply antiintellecualistic attitude (that you yourself prominently displayed in this thread) that research is only useful if it results in cures and therapies.

    The biggest contributions to humanity NIH-funded research has made have very little to do with anything practical, they are instead fundamental advances in our understanding of the world around us and our place in it. That's a lot more important than prolonging the lives of individual human beings - death is inevitable and will remain so; another 10 years don't make much of a difference

  • The Other Dave says:

    Seriously? Guys? Your best defense of NIH is the fact that I am a bad blog participant and that cancer is probably not curable?

    Don't you get it? This isn't about reality. This is about politics.

  • NBC-Fan says:

    When I was an undergrad with a Biomed major working in a Biomed research lab (cancer), I realized that the grad students and post-docs were just like zombies. I realized then and there that if I continued on that path I'd end up just like them: being some PI's bitch with no career options, or after that, if lucky, being some university's bitch with no career options.

    I stopped believing the gibberish that my dinossor would tell me (e.g., you should pursue a PhD in my lab, there are lots of job opportunities after that) and did some research of my own. It was hard. I loved science but also wanted a decent shot at life, and I certainly did not want to end up like the typical Biomed zombie. I found out about the emerging field of Bioinformatics, and then I took one of the best decisions of my life and double-majored in Computer Science on top of my (useless) Biomed degree. Everything was downhill from there. I got my PhD in 4 years and with lots of job offers in the private sector. But I was set on academia, so I post-docted for 1 year and then got many Assist Prof offers. Funding followed suit with no problems. What is the average age of first R01? 42? I was well-funded by 29. I can say that I am very happy. I have a good job with a great salary and, in case of emergency, lots of options in the private sector.

    Why am I telling you all of this? Am I someone special? NO. I simply got very lucky and made the right decisions based on SUPPLY AND DEMAND. Had I not picked CS as my second major, I'd have certainly ended up like another Biomed zombie. I recognized that Bioinformatics had high demand for workers and yet there was very little supply of Bioinformaticians in the pipeline. So, if I chose such path (and I did), I wouldn't have to compete with a gazillion other people for jobs and funding. And the exact opposite is the issue with biomedical research careers today: Labor supply far exceeds and Labor demand.

    NBC has said it before and he/she's been dead on. Is it too hard to see that way too many PhD are being created and way too many post-docs are being trained (or imported)? And it's sad that academia keeps adding to this glut year after year. But academia does that because the training or education of these poor souls is intertwined with the cheap labor they bring.

    Considering the NIH or academia refuses to even acknowledge there is a problem going on, the solution proposed by NBC is really the only feasible one, albeit radical and painful. Right now, NIH dollars go to support PIs that, in turn, use those dollars to train far more students and postdocs than the market can absorb. Fewer NIH dollars will mean fewer PIs and, as a consequence, a decreased production of PhDs and postdocs. Is that too hard to see?

    But a reduced NIH budget would of course also hit academic opportunities. That's OK, IMO. We don't need more PIs producing more PI-wannabes in a system that already is out of whack. Bear in mind that according to FASEB, only about 50% of the labor demand in the biomedical sciences is from academia. The other 50% is from sectors (e.g., biotech et al.) that absorb demand but do not expand it, i.e., they neither import post-docs not produce PhDs.

    Let me know what you guys think. And yes, one day in the future, I will too be a DINOSSOR.

  • NBC-Fan says:

    BTW, I also support TOD.

    In general, you guys should start thinking about BIG issues. In these posts I have noticed something that I usually see in my job with other Biomed PhDs: Too much thinking about silly, minor issues and too little into big, important issues. Is that because in Biomed research usually breaks down problems into smaller parts? Cause or effect? Hard to tell.

  • GM says:

    NBC-Fan October 5, 2013 at 6:55 am
    BTW, I also support TOD.

    In general, you guys should start thinking about BIG issues. In these posts I have noticed something that I usually see in my job with other Biomed PhDs: Too much thinking about silly, minor issues and too little into big, important issues. Is that because in Biomed research usually breaks down problems into smaller parts? Cause or effect? Hard to tell

    What constitutes a big issue in your view?

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    NBC fan really did a great job of mansplaining this to us. It's a pity we can't all be as wise as he is in every walk of life. Systemic problems in science funding really do result solely from each of our individual moral failures to not be interested in informatics.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    " Is that too hard to see?" Well, no. It is not that we don't see it. It's that we think it is stupid.
    You do notice the problem too: "But a reduced NIH budget would of course also hit academic opportunities. That's OK, IMO. ". It does not just reduce academic opportunities. It reduces scientific research. Those of us who believe in science and are convinced of its benefits want to fix the system to improve output and the lives of those in it. We don't think that it's ok to destroy the system.

    NBC, do you think it is a coincidence that you saw refer to students, post docs and profs with insults (dinosor and zombies), and that you think that there is no harm in cutting NIH funding? Your story about your foresight and how amazing you are for being funded at a young age tells us more. I bet you are among those special snowflakes that are not worried about cuts because it will not happen to them. It's those dinosors and zombies that will get cut...

    You do have admin potential, though.

  • sciencedude says:

    JL, go back and read your last paragraph; some editing would be helpful to get your point across.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Sciencedude, can we edit posts? You are right, a few things came out wrong (getting used to type on this tablet). I apologize if it wasn't clear.

  • […] Drug Monkey Blog (@drugmonkeyblog) had this post reacting to something from the NIH director’s office. There’s a real problem with […]

  • uncynikal says:

    There you are, Francis and Sally singing to the PhD's producers

    http://youtu.be/lYm1C2gKMU8

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