A comment over at Rock Talk made a fairly traditional complaint about the NIH funding system. Dan C stated that: "NIH is to be criticized that it funds “usual suspects.”
Today, I find this funny. Because after all, most of the people complaining about the NIH system want to become one of the usual suspects!
Right? They want to get a grant, one. They want to have some reasonable stability of that grant funding in a program-like sustained career. Most of them don't want to have to struggle too hard to get that funding either....I doubt anyone would refuse the occasional Program pickup of their just-missed grant.
Once you cobble together a bit of success under the NIH extramural grant system, those who feel themselves to be on the outs call you a "usual suspect". For any number of reasons it is just obvious to them that you are a total Insider (and couldn't actually deserve what you've managed to accomplish, of course). This may be based on the mere fact that you've acquired a grant, because you work in a Department or University where a whole lot of other people are similarly successful. This may be because it appears that POs actually talk to the person in question. It may be because a FOA has appeared in a research domain that you work within.
Anyone sees the duck floating serenely on the water at a given point in time and it looks like this is one most usual suspect waterfowl indeed.
I used to be annoyed at my approximate lateral peers in science who appeared to be having an easier time of it than I did. I had my Insider attributes as a younger faculty member, make no mistake, but I also had considerable Outsider traits, considering where I was seeking funding and for what topics of research. Some of those folks, over there, well boy didn't they get an easy ride because of being such Insiders to the subpart of the NIH system!
I still have those thoughts. Even though I've seen many of the people I thought had it made in the shade go through their dry spells and funding down-cycles. Despite the fact that as each year goes by and my lab remains funded, I become more and more one of the "usual suspects".
I believe that if I ever feel like I am one of the usual suspects, if I feel like I deserve special treatment and stop fighting so hard to keep my lab going that this will be the end.
I advise you to try to retain the same feeling of "outsider" that you feel as a noob PI for as long as you can into your career.
Getting back to the point, however, the NIH simply cannot win with these criticisms. Those who are feeling unsuccessful will always carp about how the NIH just funds "their" people. And if the NIH does happen to fund one of these outsiders, this very act makes them a usual suspect to the next complainer.
The NIH can't win.