Your Grant in Review: Effort and systems designed for amateur scientists

Mar 11 2015 Published by under Grant Review, Grantsmanship, NIH, NIH Careerism

Since we're discussing the amount of PI salary that should be rightfully paid by the NIH versus a local University lately, I have a grant review scenario to mention.

It is not uncommon to see R01 proposals come in from PIs who say that they will charge the grant for "three months summer salary". As we know, this is likely a scenario where the Professor in question has a 9 month salary from his or her University and is permitted to supplement that with up to three months of salary from extramural support funds.

Let us assume we're talking a normal research plan for an R01 that involves research effort pretty much around the calendar year. We're not talking about something that requires focal field work for a few summer months and then can subside into a much lower level of activity for the rest of the year.

On first glance the reviewer can only assume that the PI's remaining 9 months are being paid by the University to DO SOMETHING. Despite comment from Neuro-conservative about situations that seem very strange and unique, my experience is that Universities put some expectation of non-research activity on that 9 month of salary*.

Unless the PI has specified an expectation of research in their official job description, the reviewer can only assume that the effort on the grant will only be available during the summer.

Such a proposal should be met with the utmost skepticism since the conduct of the research requires ongoing supervision of the staff**, at the very least. Right?

So the grantsmithing advice part of this post is that if you are in this sort of situation, be sure to make very clear what your University explicitly expects in terms of your nine-month-hard-salary time.

From the perspective of our ongoing discussion, how is this all supposed to work? What true amount of brain-second-cycles are available to the project at any given time throughout the year?

Teaching duties tend to be rather inelastic and research duties tend to be highly elastic. I can always put off working on a paper or data analysis for another day. I can pick and choose when to work on a poster or oral presentation. I can't really put off lecture at 8am just because I have some exciting results in the laboratory that I want to write up right now. Grading may be a teeensy bit more flexible but there are clear deadlines...unlike paper submissions and most unlike designing new research projects and/or collaborations. Also very unlike meeting with your grad students and postdocs about various things.

I would suggest that under the 50/50 time scenario proposed by Neuro-conservative, one of the two task demands is going to receive short-shrift in a large number of cases. This will mostly be determined by what type of University the PI is employed within. Those that lean towards research? Well, we all know about how the tenure stool really only has one leg. Research. Conversely, there are very high teaching load institutions that inevitably push research toward the background during the active instructional school year.

In these situations either the NIH is being fleeced to support undergraduate instruction or the undergraduate instruction support system (State general funds and tuition, the latter includes scholarships and the like btw, another interested party) is being fleeced to pay for the NIH's business.

The only ethical situation is when there is perfect balance between the expectations of the respective sources of financial support and the PIs actual distribution of work.

I do wonder how many NIH PIs that have nine month salary support actually achieve the appropriate balance of brain effort devoted to their respective tasks. I bet not many.

__
*I would like to hear some specific language from people's job descriptions that specify that their hard money effort is supposed to be devoted X amount to research, btw. I know these do exist. How commonly?

**Naturally these sorts of proposals are often coupled with 12 mo of full time effort from trainees or techs which supports the notion that the project is not limited to the summer months.

77 responses so far

  • MorganPhD says:

    My opinion is that your scenario above appears no different than a PI with 4 grants, charging each 25% effort (or to a total of 95% or so to maintain the illusion that grant writing activities are "off-the-clock").

    Also, why would someone just not put down 25% effort, request 25% of their salary, and then leave out the details about what they are doing with their time.

    I've never understood the idea of calling the % of salary support derived from a grant "% effort". From the standpoint of the NIH, wouldn't you want someone working on a project that has 100% mental and physical effort, but only 10% salary?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I don't have the faculty handbook handy, but at my hard money institution research is explicitly stated to be part of the job and a criterion for tenure and promotion.

    As for the "How do we know that a perfect balance is being struck between time spent on different tasks?" question, I think it's a bit overwrought. I mean, do you (now or in the past) have grants for multiple projects? Do you meticulously track each brain cycle to make sure that exactly precisely 20% of your attention is going to project X while 40% is going to project Y?

  • newbie PI says:

    My faculty job contract (at an R1 medical school) states that 80% of my time is to be devoted to research activities. I am also expected to cover 50% of my salary with grant money by my 6th year here. My question is, why can't I request 50% of my salary from a single R01? If I only have one R01, this is clearly what I'm going to be spending the vast majority of my time on. Yet it seems the most I've ever heard of anyone requesting is 30% salary, and our grants administrator says 25% is the most I should put into my budgets.

  • drugmonkey says:

    My opinion is that your scenario above appears no different than a PI with 4 grants, charging each 25% effort (or to a total of 95% or so to maintain the illusion that grant writing activities are "off-the-clock").

    Except if they are all NIH then the PI is devoting it all to the funding source, regardless of specific project.

    Also, why would someone just not put down 25% effort, request 25% of their salary, and then leave out the details about what they are doing with their time.

    Excellent question. On the grantsmithing advice side, I suggest doing this.

    The official approach went from percent effort to calendar months in my time in this system. I assume if it was ever changed from % salary in the past it was to address precisely your points.

    at my hard money institution research is explicitly stated to be part of the job and a criterion for tenure and promotion.

    Is this in a way that mentions a specific amount of effort being devoted to research though?

    I mean, do you (now or in the past) have grants for multiple projects?

    Yeah but they are all from the NIH.

  • drugmonkey says:

    why can't I request 50% of my salary from a single R01? If I only have one R01, this is clearly what I'm going to be spending the vast majority of my time on. Yet it seems the most I've ever heard of anyone requesting is 30% salary, and our grants administrator says 25% is the most I should put into my budgets.

    I would say that this is entirely down to grant strategy. There is nothing whatsoever from the NIH end of this to prevent you from putting 30% on the Personnel Justification and then putting in 50% effort on a funded award. I actually recommend this strategy from the perspective of how much of a pain it is to reduce your effort significantly (25%) below what has been proposed versus adding effort above what has been proposed.

    with that said, I've certainly listed 50% effort on proposals and never heard a peep about it that I can recall. I'd have to go back but I wouldn't be surprised if I listed more than that back in my younger days.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Is this in a way that mentions a specific amount of effort being devoted to research though?

    No. But there's no mention of the specific amount of effort devoted to teaching or service either. Just like with research, the demands that teaching and service make on my time are not fixed. The amounts of both vary from one semester to the next.

    As opposed to the amount of time devoted to goofing of reading and commenting on blogs. That remains constant throughout the year...

  • drugmonkey says:

    [btw, it is probably worth pointing out that I've never seen any PI from a medical school appointment refer to "summer salary". This is exclusively from the traditional academic side of campus, IME.]

  • Grumble says:

    Don't many departments let their faculty "buy out" of teaching if they get a grant? Maybe what's going on with the "summer salary" request is (sometimes) exactly what you described in response to newbie's question: the PI puts down summer salary, gets the grant, and then actually pays herself for 50% effort because now she gets to not teach for one semester during the academic year.

  • dsks says:

    "I do wonder how many NIH PIs that have nine month salary support actually achieve the appropriate balance of brain effort devoted to their respective tasks. I bet not many."

    Really depends on the teaching load and access to TAs. A 1:1 with adequate TAs is quite manageable without causing too much distraction from research, and thus allowing for a consistent year round productivity. A 2:2 load is a bit more challenging, but even this can be alleviated with some good personnel in the lab. Generally, these sorts of institutions still consider research/scholarship to be a major part of what the faculty get paid hard salary for, which is why loads rarely exceed 2:2 ime.

    The higher teaching load (~3:3 and above) SLACs at which faculty are still encouraged to do research are usually not heavily invested in the grant game, except perhaps to go after the occasional equipment NSF undergrad research grant thingy.

  • Susan says:

    R1, 9 month salary, 40/40/20 split of research/teaching/service explicit in my contract, 1:1 load.

  • rxnm says:

    I think you have it reversed. The NIH is getting an amazing deal from research university hard money faculty, and the universities are overpaying for teaching (which, thanks to adjuncts, we know the market rate for).

    At research universities I am familiar with, the teaching load is 1-1.5 courses per year. There is some up front work for junior faculty if they are making a new course, but after that the time burden is probably 4-5 hours a a week *while teaching*, which is way less than half the time.

    Because research is by far the top criteria for tenure, any "elasticity" in time spent is in the "increased" direction. No one cuts down on their research activities to teach.

    Despite your claims of fungibility, money is as likely to flow between the medical faculty (where there is some percent of soft money) and the science faculty here as it is between two different universities. Different buildings, different administrations, different facilities... soft money overheads in medicine are in no way subsidizing faculty of science research. Quite a bit of money flows the other way, in fact, because many of our grad students are enrolled in faculty of medicine programs, and we have to pay their tuition to faculty of medicine. In exchange the faculty of medicine does nothing.

  • rxnm says:

    oh, right formally they say the split is 40/40/20 (research, teaching, service), but graduate student supervision goes under "teaching" to prop up this fiction.

  • qaz says:

    First, you need to understand the history of that 9 month salary. Yes, there were some professors who would go take other jobs (like at RAND or Los Alamos) for the summer. For those people, the 9/3 accounting made things easier. But for most professors, the 9 month salary has always primarily been an accounting fiction. People doing research did research through the full school year. During the school year, it was paid for by the university. During the summer, if you could get it, it was paid for by NSF (or NIH or DOD or DOE). If you couldn't get it, you made sure that you had enough saved up from the 9 months to pay food and rent for those three months. Professors doing year-round laboratory research (like most NIH bio faculty) simply did research through the year. Can you really imagine scientists saying "I'm only paid for the school year, so I'm going to stop work for the summer, unless I can find summer salary."?

    Second, DM, you are being disingenuous by trying to claim that individuals have to consciously balance these issues mathematically. I don't think this is possible (and I didn't think you did either - you can correct me if you keep timecards like a lawyer, but I bet you don't). As we've discussed many times on this blog, it is nearly impossible to determine what percent time (effort is even worse) one is "spending" on intellectual pursuits (whether that be teaching, writing, art, or science). Do you count the bench time I am wasting rerunning that same stupid gel / writing that stupid piece of code / whatever stupid benchwork you do that ends up being useless because you didn't really need it anyway or because it's addressing the wrong question? Do you count the long walk I took by the river where I got my head cleared and realized that those carbons dance in a ring?

    The fact of the matter is that all of this is about productivity. And I fundamentally disagree with you about productivity between professors balancing teaching and research being lower than soft-money people doing just research. In the drug addiction field, the vast majority of scientists are soft-money. You simply don't have the distribution of samples to measure both sides. But in other fields (psychology, physics, even other neuroscience fields) where there is a lot of distribution of both sides, you see strong productivity from professors balancing both teaching and research. (Note: I am talking about R1 research institutions where balance is the goal, not SLACs with a high teaching load.)

    In my observations at my BigStateResearchUniversity, the faculty who become dead wood are the ones who never teach. They get trapped in their own little path and get stuck. Personally, I find that teaching a class can help my research. I find that nothing makes gaps clearer than trying to explain something to students. And students often ask questions I never would have thought of.

    And finally, my partial-hard-month-salary explicitly is supposed to include a large percent effort of research time during which I am supposedly going to do something that makes my BigStateResearchUniversity look good and build its brand. They even have internal money I can apply for that can pay for small projects. (Other things that are supposed to be included in my time are outreach, teaching, and service to the university structure.)

    I believe there is room for all sides of the balance between teaching and research, and everyone needs to find their optimal balance. But it is absolutely NOT true that the 3 month salary means they're only going to be working on the project in the summer and I don't know anyone on study section who cares about that.

  • johnny chimpo says:

    I am on a 9 month appointment in a department that has no undergrads. My contact states a 20/65/15 T/R/S split. Pretenure I was 75℅ research. I teach one class a semester.

  • rxnm says:

    Agreed on teaching helping research... a upper level UG/ grad seminar is amazing for this... take a bunch of papers you wish you had time to read, assign a bunch of super smart motivated students to read them, rip them apart, and then explain them to you while you drink coffee and ask questions.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ok, you guys have me convinced. Those of you with these Uni expectations should never be able to charge any salary to NIH grants. Clearly your Unis get such benefit that it is unnecessary.

  • Ass(isstant) Prof says:

    I avoid the term "summer salary" in justifications for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Administration could use it to prevent teaching buyout.

    My "wannabe-R1, but won't be soon" appointment is like Susan's, but with a different fiction on the Uni's definitions:

    9 month salary, 60/20/20 split of research/teaching/service is explicit in the contract, but the teaching load is the same as Susan's 1:1.

    Much of that 60% goes to proposal writing, but since it's elastic, it also gets eaten up by a desire to do a half-decent job of teaching, since outside of my department the split is mostly 20/60/20 (or a 3:3) and tenure still requires good teaching review. Both of these mean manuscripts don't get written in a timely manner. Still, I think the Federal agencies underwriting the research are getting a pretty good deal.

  • qaz
    re: " you can correct me if you keep timecards like a lawyer, but I bet you don't"

    Let me guess, you've never worked a soft money position, have you? Weekly timecards showing percent effort spent on each grant are *exactly* what is required at my soft-money institute (although I'm now headed to NIH intramural next month).

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Weekly timecards showing percent effort spent on each grant are *exactly* what is required at my soft-money institute

    Just to add another data point here, when I was on soft money at a medical school, we had nothing like that. Every 6 months or so we would be emailed a link to a web site where we would "verify our % effort", which basically consisted of clicking the "yes" button below a list of our projects of effort percentages (which were taken straight from our grants, as far as I know).

  • Kevin says:

    R1 Biology, 9 months salary. 45:45:10 r/t/s expectation pretenure. I have only been asked effort requests for a grant. No one has asked me how much actual effort for me or the technician paid 50:50 from R01 subcontract and startup. Of course everyone is 100% effort on the grant (other than my teaching; 1:1), but I won't have any money left if everyone was paid that way. I'm only charging 1 month effort to the grant, ostensibly to leave me effort for another mythical my-own R01.

    Where is this magical effort calculation form separate from salary?

  • Arlenna says:

    Mine always requests a proportion of academic months and a proportion of summer months that collectively make the given %effort. The dept. essentially cost shares the rest of the summer in exchange for the coverage I put in during the academic year. It's not that complicated, pretty accurate and equitable.

  • @academic lurker
    Good luck if the school ever got audited by a funding agency with something like that. Besides, not only PIs, but everybody on the science side of our institute has to fill out time sheets -- postdocs, technicians, software engineers, even summer interns, because the money has to come from some grant. How does their time get recorded in your system?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    So here we have many examples of institutions paying serious (~50%) hard money explicitly to advance the research mission. Contrary to DM's protestations, this is not some bizarre pipe dream. It's really just a matter of traditions within various sectors of the ecosystem.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Indeed, N-c, indeed.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    so - why not?

  • meshugena313 says:

    Med school basic science faculty soft money - no accounting at all until recently for % effort, now just quarterly check-offs to confirm the pre-assigned % effort according to the budgets. My impression is that this is adequate in case of audit, as the system was vetted by consultants, etc.

    My wife is an attorney, at a firm years ago with 6 minute clock intervals. I wanted to kill myself just listening to the insanity keeping track of the time. of course the "most productive" associates just subtracted 30 min from lunch from the 16 hours they were in the office and divided the rest of the time among the various clients. So it's all bullshit, no matter what.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    qaz seems to have it right to my eye in his opening paragraph. The problem is that faculty don't even understand how their effort is allocated in the first place! At least at some places.

    example:
    You have 9/12 months salary but are paid over 12 months. Therefore, "summer salary" is just supporting that last 3/12 of your 12-month salary. The univ. just disperses it in the summer in addition to your pro-rated, monthly or biweekly checks. Therefore, if your univ accounts that way, you are assigning effort, not 'summer salary'. If you have one month effort on a grant then you get 1/12 of your salary from that, 9/12 from teaching for a total of 10/12 of whatever your salary is. Univ's confuse matters by only giving you your 9-month number in your offer letter documents, etc. The univ. may put other hooks in to discourage people from buying effort out of teaching or may encourage it depending on the place. But there is NO difference inherent if, say, a head of a center has 4.5 months salary to manage the center. That effectivly buys out 1/2 their teaching commitment effort, though they my allocate it differently of course.

    Folks on softer money often pay more attention to how effort is accounted for and how to do things 'right' (at least conventionally).

  • drugmonkey says:

    why not what, N-c? why not have the NIH mandate it?

  • LIZR says:

    My contract at BigState R1 specifies 75% research and 25% teaching for my 9 month academic salary. Therefore, I have 9.75 months of research effort that I can commit over the entire calendar year (6.75 academic months + 3 summer months). My teaching load is 1.5 courses per academic year. Needless to say, if I don't have funds to cover my summer salary, I am still in the lab/office putting in research effort.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Yes, DM. Why not have NIH mandate a 50% (or some other number) salary cap?

  • iGrrrl says:

    I agree with DM on the grantsmanship side: If you're applying to NIH from an institution with a 9-month salary set-up, there's no reason in the justification to call it summer salary. For a modular grant, there's *really* no reason to call it summer salary, and it makes the applicant look like 'not one of us' to the medical school/research institution types. By contrast, NSF types expect to see summer salary. It may be that the research administration folks in your OSP are sticklers for what is summer vs academic year, and while that's fine internally, if they also insist on having it separated in an NIH Personnel justification, try not to let them do that.

    The institution may have very different rules around summer salary. There may be different benefit rates associated with it. It may actually increase the grantees salary by adding a month or two. It may not change the salary or anything else, just shifts where the funds for salary come from. But, your institution's internal accounting systems should not show up in the budget justification, because the audience for that document is someone who doesn't need to know precisely how your accountants will deal with the finer details.

    Oh, and person-months, folks. Not % effort.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    1. No one can get 3 months, 2.5 is the max because vacation/working on proposals is assumed. Any university oking 3 months really is clueless. NSF limit is 2 months.

    2. Teaching includes supervision of graduate students so you really are flailing here.

    3. NSF current and pending has a check box for summer salary, one for academic year and one for annual.

    4. It used to be 10 months most places, but some sharp shooter spotted that going to 9 months gave the productive faculty a raise (It depends on whether the academic year is defined as Aug 1 - May 31 or Aug 15 to May 15, with same amount of time for classes)

  • Dr Becca says:

    The whole thing is maddeningly dumb. I get $X/year from my university. If I get a grant, I have the option of making $1.4X/year (we are on an 8 month hard, 3.2 month "summer" schedule), but I don't have to take that money for myself. I'm going to work the maximum number of hours I can work whether or not I get that grant, so how do I decide what % of the modular budget goes in my pocket instead of buying shit for the lab? It all just feels like weird fake money, and even though I'm entitled to it, and even though I'm technically not getting paid for the work I do from May-August, it still feels like stealing from myself to budget in summer salary.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Eli is correct. I am at a clueless institution that considers effort distribution to be something like 50-40-10, but appointments are for 9 months. The appointments are not leave-accruing and I think this is how they allow 3 months salary to be paid in summer. Other divisions of this institution have faculty on 9 month appointments but spread out the grant salary through the year. I describe to upper administrators that elsewhere only 2.5 months extra salary are allowed, specifically due to what Eli say, and they look at me like I am crazy. I state that university should have standard accounting practices in case of an "effort" audit and they look at me like I am crazy.

    The NSF check box seems designed for the fact that many of the people they support truly are doing summer research while committed to heavy teaching loads in academic year.

    I despair because I wish people here knew what they were doing.

  • E rook says:

    Med school, adjunct appointment. My contract is vague on t/r/s, just duties assigned by the chair. The requirements for advancement are specified in advance of review cycles (not post hoc to suit what happened) but highly flexible depending on individuals' situations. (Eg, MDs do clinical service, some are course directors, some are Core directors). I get 0.6 months from the department. Everything else from contracts or grants. Need to maintain at least 6 months to keep benefits. I actually spend about 10/85/5% t/r/s, but it's difficult to quantify because "teaching" is always in the context of research. I'm not sure where to account for grant writing. I have been at 6.06 to 7 months support for about 2 years, but work >40 hrs a week. Mostly juggling 3-5 projects that only gave me anywhere from 0.6-4 months' support. To supplement income, we can teach modules in the didactic part of med school curriculum, but this is a flat dollar amount per classroom hour that is independent from my salary or any"effort." Academics keep time like A.L. described. Staff keep timecards and PIs certify the effort from which grant. I'm in my last month here, and going to a scientific society.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    I think this has been asked and answered before, but does anyone know what percent of NIH PI's are on 9/10-month vs 12-month appointments?

  • UCProf says:

    In these situations either the NIH is being fleeced to support undergraduate instruction or

    In the Univ California system, this is actually becoming an issue. The state legislature is concerned that costs are too high. They are looking at a number of issues (over paid administrators, too many administrators) including whether as you say, "the undergraduate instruction support system is being fleeced" to pay for research.

    As Michael Meranze puts it:
    "Although the report never makes it explicit, one red thread concerns the relationship between research and teaching load at UC. The report shows skepticism about the relationship between faculty research and teaching and suggests that the relative importance of the two needs to be rethought. As committee staff put it in two questions (both at 13): "Does UC believe faculty are teaching enough? How does UC determine an appropriate faculty load?" and "Is it appropriate to include research activity within the instruction category? Should undergraduate students' tuition be used to support research if it does not benefit them?" Put bluntly, the Committee staff seems to be asking why UC professors should be paid more to teach fewer courses than our CSU colleagues are expected to teach. I don't think that the assembly necessarily wants to downgrade the research university. Speaker Atkins, for example, has shown a greater willingness to expand funding for the University than has the Governor. But the analysis clearly questions the present balance between teaching and research. "

    From here: http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-legislature-and-research-university.html

  • Pinko Punko says:

    The state legislature in some state I know probably wants all faculty to be on 3/3 loads. Doesn't mesh w R1.

  • Grumble says:

    @UCProf:

    The comparison between the UCs and CSUs is actually really informative. Ask any parent in California which one they'd prefer their child attend, and they'll tell you UC. Why? Because UC has a better reputation. Why? Because the quality of its faculty is better - not their ability to teach (which, on the whole, is probably better at CSUs), but their scholarship and research.

    So when UC (or any college) pays its profs more to teach less than profs at "lesser" colleges, it's not that they are getting nothing in return. Cut those salaries, or make them teach more, and the best profs will go elsewhere, UC's scholarship will suffer, and UC's reputation will tank.

    That is one reason why "effort" is such a squirrely thing. "Should undergraduate students' tuition be used to support research if it does not benefit them?" Who says it doesn't benefit them? A student who engages with top faculty, who is interested and intelligent, will benefit directly from the scholarship going on around him - by participating in it and even just learning about it. On top of that, UC students get a degree from UC and not CSU, employers and grad schools and professional schools say "oooh, ahhh!" and they get the job/postgraduate admission whereas the poor kid who went to CSU doesn't.

  • newbie PI says:

    My uni does exactly what academic lurker mentioned. We verify our % effort once a month online. It's based on what is written in our grants, and it's one click, yes or no. I have no idea what would happen if we clicked no.

  • lylebot says:

    I can't help but find the term "amateur scientist" offensive. I have a PhD in science and I'm paid by my university to do science (my contract specifies something like 55/35/10 R/T/S, but the actual numbers go down to the tenth of a percent). I'm not an "amateur" by any definition. I suppose you can call it "part time scientist" if you want, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking that teaching is part of being a professional scientist as well.

    As for whether I actually achieve the 55/35/10 split? Who knows? But I do try to confine all teaching activities to two days a week, which works out to 30-40%/week depending on what else is going on that week.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I have no idea what would happen if we clicked no.

    A trap door under your desk opens, dropping you into the ravenous zombie filled catacombs below your university.

    At least that's what I've heard.

  • drugmonkey says:

    So... If I'm hearing you "teaching improves my research" fans, you are saying that this lets you practice intellectual vampirism on a wider scale. Yes? Interesting argument to make.

  • Kevin says:

    Says the guy with the blog and Twitter, soliciting the best ideas from his commenters.

  • Grumble says:

    "this lets you practice intellectual vampirism on a wider scale"

    Uhh, no. It lets good quality research be a product of a back-and-forth between smart, experienced faculty and smart, eager, creative yet inexperienced students. It's a symbiotic relationship, not a parasitic (vampirical?) one.

  • "I don't think I'm alone in thinking that teaching is part of being a professional scientist as well"

    No, it really isn't. You can make a argument the other way, that experience doing research makes for a better teacher (and that's why even undergrad-only schools have their faculty do some research; plus the experience for the students of course), but teaching is basically a distraction from doing science. That being said, "amateur" vs. "part-time" is intentionally inflammatory on dm's part, I would imagine.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Fascinating, btw, that the State that funds the biggest and best system of Universities in the U.S. Agrees with me.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Kevin- this blog unashamedly and forthrightedly practices intellectual vampirism. It's a community project. Yes. I fail to see how that relates to professional careers.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Grumble- you take their tuition dollllars and ideas. What benefit does the smart and engaged undergraduate receive?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    On the assumption that this bit of needling from DM is a response to the popular enthusiasm for the 50% salary cap, I would like to point out that I don't think that support for the 50% cap reflects a popular feeling that all soft money positions should keel over and die. I suspect (as I said for myself earlier) it reflects a desire to get runaway unsustainable growth under control, combined with evidence that it's soft money institutions that are driving that growth.

  • E-Rook says:

    I am not sure if I was clear on this. I think that the salary cap should be for RPGs. If a PI gets a K01 "Independent Investigator Award," or other type of K award like NIAID's "Mentoring" award, then -- yes, the PI should most definitely get 95-100% of their salary from NIH. But I think of this more like they are independent -- from the University (not the concept of independent from their mentors). Their lab (and on their by-lines) should be labeled as (for example), "National Institute of General Medicine Laboratory of Bunny Hopping, at University of State." Their affiliation should primarily be where the money comes from (like what HHMI does), and then university / department should be more accurately referenced as like the mall out of which the franchise is operating. Yes, some malls are better located than others; some have nicer food courts and anchor-stores -- but it a world where NIH is paying for the research and the majority of a PI's salary -- the university is essentially a shopping mall out of which a franchise (NI-XX or NC-XX) is operating.

    To the other point -- I am not sure whether DM is really so obtuse as to think that "philosophically" RPGs to academic scientists are the same as goods / services provided by other government contractors in other sectors. I can't tell whether you were intentionally baiting me on the other thread on the grant vs contract thing. But the comparison falls apart even on cursory examination. First -- when the government orders a good or service -- they pay for that good or service they receive. They don't pay Lockheed Martin portions of salaries for engineers and line workers that work on the jets to work for a certain amount of time. They pay for the jet to the company, and the company decides how to use the money. Sure, Lockheed may lobby Congress to direct the DoD to purchase jets, they may lobby the DoD. But the process is fundamentally different in academic research. It's not like engineers from Boeing and GE sit on a panel and read, evaluate, score, and rank the merits of Lockheed's bids. On the ownership/credit of the product, I can't imagine that you genuinely believed that I meant that the PI "owns" the manuscripts/intangibles. But they sure as hell take credit for it. You look at a Nobel Prize winner, and you think "Damn, she did some excellent research that really advanced the field." You don't think, "Wow, NIH / NSF really hit it out of the ballpark on that one." When you look at the USSS Eisenhower -- you are impressed by the might of United States Navy, not by whatever team of engineers designed or workers who built it. The concept is different in practice (if not philosophically, and I am not convinced on that point). Say an artist gets a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, it's not like the Smithsonian takes possession of the works that arose during the funding period. For RPG's, this is work that the scientist wants to do, that the university wants to get done (at their institution), to advance their careers, brands, missions.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I don't think that support for the 50% cap reflects a popular feeling that all soft money positions should keel over and die.... evidence that it's soft money institutions that are driving that growth.

    I don't see how these two thoughts are compatible with each other in any real world scenario. The "moar hard money" fans may be too cowardly to explicitly state that they believe all soft money positions should keel over and die but this is what they mean. And if they haven't connected these dots inside their own thinking then they are simply living in Unicorn Leprechaun Fantasy Gold Pot land.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    DM, I guess what I mean is that I'm fine with a hypothetical situation in which environments like the current soft money ones exist, but growth is limited by some alternative non-salary cap means.

    E.g., med. schools still have 95% soft money research positions, but there's some sort of czar at the NIH who can say "No new research building for you!" when a school proposes to put up a new building and fill it up with 50 soft money PIs. Unfortunately, the scenario just described is a non-starter.

  • drugmonkey says:

    But the comparison falls apart even on cursory examination.

    No, it doesn't. You clearly believe that they are different and are grasping as desperately as you can at narrow definitions to support your a priori position. You are, however, quite wrong. The tangibility of the good or service requested by the Federal government is not in any way a definition of a difference here.

    and as far as the mechanism of evaluating/selecting contractors goes...the fact that you have to reach to this ridiculous level should prove to you that you are not trying in the least to see the forest. The CSR itself, and NIH as a whole, has a diversity of review/selection mechanisms for the different things they fund. are you saying this makes every thing totally different?

    They don't pay Lockheed Martin portions of salaries for engineers and line workers that work on the jets to work for a certain amount of time. They pay for the jet to the company, and the company decides how to use the money.

    I have zero familiarity with the budget specification across all of the federal contracting that leads to a highly tangible good but I bet with long odds that you are not correct that major categorical line items are never reviewed. (pssst: btw, the modular budget process means the proposal only very skimpily describes expenditures for the majority of Rmechs awarded by the NIH. and the portion of salaries for custodial staff and animal care staff, for example, is hardly ever mentioned even in traditional budgeting)

    You don't think, "Wow, NIH / NSF really hit it out of the ballpark on that one."
    You don't have the foggiest idea what I think. clearly. But we do know for damn sure that every Nobel award going to someone ever once supported by the NIH is rapidly followed by a bragging presser from the NIH about how they supported this scientist. They sure as heck seem to think they "own" something.

    When you look at the USSS Eisenhower -- you are impressed by the might of United States Navy, not by whatever team of engineers designed or workers who built it.

    Haven't you ever noticed how MSM accounts of findings most frequently trumpet "researchers from U of State" (or "NIH funded investigators" depending on who released the presser) and you have to read down to the middle of the article to find the name of the actual people who did the work? and sometimes only the PI or PI + lead author are mentioned by name? Puh-leeze with this poor-overlooked-engineers shit. Not to mention, the typical terms of employment and credit under for profit and notforprofit providers of the good or service requested by the Federal government has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they are indeed requesting a good or service. So in addition to being wrong, you are just throwing up irrelevant chaff with this.

    For RPG's, this is work that the scientist wants to do, that the university wants to get done (at their institution), to advance their careers, brands, missions.

    You have failed entirely to address my prior point on this wrt Lockheed Martin and restating it, with bold font emphasis, does not enhance the power of your argument.

  • drugmonkey says:

    AL- but this is the problem. Every systematic solution to the RealProblemTM typically involves a big boot to some clearly identifiable subset of NIH-funded investigators. It is all well and good to talk about how those guys, over there, are the real problem and how MagicSelfFavoringSolution is going to fix every thing. But when it is demanded that people face up to the inevitable consequences of their proposals, then they start backing and filling like you are doing here.

    Who are you pointing the finger at, in your group of friends, colleagues and subfield contributors? That is the key question for anyone proposing solutions. And the obvious follow up is, Are you willing for them to go away?

    As I have said, in my subfields of closest interest the most active participants are generally on soft money and generally have more than one concurrent award. Most are in med schools, semi-detached research units and/or small research institutes (and IRP!, another punching bag). For my fields of interest, the advance would be much less affected by ditching all of the one-grant people on hard money positions in less-active research universities. Unfortunately, I also happen to think that the latter category of person is often doing unique and interesting stuff that I would be loathe to lose from our field. They are also providing research exposure to underrepresented populations, in many cases, and I would be unhappy to lose that as well.

    This is why the only reasonable avenue I see ahead is decreasing the number of mouths at the trough. As democratically as possible, meaning shared pain across all current subgroupings. Of course, I see "shared pain" in a career long arc which conveniently allows me to tell the oldsters to take a major hit right now to make up for their prior benefits and GenX's hosejob up to this point. I also, painfully and haltingly, think that putting the pain on the current group of people looking to enter grad school by severely throttling down PhD production is ultimately most justified because at least they haven't put in years or decades of their lives yet.

    :-()

  • Grumble says:

    "Grumble- you take their tuition dollllars and ideas. What benefit does the smart and engaged undergraduate receive?"

    I already answered this in the third paragraph of my comment above.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Pretty vapid justification for systemic vampirism, Grumbie. Sounds like the cry of the unpaid internship exploiter everywhere.

  • rxnm says:

    "Grumble- you take their tuition dollllars and ideas. What benefit does the smart and engaged undergraduate receive?"

    Med school reference.

    Your whole argument is premised on the claim that NIH-funded researchers in hard money faculty positions are expending a significant proportion of of their time and effort on teaching. I call bullshit. Like, big time.

    It is the NIH that is getting a bargain by not paying salary to these full-time researchers. R1 universities are willing to do this to an extent because of the unsupported belief that research-active faculty are a mark of prestige or something. I don't know, doesn't matter. But it is the universities paying for something they don't need (or aren't getting), not the NIH.

    If you go to universities where faculty have larger course loads, you might have a point, but how many of those people are pulling in R01s?

  • thorazine says:

    "...you take their tuition dollllars and ideas. What benefit does the smart and engaged undergraduate receive?" - The undergraduate receives education in this context, which is exactly what they are paying for.

  • drugmonkey says:

    So you have no problem with unending "training" of grad students and postdocs I take it?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Rxnm- of course I have a point and you don't know how many there are. It isn't going to break down by Uni very cleanly either. So saying it is or is not a problem based on estimates of % of NIH budget fails. That's why I stick to the immorality of any of it. Far better to draw clean lines.

    Doc Becca has the only solution. Clearly.

  • rxnm says:

    But that's the exact opposite of the argument you make when people say capping "immorally" large indirects will fix the NIH budget. It won't, so there is no point in crying over high negotiated IDCs. Likewise here--you can be happy or sad about an imagined loss of productivity for hard money people who give some lectures now and then, or even hard money people who spend 15-20% of their time on undergraduate instruction. But making a rule like "1-1 teaching load or less required for R01 eligibility" isn't going to do anything to the big picture.

  • thorazine says:

    DM - if you're talking to me, I don't even begin to see how the point I made has any fucking thing to do at all with "unending 'training' of grad students and postdocs".

  • drugmonkey says:

    It has to do with promising nebulous outcome benefits for clear and present intellectual vampirism and labor exploitation, is all.

  • Grumble says:

    "Sounds like the cry of the unpaid internship exploiter everywhere."

    Ah, no. You're seeing it from an extremely jaundiced point of view. Undergrads (the best ones, anyway) are eager to learn. They want exciting things going on around them. They want to get their hands on, do things, figure things out, get exposed to new things. That is what college is FOR. Those experiences benefit them, and the quality of those experiences is going to depend on the quality of the faculty. So it is ridiculous to suggest that they get no benefit from having their tuition dollar support faculty research - and even more ridiculous to suggest that they are being exploited by participating in these mind-broadening activities that are essential to the college experience.

  • E-Rook says:

    I will summarize, again, hopefully more succinctly, how grants to scientists (artists, etc) are different than procuring other goods and services. Among other things: The marketplace for the good/service is fundamentally different. The selection process for who "wins" the contract is fundamentally different. The ownership of the product is different. The attribution of credit is different.

    I think the difference (maybe ... it's hard to read through the misdirections and anger-baiting now, which is surprising to me) in our interpretation might be this: I am interpreting what you are saying (and I may be wrong) is that the government wants research to be done, and so it contracts that out to the research community. My view is that the research community wants to do research and so asks the government for money to do it. The government, in order to promote the public welfare & good, does so through various grant mechanisms.

    It is different, in my opinion, than the government deciding that it needs a good/service, then identifies and pays a private party to provide/do it. The initiation is from the scientist, requesting funds to create scholarly work.

    I think the difference is sufficient enough, in process and philosophy, that employers of the scientist, should be responsible for the majority of their salary. I believe that the scientist provides the employer (e.g., university) with sufficient value that the employer should pay the majority of their salary.

  • thorazine says:

    Really?

    With regard specifically to undergraduate teaching, what we are basically describing is scientific discussion, from which we hope that both parties benefit. The professor benefits because he or she is paid for this discussion; he or she may also benefit intellectually (this is not guaranteed, but is also not unlikely). The student benefits by ultimately receiving a college degree, which will (we hope) increase future earnings by more than the financial cost of that education; he or she may also benefit intellectually (the university attempts to guarantee that the process of education results in net intellectual gain, even if any individual educational experience is not necessarily intellectually rewarding). Finally, both parties may benefit by enjoying the interaction; it is to be hoped that this is not taken to reduce the value of the education, or of the professor's time in providing it.

    The undergraduate educational experience is generally restricted in scope: the university undertakes to guarantee that if the student passes some set number of classes, they will receive a degree; this requirement should not generally be changed halfway through the student's education. In cases where this requirement does change, it nearly never does so in such a way as to alter the duration an undergraduate degree should take for a full-time student.

    You are correct in describing the outcome benefits of this process as "nebulous" - it is not clear that the financial benefit of an undergraduate education is actually large enough to offset the cost of that education; this has become worse in recent years. Other potential benefits are genuinely nebulous - a university education is socially useful, but not in a way that I am willing to quantify; our intellectual lives can also be enriched by education. In any case, many people who can do so choose to acquire an undergraduate degree.

    This process does not seem to me intrinsically exploitative, in part because it is explicitly not "unending"; and to describe any aspect of this as "vampirism" requires a view of human interaction, or of vampirism, to which I must admit that I do not subscribe.

  • Science Grunt says:

    "So you have no problem with unending "training" of grad students and postdocs I take it?"

    The undergrad is under no obligation of turning in any material that is useful for anyone else unless for his learning*. The only responsibility they have is to acquire knowledge and they will only be kicked out if the grades drop. The environment they're at increases the diversity of skills from very limited (HS worldview) to a broad one (college worldview) which will allow them to enter into several new careers that otherwise they just couldn't get into (including research).

    The grad student/postdoc puts in 40-60 hours of their week and are under obligation of delivering something useful to their advisor, not proving they learned a skill. They will get kicked out if their productivity drops, but grades as you well know don't matter. There is one specific career that a PhD entitles you to (there's a reason why alt careers are called alt careers).

    As such, an undergrad is an educational experience. Grad School/Postdoc is a very long internship.

    *I'm with you on undergrad research, though, they should be paid for that unless it's their very first time in a lab environment or the lab has no external funding

  • jmz4 says:

    "I have zero familiarity with the budget specification across all of the federal contracting that leads to a highly tangible good but I bet with long odds that you are not correct that major categorical line items are never reviewed. "
    -They are extremely different. The NIH does not treat it's workers as Federal contractors under the Department of Labor's guidelines, nor under the relevant laws pertaining to them ( http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/wages/govtcontracts.htm ) You can make the allegory, and I see your point, but they are fairly different beasts. For instance, you would be mandated a regional cost of living adjustment and time and half pay for every hour over 40 if you were a federal contractor.
    Soooo, maybe it would be a lot better?
    The Universities, as the contractors, get very loose guidelines on what they can budget relative to private firms. Depreciation on building value, comes to mind. Defense contractors have to prove substantial use and depreciation from the contracted activity. Universities don't, t0 my knowledge.

  • jmz4 says:

    Sorry, when I say *workers, I mean people supported by the grants.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think you are getting the first glimmer of my purpose here jmz4

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Asshole, tuition is 25% of funding at state universities so what's with this shit about faculty taking money from undergrads to fund their research time, and of that 25% some of it comes out of research grants supporting grad students, and yep, even some out of grants the faculty scrum for to support undergrads.

  • qaz says:

    DM - it sounds to me like the simple solution is to let total cost become a factor in the scoring of grants. If NIH thinks that the best way to answer question X is researcher Y at soft-money institute Z then they should fund it, but not if professor Q at university R can do as good a job for half the cost. Since people don't propose exactly the same projects, it needs to be more of a "good idea. Worth spending a little but not a lot on."

    Theoretically, this is part of program's purview. But because they already have "science" scsores, its hard to for them to decide to take two R01s at unversity R over one R01 at institute Z.

    Maybe study section needs to have a say in whether something is wasteful. (They do, but salary and IDC are not allowed to be discussed at study section, so they can't say "this is a good idea, but expensive.")

    Or maybe all R01s should be the same size and people see hiw much science they can do with pne R01 unit of cash.

  • crazychem says:

    Faculty of big state U are the vampires, check your ears and glasses DM..I dont think so. I am at a big state U and we charge ~12k in tuition. Local privates set the market rate @ 35k. We have a better reputation. BAM: student got a deal by saving 1/3 of their dollars and getting a better name associated with them. So I teach 2-3 classes/yr with 300 of them generating maximally 1.1 million dollars (this would be equivalent to indirects from an NIH grant since it all goes to the admin sans my salary). The university says you've done enough so use the rest of your time to do research..if you can get the money. No looking for blood at night, everyone happy.. It is you DM that is turing bean-counter and technical to stir the pot

    btw 1.1 in indirects is like 8 full RO1s

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Some might say, not Pinko, that DM is wearing his trollypants today, but the result was a good discussion. Think there could be a better way of going about it. Better than a bunch of medieval abuse, however.

    But Eli of course nails it.

  • Grumble says:

    Nah, DM isn't a troll. He's a Calvinist.

    You are ALL SINNERS! Down on your knees and beg forgiveness for exploiting the innocent and stealing their money to fund the devil's research!

  • DJMH says:

    Qaz, you and me both. I am going to try to figure out what effect this would have on budgeting...

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