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.