Ronald Germain Explains How To Fix The NIH

He still can't do math. Or pretends not to. The point is that at the end of his initial 5-7 year interval the competition will be even MORE intense. Especially for his category of "credible" science.

What he seems entirely clueless about is that the ability to gain research support early/easily does more to distinguish the PI's apparent ability based on track record than any other factor. With grant support, most scientists who have made it to the Assistant Professor level do a pretty decent job. So the assessment after the first 5-7 years will still be stochastic. The competition to continue will be intense.

His only solution is for population control* but you will notice he doesn't say much about how these now bodaciously funded Assistant Professors setting out to compete with their peers will do so without graduate students or postdocs. Back in the real world, this will just amp up the trainee arms race.

Germain is still not a serious thinker on this. Possibly because, as he admits in the preamble, he only ever had to win a single R01 in his entire career and otherwise spent it fully funded without having to lift much of a finger.

*Why, you might ask yourself, if this is the true problem does he not start here? With calls for all graduate training programs to immediately cut their enrollments by 50% or more?

99 responses so far

  • jipkin says:

    I'm out of the loop on the current thinking on the overpopulation issue. What happens after the "calls" for admissions cuts? How is that enforced? I can think of one way but it's so unrealistic I'd rather hear what the actual ideas are here.

  • Morgan Price says:

    Why is sorting PIs by their grant reviews better than actually reading some of their papers? Not that I've ever heard of a PI being assessed that way, but if you wanted to do it right, wouldn't that be a major part of it?

  • ROStressed says:

    The idea that everything is better without looking at the science is both baffling and really annoying. Might as well just accept papers based on CV only also.

    Equally bad is the giving up on trying to get more money in the system. Lets not fund those that just missed the funding cut line with excellent science outlined, but tell them that they should have had a better CV from working in a well funded lab as a postdoc.

  • Dave says:

    This guy is an obnoxious privileged dickhead. His plan is to just eliminate the riff-raff from competing and take care of the glam-douches that are left. He just cannot understand that not every scientist that competes for funding today was born into a great family, went to a great school and/or graduated with honors from an Ivy college. Plenty of us work everyday to be successful despite imperfect CVs, dodgy backgrounds, long postdocs and soft-money jobs. We all make mistakes in life and there are many routes to becoming a very successful scientist. The route he took is just one way. He wants to destroy everyone that never had the opportunities that he had and, I'm sorry, but that's fucking bullshit.

  • Dave says:

    The video should only last two minutes, because during this time he outlines all the reasons why he is precisely the wrong person to be pontificating on this topic.

  • sopscientist says:

    Um..... hello - only had one R01 and has been in intramural system for more than 30 years!!!!!! COMPLETELY OUT OF THE LOOP!!!!!!! Completely unqualified to make ANY recommendations. Jeepers. How is this guy seen as credible?

  • drugmonkey says:

    the current thinking on the overpopulation issue.

    As far as I am aware I am about the only person saying straight out that we need to cut down the number of PhD program enrollees starting right now and in significant numbers. Across *all* programs with no wishy-washy bullshit about how "our program is so awesome we don't need to, those other lesser programs need to stop".

    How is that enforced?

    It cannot be. This is the territory of the bully pulpit. NIH can use the power of the T32 Training Grant and the F31, and they should, but this is limited. They can also use accounting data on the number of graduate students supported on R grants to bully/encourage but this aspect gives less direct control

  • drugmonkey says:

    The video should only last two minutes, because during this time he outlines all the reasons why he is precisely the wrong person to be pontificating on this topic.

    I agree entirely. But let us be clear. His plan isn't wrong *because of* his background, his plan is just wrong because it is so clueless and fails to connect the dots/do the math. The reason *why* he is so clueless may, however, be because of his sheltered trajectory.

  • physioprof says:

    This fucker is nothing but a lobbyist for his motherfucken son. The thought that anyone would take this shitte seriously is sickening.

  • Masked Avenger says:

    NIH will never cut the number of PhDs being cranked out of graduate schools because it is the cheap labor that the hot-shit researchers need to do their work for them. As stated, they could limit the training grant mechanism, but they WON'T because that would end all of the cheap labor that everyone loves.

    Another case of someone who doesn't know what the fnck he's talking about giving everyone all the answers that everyone wants to hear. If this were a grant proposal, he'd get called for fabricating bullshit.

  • Masked Avenger says:

    (1) Who the fnck is Ronald Germain?
    (2) So is he really saying that the content of scientific proposals should NOT be a factor in whether that person/project gets funded?

    Because I've known some exceptionally well-funded idiots whom I wouldn't trust with a can-opener.

    Just a stupid bad idea all around.

    Didn't he have to run this idea by someone before filing a produced clip for distribution? Because I'd hope that someone at NIH would recognize the absolute absurdity of this so-called "fix".

    I'm so glad I got out... So glad. From the inside, it's horrific, from the outside it's sadly comical.

  • Masked Avenger says:

    Dude cites his own experiences as an example, saying that while he was training, if he personally had been funded rather than the project, then he wouldn't have had to work for getting funding and could focus on science.

    So says the paper pusher who likely hasn't done science in decades. Not impressed. Epic fail.

  • serialmentor says:

    I'm not convinced that cutting PhD enrollments by 50% will do much for population control at the faculty level. For most graduate programs, only the top 10-20% will go on to become faculty members. So if you cut enrollment by 50%, all you do is increase the relative percentage of graduate students that will get a faculty position. That's maybe a good thing, but it doesn't address the funding issue at all.

    To reduce the number of scientists that compete for grants, you need to reduce the number of positions for PI-status scientists. It's that simple. There are many ways to do this. For example, you could require institutions to pay a certain percentage of the salary of every PI-status scientist. Or you could give institutions a negotiated number of PI slots, and they can't go above that number unless they renegotiate. Or you could impose a cap on the number of soft-money funded PI positions in an institution.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You convinced me. Absolute moratorium on any new PhD students for 8 years. This is my new suggestion.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Renewable for a second term if still needed.

  • physioprof says:

    What this fucker is saying is that special snowflakes like his OWN SON should receive along with their tenure-track jobs and expensive start-ups at fancy research universities an NIH extramural sinecure and not have to compete with the riff-raff, JUST LIKE THE INTRAMURAL SINECURE THIS FUCKER HAS BEEN ENJOYING FOR DECADES.

  • Philapodia says:

    Again, people are listening to privileged out-of-the-loop dickeheads like this who are talking about issue. Without a counterpoint in a real journal from the riff-raff then there will be no resistance to their opinions and they will get their way.

  • physioprof says:

    If you want three fucken R01s worth of funding for five fucken years, you should have to write, have reviewed, and be awarded three fucken R01 applications, just like the rest of us. Not just be the son of some pompous fucken shittehead like this asshole.

  • I have not specifically said that the grad student population should be culled, but I have said they should not be funded on R01 or other project awards. So.......

  • physioprof says:

    Are we gonna assess the impact of this "Ronald Germain" contributions to science now??

  • JustAGrad says:

    Limiting NIH funding of grad students to T32s and F31s would require NIH to significantly shift their budgets around, no? NIBIB funded zero F31s last year. But they still fund R01s and other research mechanisms, so it's not like biomedical engineering is completely neglected by NIH.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Are we gonna assess the impact of this "Ronald Germain" contributions to science now??

    Don't you have a blog somewhere?

  • physioprof says:

    My blogge is busy with more important shittio.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Yes, we probably need to be training fewer graduate students and keeping Ph.D.-level scientists on as research staff. We are making our labs less efficient when we lose too many of our experts and replace them with zero-experience trainees. But unless all federal funding agencies refuse to pay for graduate students, this will never happen. (And even then, many departments would just put graduate students on TAs.)

  • jipkin says:

    Hmm I have no idea what powers the NIH has or doesn't have. My thoughts on how you would go about culling grad school admits (if you wanted to) would be to set minimums on how much you can pay people who do work on any NIH grant. How you do this would be up to you. For instance, you could set a minimum of $35k stipend for any graduate student who works on an NIH-funded project, making them too expensive to bring into lab in the first place. Or $50k postdoc salary. Or $75k PI salary. Or a combination of minimums for all levels. It could be phased in to ease the pain. I dunno.

    If you cull the grad students, the net result is the same amount of money being spread about among fewer people since grad students are still (barely in some cases) the cheapest per capita population. So those who survive the cull should be making more money anyway (whether that's because there are now more PI positions, or that everyone's salary goes up). Hence the idea to use salary/stipend minimums as a mechanism of cull enforcement.

    Obviously this will never happen.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Grad student "tuition": Another covert IDC tap on NIHGrants

  • jipkin says:

    ofc NIH can't tell institutions how much they can charge for tuition. Or can they? Hence adding pressure on the stipend instead.

  • physioprof says:

    NIH imposes a hard cap on how much tuition can be charged to an NIH grant.

  • qaz says:

    DM - You do realize that limiting the number of graduate students entering into graduate programs is playing right into Germain's hands, right? By selecting who is on the faculty track earlier and earlier, you are encouraging dynasty, class, and descendents of academics. By limiting the entering graduate student pool, you are making it harder for people who don't know the system, harder for people who need second chances, and harder for people who haven't been prepared from birth to be faculty.

    The only way to increase diversity is to have a large enough pool to accommodate not only the academic dynasties (the ac-brats) with the ivy league track records and the well-written research statements and the recommendation letters from major faculty that they did research with while undergrads, but also to make sure that there is room for the first-to-college kids who flunked a year of undergrad but came back strong, who needed that McNair scholarship to get research experience and discover that grad school is an exciting possibility.

    What we really need to do is to increase the number of faculty jobs available by increasing the NIH budget. I know that's not going to happen, but we need to argue for that when arguing pie-in-the-sky ideas, not arguing to limit the number of grad students entering graduate programs. (Neither is going to happen, but as long as we are arguing for imaginary solutions, let's argue for one that will actually help humanity by increasing science not hurt it by decreasing science.)

    As a more practical solution, what we need is to make grad school be a viable job option for 5 years. Make it pay well. Include tuition and real retirement benefits. Make it so that someone who does grad school for 5 years and doesn't end up in faculty isn't considered a failure. Make it something that someone can say "I did grad school. Was it necessary? Maybe, maybe not, but it was fun. I learned critical thinking skills that helped me. But then I went on to do other things." Like the peace corps or liberal arts college. Then we will have a better chance of getting diversity into faculty jobs. We need to make it OK to go to grad school even if only 10% go on to faculty jobs.

    We're leaving talent on the table. Limiting grad school admits only makes that worse.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Someone has to be culled, qaz.

    The least brutal, IMO, is to stop people before they start. See PP's comment about the nature of scientific advance. A generational pause is the only way to reduce mouths without hammering people who have poured years and decades into this career. They can pick up any slack.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    @qaz, not just into Germain's hands, but also the general anti-intellectuals' hands. Our argument has to centered on the efficiency and quality of the scientific enterprise because the general voting public doesn't give a shit about whether the system is hard on scientists.

  • zb says:

    yes, someone has to be culled. But I disagree that the right spot is before they start. I think post PhD, after they've first done research is a pretty decent place to cull.

    I do also think NIH should stop subsidizing training through RO1s, and stop allowing grad student salaries and stipends on RO1s. If there's a federal interest in training PhDs they can do it directly, by supporting students.

  • DJMH says:

    Agree w zb. Give kids out of college a chance. If 5 years doesn't do it, they should head elsewhere. Make getting a postdoc an achievement, not a didn't-have-other-plans path.

  • physioprof says:

    I do also think NIH should stop subsidizing training through RO1s, and stop allowing grad student salaries and stipends on RO1s. If there's a federal interest in training PhDs they can do it directly, by supporting students.

    Who's gonna do the motherfucken experiments???

  • drugmonkey says:

    You are dude! The PI!

  • drugmonkey says:

    zb, DJMH- why? Why lead people on for five or six years? (Besides the need to exploit their labor, of course). Let them start careers they can stay in.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The alternative to a targeted cull is the random process we are already in the midst of experiencing. The strong and the lucky survive and there is no planning for what the post-cull workforce will be. I think we stand to lose more momentum this way than even a 8 year hard moratorium on new PhDs.

  • Morgan Price says:

    I agree that there are too many grad students being trained -- a lot of that tuition looks like a huge waste of taxpayer dollars -- but why isn't exploiting postdocs good for the typical taxpayer? I do worry that if biomedical science advances one reitirement at a time then halting the supply of new PIs will turn out badly. And are there too many PIs or just too many proposals?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why will it turn out badly? We can train a new crop in 4 years anytime we need to.

  • physioprof says:

    The alternative to a targeted cull is the random process we are already in the midst of experiencing. The strong and the lucky survive and there is no planning for what the post-cull workforce will be. I think we stand to lose more momentum this way than even a 8 year hard moratorium on new PhDs.

    One consequence (dunno whether it's "unintended" or not) of a multi-year moratorium on training PhD students is that weaker PIs with less grant funding and less ability to support post-docs, research scientists, etc on their grants are gonna get disproportionately slaughtered by this, as they tend to rely much more heavily on institutional and training grant support of grad students to do the experiments in their labs. And what about all the East Jeezus Bumfucke State Universities who have modest sized training grants to support students from their states, but very little research grant funding?

    I understand you're playing a rhetorical game, but a sudden blanket multi-year moratorium on all NIH support of PhD students would create absolute chaos in the biomedical research enterprise and would disproportionately harm those whom you claim to be advocating on behalf of as a balance to the oligarchy pushing its agenda. Rockefeller, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT, etc will scrape up the money to keep their PhD programs going. All this is gonna do is slaughter the weak.

    Finally, you should ask yourself (as you implore everyone else to do) how your proposal to end NIH support for PhD students would affect your own style of doing science and securing funding.

    Putting the rhetoric aside for a moment, my own opinion is that it is much better to keep the funding decisions--and consequent winners and losers--mostly at the micro level of peer review, and not to play around with massive top-down gimmicks that are alomst certain to have massive undesired unintended consequences.

  • physioprof says:

    Just to add: the NIH doesn't need to be "fixed"; it needs to be funded by Congress in a sustainable and predictable fashion. Military spending is mostly untouchable, because that massive govt largesse flows into every state and congressional district in the country. Your PhD student moratorium will grossly shift the economic benefits of NIH funding to fewer and fewer states and districts, and even further erode political will to fund NIH appropriately.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I think you mistake the breadth of my agenda on this because you find the idea of a moratorium unimaginable.

  • physioprof says:

    I think you are exhibiting a failure of imagination with regard to the likely consequences of such a moratorium. You are delusional if you think it's like a car manufacturer shutting down a plant for the summer, furloughing the workers, and then starting it right back up again in the fall with those same workers.

  • qaz says:

    Just realize that in the culling, the first to go are the ones on the edge. The small-town grocers with one R01. The diversity student who had to work their way through college. The first-to-college student who doesn't know how to play the intra-academic political game. The first-to-college student who doesn't realize you actually get paid to be a graduate student in science. The African-American who is told he can't be an astronomer because he should play sports instead (DeGrasse Tyson). The woman who finds the environment difficult to work in (Bothered). I can guarantee that Germain's kid is going to do fine in whatever program you design. So why design the program to only help him?

    More importantly, you know damn well that NIH is never going to support a moratorium on graduate students. So why argue for it? If you're going to play rhetorical games, let's play rhetorical games for things that we really want to happen. Let's say fully fund NIH. Let's say we need MORE scientists in this world, not fewer. Let's say we need MORE people with PhDs doing whatever - even if that whatever doesn't need a PhD - just because then they've had some experience doing science, and can bring that experience to whatever contribution they are going to make to the world.

    I still don't see why anyone has to be culled.

    Don't leave talent behind.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is far, far easier to start graduate programs than to restart a factory, CPP. You aren't even trying to make sense.

  • BugDoc says:

    @DM: "I am about the only person saying straight out that we need to cut down the number of PhD program enrollees starting right now and in significant numbers."

    No, you're not. Many others have said it. But the opposing voices are prominent and loud. The rhetorical moratorium is distracting. More realistically, programs could start by cutting 10-20% and go from there. NIH does not train graduate students, but they can impose "incentives", like not allowing tuition to be paid from research grants. Institutions will have to either prove they are good at training or come up with the money from their own funds. That will drop numbers in many places.

    @zb: "yes, someone has to be culled. But I disagree that the right spot is before they start. I think post PhD, after they've first done research is a pretty decent place to cull."

    I don't think our PhD students would think that was pretty decent.

    @qaz: "Let's say fully fund NIH. Let's say we need MORE scientists in this world, not fewer. Let's say we need MORE people with PhDs doing whatever - even if that whatever doesn't need a PhD"

    That's what happened during the NIH doubling, qaz. How do you think we got here? If we want more science competent people in the world, why do they all need to get PhDs to go on to do non-PhD requiring things? If we can't even figure out what "whatever" is, then we need to re-think that plan.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    The question is how do you increase funding while restricting a bubble.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    "It is far, far easier to start graduate programs than to restart a factory, CPP. You aren't even trying to make sense."

    Have you ever recruited graduate students or run or started a graduate program? Because you are either grossly ignorant or lying.

  • jipkin says:

    Okay new proposal: NIH gets 20 billion more dollars but they can only spend it on staff scientists.

  • LincolnX says:

    I cut my PhD program by 25% and kickstarted our MS program, making it more like a professional Masters. We then recruited for PhD from the MS program as well as a small amount of recruitment from outside. Net result is fewer, but higher quality PhD students and MS students who don't feel like they wasted time getting a PhD. They may eventually feel like the MS is a waste, but so far not so much.

  • DJMH says:

    LincolnX: but....people pay to do a MS. So you're limiting to the pool of people who are willing to do that rather than go straight to a PhD program, right? Seems like a good deal for the institution and not such a good deal for the students.

  • shrew says:

    How did this conversation go off the rails? How is it that the only alternative that is being presented to "give all new TT PIs magic money based on who their daddy is" is "stop admitting graduate students for their own good?"

    Most undergraduates I know (including close to a dozen working for me or alongside me this summer) who are considering PhDs are smart and open to science in all its forms. Meanwhile, most PhD students I know now are pretty savvily considering their career options - culling themselves just a year or two after admissions. I don't see this as terrible, in comparison to preventing the smart youngsters from getting a chance at graduate school in the first place. It buys them time to figure out a career path and make use of the alternative career training resources that actually exist, at least at this R1.

    I am with CPP. Broad sweeping changes to complex systems produce unintended consequences. And since the system worked great until the money flew away, it doesn't seem logical that the solution (from Germain or anybody) should be to destroy the part of the NIH that actually works - reviewing the damned science. To severly paraphrase Churchill, a project proposal is the worst way to judge scientific merit - except for all the others.

    Perhaps the original "democracy is the worst form of government" quote should be the epigraph for the damned commentary you PIs should be writing. I bet Namaste would do it.

  • qaz says:

    @BugDoc - We got here because they doubled NIH's budget and then slashed it. That's the definition of a bubble. If we raised the NIH budget to the GDP proportion it was in the 1960s (when Germain and his crowd said life was easier) and kept it there, we wouldn't be in this situation. Do not buy into the lie that the problem is doubling NIH's budget. They made a bubble. Should we be surprised that hell arrived when it popped?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    When's the last time you started a car assembly line CPP?

    or are you full of authoritative sounding bullshit as usual?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Finally, you should ask yourself (as you implore everyone else to do) how your proposal to end NIH support for PhD students would affect your own style of doing science and securing funding.

    Ok, this one is actually important, "Comradde".

    I have worked over the entire course of my independent career to build my lab around leaning towards paying people for their labor and leaning away from exploiting them.

    This means paying student interns over using them as volunteers or for class credit.
    This means my balance of labor leans techs (who are not shelled out every two years to keep costs down, either) and postdocs (paid NRSA scale which is the limit of what I can do institutionally) and less toward graduate students.

    My peers in my department over my career have used unpaid student time, "class credit projects", much less comparative tech labor and chinzed out on postdoc salaries in comparison. Used graduate students when they were cheaper (probably not so much at present). Point being that these choices are certainly available to me if I chose to use them.

    This has cost me productivity, without much doubt. It has left me less agile in the face of grant vagaries. It has increased my stress over grant funding immeasurably to commit to my staff's continued employment in this way.

    My proposals to shrink graduate student populations would be of less immediate pain to me compared to chronic labor-exploiters because I have already adopted this non-exploiting principle more so than my peers.

    So yeah. I have asked myself. I have been asking this question of myself for my entire career. As it happens.

  • drugmonkey says:

    qaz: Just realize that in the culling, the first to go are the ones on the edge.

    Yeah this is why I am angry about the NIH's hands-in-the-air, "what can we do" approach that Rockey called "Darwinian". And why although I mostly agree with PP that heavy top-down approaches are going to have nasty consequences, I do think this needs to be a managed process.

    I guess, ultimately, I think the fruit trees across all of the orchard need to be pruned or the corn rows weeded thinned. We need our diversity of science....just less of it. Less duplication of effort, dare we say.

    This is where I think top down influence on a portfolio review and future-investment strategy basis could have positive impact.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Not to be snarky DM, but did you make all of those choices pre-tenure? I appreciate the sentiment, and based on your arguments I have started paying undergraduates during the summer (anathema in my department). I also have equalized the pay of my graduate students to the highest stipend level for any biology program at my uni, since there are differences between graduate programs (also anathema). But where I'm at there is tons of pressure accept graduate students and grow our program.

  • physioprof says:

    When's the last time you started a car assembly line CPP?

    or are you full of authoritative sounding bullshit as usual?

    Dumfucke, a little Googling will reveal to you that manufacturers of all sorts of shittio, including cars, shut down assembly lines routinely when demand is low, and then start them back up again as needed.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Not to be snarky DM, but did you make all of those choices pre-tenure?

    From day 1.

    Look, I get the constraints that people operate under. I have external constraints on what I am able to do as well.

    I didn't ever figure out a way to pay my postdocs over the NRSA steps. I pay interns and staff within the guidelines of my institution and reasonable local-practices. We've had no-raises intervals. I have run into a funding wall and had to lay off people before. Everything is not perfect the way I would like it to be in a unicorn fantasy world.

    I'm just saying. I try whenever possible to go for the less-shitty way of employing people in my laboratory. This has UNDOUBTEDLY cost me progress relative to if I only met the lowest common denominator practices expressed by my colleagues in my own department over the years. Sometimes you have to pay those costs because it is the right thing to do.

  • a thought says:

    What about if the NIH only funded research at public universities? Why not make the ILAFs put their $$ where their mouth if they want to keep doing research? It's not like they are going to go broke.

  • Masked Avenger says:

    I think that something is being overlooked in this discussion.

    In the present system, I think people assume that the only people who survive are the best and brightest. I dispute that. I think that the best and brightest at the beginning of grad school end up abandoning science before the end of their first post-doc because they see the writing on the wall and they are talented and smart enough to find better paying, more secure jobs in more stable industries.

    That leaves the remainder, those folks who can't (for one reason or another) find that other job. They're stuck at the bench with no way up and no way out.

    Another thing:

    All of this debate is about the training of PhD scientists... And meanwhile the NIH falls all over itself to promote MDs, who do not have scientific training (medical training IS different), to do science. I believe that this factor by itself is responsible for producing an increasingly visible population of well-trained, confident, ambitious bullshit artists who are more than happy to promise the NIH the impossible things that they ask for... and then get busted for it 6-10 years later.

  • physioprof says:

    All of this debate is about the training of PhD scientists... And meanwhile the NIH falls all over itself to promote MDs, who do not have scientific training (medical training IS different), to do science. I believe that this factor by itself is responsible for producing an increasingly visible population of well-trained, confident, ambitious bullshit artists who are more than happy to promise the NIH the impossible things that they ask for... and then get busted for it 6-10 years later.

    YEAH!!!! KILL ALL THE MDs!!!!111!!1!!111!!

  • Dave says:

    Ugh, that Nature article......

  • LincolnX says:

    @ DJMH June 25, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Yes, there's self pay for the MS, but heavy scholarship (making it about 50% discount). The degrees have value, students find out pretty quickly whether they love this enough to continue, we do a ton of career development, and kids either exit out with a degree that is not stigmatized, or do really well and continue on - some to other PhD programs. This may not be for everyone but seems like a workable system to provide graduate level training, while allowing a systematic exit strategy.

    The biggest benefit is a tangible reduction in attrition at the time of qualifying exams.

  • Geo says:

    Germain would have been on-the-ball if he had emphasized that past performance as an INDEPENDENT scientist is an excellent predictor of future success. No doubting that.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Close the University of California. Problem solved.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Close all the Harvards, Yale and Hopkins. Problem solved.

  • Kevin. says:

    I've talked to a lot of PhD students, and I'm shocked (happy? sad?) to see the change in sentiment toward getting a faculty position. Ten years ago when I was a PhD student, nearly all my peers all wanted (expected) to be faculty/PI's/run their own lab.

    Not so anymore. PhD students today aren't all idiots. They know there isn't any money, there aren't any jobs, and it's unlikely they will be one of the unique snowflakes who magically gets their own lab. But these students still want PhD's because they enjoy doing research. And maybe they'll get more money than the $32K entry level BS technician position. Besides, it's the only way to help them pay down their insane student debt from college. That or Med School.

    How do MD programs deal with this? Do we have too many doctors yet?

  • a thought says:

    I'm glad to see DrugMonkey likes my idea, continuing on.

    Only early career faculty can train graduate students -this would limit the number of graduate students being produced.

    No one over 65 would be eligible to apply for NIH grants.

    A PI could only hold 10 R01s ever over the course of their career.

    (I'm trying to figure out what a self serving proposal would look like from the antiGermain perspective as a thought exercise).

  • Saban_lab says:

    Perhaps the problem isn't the no. of grad students but rather us as PIs not able to give these students the know how regarding other career options. Nobody is talking about the fact that PIs are a academics with very little clue as to what else is out there for PhDs other than academic research. Indeed, it's not our fault that we as PIs know little about this. Perhaps it's time to up out adjunct positions for PhDs in professions outside of academia to help teach and mentor our grad students regarding other options! Not just an occasional lecture or two but something more substantial!

  • poke says:

    "Nobody is talking about the fact that PIs are a academics with very little clue as to what else is out there for PhDs other than academic research."

    Really? For the past ~3 years this is all I've heard anyone talking about...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Alt careers is more bullshit excuse making for an oversupply that is driven by labor exploitation.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ps. Industry isn't hiring anymore either.

  • L Kiswa says:

    Been following this thread intently, and it appears that reducing number of PhD students has general support (how to do it, of course, is another story). our P&T guidelines specifically list PhD students as a requirement for promotion. i was recently chewed out by the dean for using grant funds to bring in a postdoc, rather than phd students. My strategy is now to tell trainees industry should be the primary goal. unfortunately, i am not convinced this is honest advice since my grad school/postdoc colleagues from highly ranked programs have also been struggling to get industry jobs. and this is in a field where trainees necessarily develop technical skills (software/hardware development) with broad application beyond biomedical science.

  • kalevala says:

    Oh haven't you heard, our society is enriched by science PhDs. Everybody just wants to be around them all the time because they're so smart and wise and awesome. They should fill all the jobs. In these complicated times, we need more, not fewer PhDs. I mean, how wonderful would it be if I could order a latte prepared by a barista with a PhD in neurophysics or something else that sounds really hard?

  • jipkin says:

    Alt careers is more bullshit excuse making for an oversupply that is driven by labor exploitation.

    On the theme of "exploitation" does that mean you think grad students / postdocs should be paid more? I'm just interested in what PIs think. In a world with fewer grad students and postdocs available, are you cool with paying the ones still around more money (and paying yourself more too)? One can imagine the whinging when money is still tight and now you have fewer people to do the science...

  • Saban_lab says:

    Jipkin that question is dictated by what R01s pay out. Modular grants hav been slashed by 25% yet post doc salaries are going up! Does that make any sense?

  • Saban_lab says:

    Industry is not hiring bc they are farming out research to CROs. Have you noticed new CROs are popping out of the woodworks? I'm am

    Alt careers cannot be bullshit in the current climate. it is nonetheless bullshit that grad students are made abundantly aware that they are entering a system with a severely changed landscape, ie no. of TT positions and funding is shrinking!

  • Saban_lab says:

    *are not made abundantly aware

  • L Kiswa says:

    so whose job is it to inform incoming grad students about these options? as far as i can tell, there is no incentive for departments/unis to cut down number of students. in fact there is very much an incentive for admins to keep these numbers high (graduate phd #s count towards rankings). limiting # of students that can be supported per grant seems like a start.

    just had a look at my dept page for prospective grad students. academic careers are only mentioned once, and that too buried within a list of other options.

  • Saban_lab says:

    # of grad students will naturally be reduced as funding for labs and # of labs continue to shrink. training grant money will also shrink, if they already haven't

    Regarding who will tell incoming grad students about alt careers, this is a big problem. Academics really have very little knowledge on the subject. That is why I have argued that programs need to open up adjunct positions comprised of non academic phd professionals to help in this effort.

  • drugmonkey says:

    jipkin-

    I think the burden of labor should be shifted towards more long term bachelor's level techs and doctoral level permanent staff positions. This will mean higher compensation for the labor force, on average.

    I do not think that continually escalating trainee salary is the way to accomplish this goal- data over the past ~25 years proves this. We've seen a number of big upward adjustments to trainee salaries and it hasn't blunted the exploitation racket.

  • jipkin says:

    I wonder what person wants to be a long-term tech at a BA level. Looking back at my cohort of fellow Biology majors, they're either all MD track of PhD track or other-track at this point. Those that did tech jobs did them as the typical 2-year test-the-waters-before-I-commit-to-grad-school thing. I can't see many being enthused at the idea of working those jobs for >3 years, presumably making less than they would in grad school. Instead I reckon they'd just opt out at that point anyway. People want something with growth potential and stability and all that.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I know lots of them. In my institution they have growth potential and stability. They seem to enjoy their career arc just fine. Some of them are, gasp, smarter than your average postdoc. They just have worked out a different work/life balance is all.

  • dsks says:

    Huh, weird. From that Nature article:

    Germain’s proposal won wide support online. Nathan Fisher, a geneticist at North Dakota State University in Fargo tweeted:
    "If something like this were in place today, I honestly doubt I'd be leaving my Asst Prof position for industry."

    I don't mean this as a knock on the dude - I'm in no place to throw stones on that score - but this opinion seems a bit pro-Christmas turkey to me based on a quick shifty of his Pubmésumé. Had this policy been in place today he probably wouldn't have had the luxury of choosing to leave his faculty position in the first place.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And I wouldn't have been admitted to my undergraduate institution today, dsks.

  • jmz4 says:

    I just wanted to echo DM's sentiment. Plenty of the technicians around here are smart, career-minded people that are enthusiastic about science. They have a BA or MA and they like their jobs, their unions, and not having to put up with the BS of being a postdoc. If I ever get a lab, I'd probably hire as many as I could. I personally think the chokepoint for limiting the PI entrants should be a the level of getting a postdoc, but I definitely agree that a PhD is hardly required to do excellent bench work. Perhaps a substitute would be to use a European model, e.g. fully fund the first two years, and based on the progress there, select your PhD candidates.

    I think there's a little bit of hyperbolism that is getting built up in this debate, which results in people arguing over drastic proposals, instead of building a more common consensus about how to gradually reform the NIH to make funding more steady and abundant. Several of the ideas most people agree upon could easily be implemented, and in concert, create significant effects, but we're all to caught up arguing over our vision of "what really needs to be done" to realize that if we implemented *all* of our proposals to scaled back degrees, we'd probably get where we need to go and not create the risk of permanently destabilizing the system.

    From what I can tell of this debate, the commonly accepted ways to free up money are:

    Ask for more of it in the short term, to prevent a cull while we get our sh*t together. I'm questionable on this one, since it will undercut the desires for reform. I think it would be fine if all the money went only towards renewing R01s, and only one renewal per person.

    Branch out the workforce to create fewer PIs (through various means: super-tech grants/block grants, career guidance from universities, decreasing grad enrollment, and number of postdocs). Almost all of these can be accomplished by adjusting NIH rules on what can be funded by RO1s (e.g. min %salary investment for PI, number of years a postdoc can be on an R01, limiting grad school tuition paid of R01s, etc).

    At least investigate whether IDC are being abused. As government contractors, these rate negotiations should not be hidden from the public, and university officials should, as a good faith effort, produce documentation of where the funds go. I think a lot of people rightly distrust these sorts of cozy negotiations.

    Change the grant rules to make universities put some skin in the game in a way that incentivizes doing more with current resources, rather than expanding endlessly when funding permits. No more covering building depreciation and full soft money positions, for instance. This is critical to avoiding boom and bust cycles of NIH funding.

    Once these are accomplished, advocate for more funding, with statutory increases to at least keep pace with inflation.

    Did I miss anything?

  • Joe says:

    Could NIH reduce the number of grad students trained by making statements favoring paying staff scientists and against paying grad students on R01s? In my study section, the budget rarely comes up, i.e., reviewers usually just say the budget is fine. However, if reviewers were told to favor proposals that included staff and to disfavor proposals with multiple grad students, PIs might propose more projects that pay a tech and a post-doc and fewer that pay two grad students.

  • baltogirl says:

    There is a way to meet in the middle here. Let's start using past performance- solely during the last grant cycle if a renewal, and with a view to how much funding was available if not- during the review process. If someone has a lab that is the only one on the planet exploring something most people think is really exciting, and has DEMONSTRATED PRODUCTIVITY by publishing their findings (which also adds vetting by an independent agency), is it fair to essentially shut down their lab because Specific Aim 3 has a minor flaw? And yet, this is happening again and again.
    I just got back from study section and could not be more depressed about writing my fall complement of grants. It's a crapshoot!

  • kalevala says:

    "If someone has a lab that is the only one on the planet exploring something most people think is really exciting, and has DEMONSTRATED PRODUCTIVITY by publishing their findings (which also adds vetting by an independent agency), is it fair to essentially shut down their lab because Specific Aim 3 has a minor flaw? And yet, this is happening again and again."

    If most people think that topic is really exciting, why is there only one lab on the planet exploring it? If it's so exciting, won't other groups propose different approaches to studying it and get funded?

  • baltogirl says:

    It's my experience that people want to work on their own thing, and not to compete with other labs (that is pretty risky- how do you know that the first group won't also work on the same approach you are considering?). And there are plenty of exciting topics to go around, so it isn't necessary to compete directly with others.

    I also want to debunk the "old boys" theory that has been proposed on this website. It is logical that reviewers will assign greater significance to a grant in their particular field. It is the field that excites them! But when I went to ad hoc on a study section that had reviewed my grants for 15 years, I did not recognize a single reviewer name around the table. Most of that is because the purview of a given study section can be very broad, so none were in my area, but also, I saw that there are now a lot of more junior people around the table rather than the more senior names I would have recognized.

    It is a little known fact that SROs have trouble recruiting for study section (I was told that two-thirds of people asked decline to serve). It's likely that most people are so busy writing their own grants they can't take a full month off to devote to reading the work of others.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Aha. Actually there are data. Hang on for a bit and I'll find it. If you can't wait search for the May 2015 advisory council meeting for CSR and skip in about an hour to the presentation by Luci Roberts.

  • Philapodia says:

    "If something like this were in place today, I honestly doubt I'd be leaving my Asst Prof position for industry."

    If Germain's policy were in place, do any of us really believe that any NIH money *at all* would be going to North Dakota State University in Fargo in the first place? I doubt anyone who the Germain/McKnight/Alberts/St. Kern cohort thinks is worthy would degrade themselves so much as to go to such a lowly institution as this. (if anyone thinks I'm baggin' on NDSU, this is sarcasm. Fargo is a wonderful place, especially if you like cold and wood-chippers)

  • kalevala says:

    From the riffraff:

    Point of view: Strategies from UW-Madison for rescuing biomedical research in the US

    http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09305

  • baltogirl says:

    That is the best discussion of the problem and its solutions I have seen yet and I thank you for pointing it out. I will circulate widely and I hope others do too.

  • dsks says:

    Hilarity from the elife article linked to above,
    "Instead of cutting the number of graduate students, we recommend a narrowing of the workforce pipeline at a later stage. Our first recommendation is that fewer PhD students continue as academic postdocs.

    Ha ha ha ha!... oh, wait, they're serious?

    "Most workshop participants preferred this option and supported the broadening of PhD programs to include experiences relevant to non-academic careers."

    Yeah, alt careers furrevah! Coz, you know, industry is flush with jobs right now... And scientific publishing, don't forget the massive growth happening there.

    Of course, no institutionally sponsored workshop is ever going to conclude that reducing graduate enrollment is a possible solution to anything. Even when it is blatantly the most plausible solution. Self-interest tends to be like that.

  • meshugena313 says:

    that Wisconsin piece is interesting, but still moving around deck chairs on the titanic. And as DM has pointed out above, there is no accounting for where the money for some of the proposals will come from other than vague hand-waving at getting theoldz to retire and reduce intruamural, etc... the idea of a sliding payline, with lower scored grants getting less money, sounds interesting but it's ridiculous. It's already near impossible to carry out research with a modular grant. And if the institution needs 50% salary support, there ain't any money to pay someone to actually do the work on a reduced budget!

    Write your congresspeople! More money is really the only solution, coupled with some structural reforms. Money at a defined rate of increase (say GDP growth rate + x, no more, no less, over a 15 year period). X being the value that society places on increasing scientific productivity.

  • […] research have created quite a stir on the Interwebs. Drugmonkey has a huge discussion on his blog (here and here), with most voices strongly opposed to Ron’s ideas. Putting ad hominem’s aside […]

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