Where will your lab be in 5 years?

Scientifically, that is.

I like the answer Zoe gave for her own question.

I, too, just hope to be viable as a grant funded research laboratory. I have my desires but my confidence in realizing my goals is sharply limited by the fact I cannot count on funding.

Edited to add:

When I was a brand new Assistant Professor I once attended a career stage talk of a senior scientist in my field. It wasn't an Emeritus wrap-up but it was certainly later career. The sort of thing where you expect a broad sweeping presentation of decades of work focused around a fairly cohesive theme.

The talk was "here's the latest cool finding from our lab". I was.....appalled. I looked over this scientist's publication record and grant funding history and saw that it was....scattered. I don't want to say it was all over the place, and there were certain thematic elements that persisted. But this was when I was still dreaming of a Grande Arc for my laboratory. The presentation was distinctly not that.

And I thought "I will be so disappointed in myself if I reach that stage of my career and can only give that talk".

I am here to tell you people, I am definitely headed in that direction at the moment. I think I can probably tell a slightly more cohesive story but it isn't far away.

I AM disappointed. In myself.

And of course in the system, to the extent that I think it has failed to support my "continuous Grande Arc Eleventy" plans for my research career.

But this is STUPID. There is no justifiable reason for me to think that the Grande Arc is any better than just doing a good job with each project, 5 years of funding at a time.

137 responses so far

  • Dr24 says:

    I don't see why everyone doesn't just shift to hard money.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I have to echo what you and Zoe said. This is a tough job. I just hope I am still in the business in 5 years, particularly since I will have been put up for tenure by then. I have never been so stressed out professionally. I was originally research faculty with a shiny K award which I found didn't do much for me. My proposed project didn't work, and I had to re-evaluate and re-invent what I was going to do. Grant reviewers were not impressed and wanted more institutional support, tenure track, publications, and data. I submitted grants left and right with no success (despite at least getting some scored and/or selected as the institutional representative which made me feel slightly better that I wasn't wasting my time). With help from mentors, I was shifted to tenure track (basically in title only). And boom, my R03 got funded. But then my K ran out, and I wondered how I would keep supporting myself and technician. Then I got the call that a major non-federal grant would be funded, so I breathed a sigh of relief. But then I panicked because it is only for 4 years since I will still need more grants anyway to cover more salary. And how will I get all this work done when the money, while looking significant, doesn't really let me hire anyone at the end of the day? I wish this job did not require being so focused on simply surviving as opposed to just the science.

  • Philapodia says:

    "I don't see why everyone doesn't just shift to hard money."

    Because it's it a lot of universities interest to have faculty partially or fully on soft money, and real "hard money" positions are few and far between. With hard dollars the Uni has to come up with money to pay for faculty salaries/benefits, whereas with soft money the onus is on the faculty member to pay themselves. The Universities get free/discounted labor, which leaves more money for the Provost to build amenities for tuition paying students (which brings in more money). Additionally, a lot of Unis look at soft money positions as incentivized, so they end up bring more money in because faculty are scared of not being able to pay their mortgage and so write a bizallion grants. It's really a genius (if not particularly nice) business move.

  • baltogirl says:

    It's pretty sad that so many of us- no matter how senior- are focused on mere survival instead of making visionary plans.
    Although speaking for myself, I love the fact that new discoveries and collaborations pull me in unexpected novel directions, so that it would be tough to actually make a 5-year prediction.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I wish this job did not require being so focused on simply surviving as opposed to just the science.

    I do as well. I think that the NIH officialdom is entirely oblivious to the unbelievable inefficiency they have created by failing to make hard decisions and purposeful steps forward. They are motivated to make their numbers (success rates, paper counts, Press Releases) look as good as possible without wondering if they are getting the greatest bang for their buck. Inefficiency does not count against them.

    As I have said before, their greatest blindness is about the fate of the current mid-career scientists who should be in highest gear, cranking out the scientific innovation and productivity. Going by recent history, anyway. The way the prior generation (Boomers) was privileged to behave. Hitting their cruise mode where the renewals were expected value and all energy and creativity could be poured into new stuff, not just keeping the lights on. The really ambitious could start pulling together the great and wonderful collaborative Big Mechs. And scale large mountains of uncertain payoff without fear of being out of a job in 5 years.

  • zb says:

    "Hitting their cruise mode where the renewals were expected value and all energy and creativity could be poured into new stuff, not just keeping the lights on."

    This requires fewer people, I think, and, a "fund people" model rather than "fund projects" model, at least in the real politik world where the amount of research money isn't going up significantly.

    I know what you are dreaming of, because, those people, the solid mid-career folks were the ones who could think beyond tomorrow (not just in their science, but also in mentoring, supporting the university generally, and contributing to the scientific community).

    I knew soft money folks, who managed to be all that, because they routinely had their grants renewed (and, they should have, at the 30%+ cutoffs). So, they had 35 year careers, writing 7-10 grants (the 3 extra when they had extra projects, with the base assured).

  • AcademicLurker says:

    When I read the post title, Zoe's answer instantly popped into my head. Looks like we're all just hoping to keep our heads above water.

    That said, when I started as an assistant prof, I had ambitions to eventually add more physics to the biophysics I was doing, and I have actually succeeded in doing that in the last 3 years. So there's that.

  • Dave says:

    I tell people, including my wife, that I will be happy if I'm 'employed' (really I'm self-employed) and still doing science in 5 years time, and I mean it 100%. Given my position (very, very similar to Emaderton3) I think the odds are that I will not be able to maintain a well funded lab. That's hard to come to terms with, but I try not to think about it too much and just try and put myself in a position scientifically where I'm doing the best work I can.

    The NIH is totally blind to the soft-money monster they have created, but that's for another day I suppose.

  • Dave says:

    ...and I had a really interesting discussion with a major BSD who was talking to me about the 'lost generation' of researchers. His point was that it is the mid-career PIs that are the true lost generation at the moment as it is much easier to get the 1st R01 than it is to get the 2nd.

    Of course, we all know this, but he made a lot of comments about how young PIs are getting their first R01 too easily these days, and it was hard to understand where he was coming from there. That's a tough argument to make, but I suspect he is motivated by the troubles that he is experiencing with his own mid-career faculty in his division.

  • Dr Becca says:

    I hope I'm still here in 2 years. But if I fail to get tenure next year because I didn't get an R01 (and yes, the former is likely if the latter is true), I'm proud of what I accomplished and contributed to neuroscience during my time as a PI (and before).

  • dr24 says:

    @Philapodia

    Yes I know. It was a dark joke.

  • banditokat says:

    I honestly don't know a single person that I'm close with in science who is sure they will be in academics in 5 years. The most effective folks seem to just keep their heads down and keep plugging away although 6 years into this shitshow for funding/hiring, I see why people are calling it quits.
    Even those with tenure seem to appreciate that their labs could be radically different. IME, many soft money folks are seeking cover under 'administration' umbrella, but oy.... I don't even want to think about the politics of that crap. I'd rather wait tables.

    Also, my table waiting skills are MAD.

    Refill on your soda, Ted?

  • dr24 says:

    Re: Grand Arc vs. Project by Project:

    I think there's good reason, especially for postdocs and junior faculty, to prefer the second narrative. Do your work a project at a time, and do the projects well, and you will be able to go to industry and describe your successes on the projects you were 'assigned'. This will benefit you well in an environment that is less about IIR and more about a business need.

    I think it could also provide better leverage for soft-money folks when looking at changing jobs to environments where groups of PIs put each other on their grants in small roles to sustain the enterprise. "I can work on anything related to my expertise, and contribute to a wide variety of projects."

  • Josh VW says:

    Still too immersed in the "will I get funding/tenure" stress to comment on the meta-funding issues, but I completely understand why the senior prof wanted to show the latest results. I've been to several 'career arc' talks where people walk out grumbling that they knew all of that old work and wish the Big Shot had told them something new. Also, I've observed that as many Big Shots get older they start to get worried that people will think they are washed up. They don't want to be elder statesmen, they want to be known for being as new and shiny as they were when they were young hotshots.

  • DJMH says:

    My major goal for the next 5 years is to pay off enough of the mortgage that if we lose our jobs, we can still stay in the house.

    Alt answer: Surfing the winnings from powerball!!

  • Dave says:

    @DJMH: I hear you. We purchased a house such that we could pay the mortgage on one salary if needed. That was purely because I'm constantly worried about my employment.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    I am just now starting my own lab so at this point I'm in the excited/optimistic phase. If you ask me today, my feeling is that my lab will be alright 5 years from now in terms of funding and productivity. However, because I am well aware of the current funding climate, the best term for me to apply to my situation would be that I am "cautiously optimistic" that my lab will be alright 5 years from now. Ask me again three years down the line.

  • meshugena313 says:

    After 6+ years of PIdom, I now describe my lab's work as that "I want to discover cool shit". But general themes can be woven from disparate discoveries, so I always try to pull it back together into a semicoherent story.

  • Philapodia says:

    "Where will your lab be in 5 years?"

    Potentially in Canada, as an asshat Trump/Cruz administration would likely step up their efforts to include deporting anyone non-white and/or liberal from the good ol' US of A. I like Canada (especially Quebec), so it may work in my favor.

  • Ola says:

    "Where will your lab be in 5 years?"

    Celebrating the 5th anniversary of you asking this question. Yay!

    #MitchHedberg

  • Susan says:

    Dr. Becca, I have some DNA crossed for you. Hang in there.

    My answer: I hope that the 5-year federal grant I just got (!!) (!!) will have accomplished its goals, and more.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nice work Susan. Good fortunes.

  • dr24hours says:

    Dave,

    A one salary mortgage seems like a good idea no matter how secure a job is.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I am lucky enough to have a mostly hard money position at an R1 University. I haven't had to chase money and impact factors as much as others. This is *huge*. It is definitely why I have been allowed to have any sort of 'grand arc' at all. I love being able to give the seminars that DM admires. That said, it's not easy. I have had to 'reinvent' myself as a scientist several times. Nature does not respect my interests and expertise. The downside of having a grand arc is that I am also never proficient enough in anything.

    In any case, I think soft money positions are terrible for science. NIH should ban them, but there is too much pressure from greedy institutions collecting indirect cost money. It's shameful and embarrassing and inefficient. I said this recently to a bunch of European diplomats and scientists when I was featured speaker at a scientific recruitment thing for other countries. It's pretty bad when a U.S. Scientist is advising young colleagues to leave the country. This is how brain drain happens.

  • clueless noob says:

    Unless one of these applications hits, my lab will be living in a van, down by the river.

  • Grumble says:

    Someone I know was forced out of a TT job for lack of funding. It happened not simply because the money ran out, but because this person's work was not focused enough. The department chair could not make a convincing argument that "This is Prof. X's niche, and she has gotten fairly consistent funding with it in the past, so the college should give her more bridge funding because it's likely she'll get funded with this line of work again." So that is something to consider if you've resorted to doing several very disparate projects that you can get funding for, rather than focusing on one topic.

    It's relevant here because if you focus on one broad topic (say, a set of related hypotheses), your work will naturally progress in something resembling an arc, rather than being a hodge-podge of different unrelated studies. Work towards the arc.

  • becca says:

    DM, academia is the ONLY gig for people who have 20 years of basic research on a single topic they are compelled to do. That is not the same as academia is ONLY a gig for people who have 20 years of basic research on a single topic they are compelled to do.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Thanks, Susan. Congrats on your new grant!!

  • Umvue says:

    I'm a little puzzled about the Grand Arc view of the ideal scientific career. Doesn't such a trajectory suggest you knew the answers before you asked the questions? There are several ways to arrive at that sort of CV and only one of them is "be a genius." The others are less admirable.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    I'm mostly worried about still being in the game 5-years from now, but the Grand Arc doesn't appeal to me. I enjoy pulling on loose threads and seeing where they take me. I would be pulling on more threads if I wasn't in survival mode.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @Umvue: No. It's about pursuing an answer *deeply*. I don't think knowing the answer ahead of time helps, unless you are a good mystery writer. People with arcs have records of dogged persistence, where they pursued answers even when it seemed like no answer would be forthcoming. No Nobel prizewinner I know (and I know a few) earned their prize chasing funding. They figured out stuff that was killing everyone else, or stuff that people hadn't even thought to wonder about until the answer made it so clear how useful it was to know.

  • drugmonkey says:

    IMO Grande Arcs are in the eye of the beholder and in the hands of the story teller. To me I guess it just means a sustained focus on a cohesive topic. It is the definition of "topic" where we get the diversity of viewpoints. It could be pursuing a Grand Therye Eleven or it could be nerding out over a brain region or cell type. Or protein. Or a behavior. Or model system. Or a health condition. etc.

  • jmz4 says:

    "There is no justifiable reason for me to think that the Grande Arc is any better than just doing a good job with each project, 5 years of funding at a time. "
    -My limited experience has suggested to me that the Grande Arc is not a good path for the current climate. It sort of requires a well-defined, important question, which is very broad in scope or otherwise difficult to answer (due to gaps in knowledge, not just technical hurdles). E.g. How is consciousness established? Totally worthy question, but likely to require slow, plodding work for decades (from multiple labs, etc). Then, if you're in just the right place at the right time, you'll be in a position to advance the field dramatically when all those disparate pieces give you the outline you need to start filling in the puzzle rapidly. This requires a stable funding system that rewards incremental advances, which is not the current system, seems to me.
    It seems much better (from a careerism standpoint) to open up a new area of biology and just snatch up all the low hanging fruit, before moving on to another area. If the first area has some depth you can get bread and butter projects out of it, but otherwise you shouldn't bang your head against walls. Which is too bad, because this approach seems a little frivolous.

    Side note:
    Does anyone know what the frequency of hard vs soft money vs mixed positions is out there? From this discussion it seems like taking a soft money position would be a terrible idea, but from the number of people on them, it seems like they must be all that's out there.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    "Does anyone know what the frequency of hard vs soft money vs mixed positions is out there? "

    From my very limited experience, I get the sense that most independent research institutes (small or large) are hard money. Same goes for smaller, mostly teaching-focused universities since your teaching load justifies the hard money salary and you cover summer salary using grant funding. Otoh, large research intensive universities are mostly soft money.

    Doesn't exactly answer your question without numerical values, but I'd be interested if this aligns with other people's experiences.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "It seems much better (from a careerism standpoint) to open up a new area of biology

    If it were only that easy!

    "From my very limited experience, I get the sense that most independent research institutes (small or large) are hard money. Same goes for smaller, mostly teaching-focused universities since your teaching load justifies the hard money salary and you cover summer salary using grant funding. Otoh, large research intensive universities are mostly soft money."

    Interesting. I would have said almost the opposite about the institutes and to some extent large research universities. My observation is that institutes are soft money (albeit perhaps indirectly -- they guarantee the salary but you're still fired if you don't eventually cover the cost of yourself). Large R1s have a mix of hard and soft money. Depends on the college. They operate on different models.

    Definitely a soft money job is not really a job. I think it's exploitation. But NIH rewards institutions that play that do it. And people are willing to accept those crappy positions.

  • Dave says:

    A soft money job is a job. Many have been very successful in these positions TOD. Let's not get carried away.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    My experience is that large R1s often have 9-mo. hard funded positions with a relatively light (~1 semester/year) teaching load in "basic science" colleges/departments or partially to wholly soft funded positions when affiliated with the Med. School. Lots of variation though, and even mostly hard funded Depts. often have soft money non-TT positions. If the job app. says the appointment is for 9 months, it's very likely hard money except for summer salary.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Closed. Eli is old

  • Grumpy says:

    Wtf, shoot me now if my whole career is going to be about a single cohesive topic.

    In 5 years I'd like to be able to: (I) get halfway decent teaching evaluations, (ii) support 3-4 projects that can't be properly placed under a single cohesive story, and (iii) anothe project which I couldn't possibly predict now because it is based on a cool discovery we make in the next 4 years.

    I'll settle for having a job, happy spouse, and healthy kids, though.

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    @ToD - "albeit perhaps indirectly -- they guarantee the salary but you're still fired if you don't eventually cover the cost of yourself"

    Yes. However, I know of places that offer salary plus full support for a couple of personnel (rest have to come from grants) plus some research support (this can be modest at small institutes or ridiculously large at bigger institutes). They still expect you to write and obtain grants though. I consider such positions as hard money because I have not seen anyone actually get fired due to lack of grant funding.....yet. "Eventually" is the key word here and the endpoint for that varies widely and is rather subjective I guess.

    @ASS - "If the job app. says the appointment is for 9 months, it's very likely hard money except for summer salary."

    True that.

  • Grumble says:

    @jmz4: "My limited experience has suggested to me that the Grande Arc is not a good path for the current climate. It sort of requires a well-defined, important question, which is very broad in scope or otherwise difficult to answer (due to gaps in knowledge, not just technical hurdles). E.g. How is consciousness established? "

    Aren't we *all* interested in solving a Big Question like "what is the neural basis of consciousness"? That doesn't mean a career arc has to culminate in solving it. It means that, by the end of your career, you should be able to look back and identify what you contributed towards solving it. You can't really have a Grand Arc if you fooled around with 10 different Big Questions and contributed only in minor ways to each.

    Take someone like Kandel. His Big Question is "how does learning work?" He did not answer that question, but you can now look back at his career and see what he did to get us closer.

  • Umvue says:

    TOD and DM: ah, thanks for the clarification. I didn't stay in academic science long enough to have a good sense of how broad a person's work can be, so I more or less assumed people tended to stay in the same subfield unless something very unpleasant happened and they got run out of town, so to speak.

    I also am not sure the Nobel is a great measure here; or at least, that it's going to be hard to use it to understand careers prospectively. I say that both because it's a rare event to win one and because (in my understanding) it is given largely on the basis of ideas that have had a lot of great-great grandchildren.

  • boehninglab says:

    In 5 years I am hoping paylines will have improved, and we all can start enjoying science even more than we already do. Personally, my lab has had a grand arc (calcium and cell death) with many interesting offshoots that appear to be unrelated but have been fruitful nonetheless. I still enjoy writing grants, and on rare occasions they get funded and we continue on our journey across the arc. Although I occasionally bitch about my job (who doesn't), I have greatly enjoyed my last 11 years as a PI. Hopefully DM is still blogging in 5 years and we can reflect on this post.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    In my case, due to different postdoctoral positions, I was able to develop two separate lines of investigations from my experiences, both of which are now funded. However, the key for me was that they utilized the same experimental systems/assays to ask different questions but that are related by a common overarching theme. I am hoping that having two different lines that I can pursue will help when it comes to moving forward so that not all of my eggs are in one basket in case one does not pan out or get more funding (which would be reliant on entirely different study sections which is also advantageous). I do feel fortunate that it happened to work out this way since I had not worked/published in the one area for several years but spent some time getting some new preliminary data to complement what I had published as a post-doc. Luckily it was a gamble that paid off since it did take time away from my main line of work but wasn't too intrusive since I did not have to develop significantly new approaches.

    @ A Salty Scientist--This is my take on the soft versus hard money positions as well. Medical schools typically do not have much if any significant teaching loads, and it seems like almost all the PhDs have soft money positions.

    @ Dave--I try not to think about the funding down the road, but in seems inevitable when one needs to constantly worry about covering a certain percentage of effort/salary.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I should probably note that from a survival perspective I absolutely 100% endorse developing multiple lines of work. Lines that look at the least like different grant proposals and hopefully ones that interest distinct funding agencies (ICs of NIH good, NIH vs notNIH even better).

  • drugmonkey says:

    Hang in there PIOT!

  • L Kiswa says:

    To "keep the lights on" (TM), I have been pursuing some short term (~1 year) projects with industry that have some overlap with our work, do not have stringent publication restriction, and also provide an opportunity for students and post docs to interact professionally with the industry. It's hardly the grand scientific arc I might have dreamed of a few years ago, but my hope is that the small contributions we can make while operating under these constraints will have an impact on the field and advance the careers of the students/postdocs involved. Of course, it'll be nice to have an R01 and be able to focus on some longer term scientific goals.

    Like Grumpy, I'll settle for a happy relationship with my spouse and a healthy family. And a job.

  • Grumble says:

    @PIOT. It sucks. I used to think of the job of soft-money PI as that of an athlete. The best get the money, glory and job security (well, until age or injury take their toll - the analogy ends there). And just behind them are a LOT of very, very good athletes who are just not going to make it, and they end up quitting their careers as athletes to do something else.

    But after several years in this gig, I realize that's not quite the case. The amount of attrition is far smaller than it is in professional sports. Some fraction of soft money PIs will be forced out, but it's a small fraction. Your chances are still good. It is unbelievably stressful, but don't give up yet.

  • Anonymous says:

    @PIOT: My former PI got his 2nd R01 in his 7th year, after getting an R21 and R01 in his 2nd year. He was in his last month of the last no-cost extension when news of the 2nd R01 came in. Hang in there -- it can all turn on a dime!

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    @PIOT: Having trouble getting the 2nd R01 was the rule instead of the exception during my grad/PD training. It sucked, but they all eventually got it. Hang in there.

  • imager says:

    I think counting on one question for the "big arc" is dangerous. I have several pretty independent projects and yes, I have been criticized for being not too focused. Yet, I can write 2 different R01s each cycle if I need to (I do, currently) as we have the data and papers to back most of it up.

  • drugmonkey says:

    PIOT- I'm sure you are but in case not....talk to your PO after every review. Keep your ideas fresh in their mind and make sure they know you are struggling.

  • tom says:

    when people ask this, I give a grand plan answer. but in reality, I am thinking: hopefully I am still sitting here doing this.

  • GFD says:

    I'm new and I'm already seeing the writing on the wall. Getting involved with fundable projects which excite me, but don't excite me the most, might be the answer. Also, riding on the coattails of what the U is interested in. Change focus to stay alive.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This is the fundamental difference across science generations. Our mentors hit a funding cruise mode in mid career that is not available anymore. I had several peers bail while apparently successful (I.e. funded) b/c they couldn't face having to gird for battle again. I was astonished. "Why are you getting out just as you got over the first hump? What was it for if you aren't going to continue?" I still don't know. I would rather keep battling, I suppose.

  • Lincoln says:

    PuttingItOutThere,

    Sometimes to survive it pays to swallow pride. I've been through very tough grant times and have managed to survive. How I did it (your mileage may vary):

    1) I met with my chair and discussed my situation and asked for his advance of what he would do. Actually, this was less to get advice, but to activate a paternal instinct so that he would be more apt to feel good about helping me where he could. But it also put me on his front burner. People don't usually leave science in a dramatic flash - usually it's a smoldering ember of neglect because people don't care enough to help, or they don't know enough. I had a colleague who was so proud I never knew he'd lost funding until it was to late for me to help him - I found out when the announcement was made to the department. DO NOT BE THAT GUY.
    2) If teaching is valued where you are offer to develop or help teach an important course to offset your effort while grants are hard to come by. Also consider pilot funding, foundation funding or local biotech funding. Do something that people care about while you are trying to keep it together.
    3) Find collaborators in the same boat. You are probably not alone - if you use NIH Reporter you can find investigators in your program or university who are either underfunded or near the end of their funding. You probably have something to offer, so offer it - write a section of a grant for them or find an aim to which you can contribute. Don't do it for free, though, otherwise it's more work for no return.
    4) What Drug Monkey said about following up with your program officer. And more than that, call or visit them at annual meetings so they know your concerns and remember your face. I am an extreme introvert - but this is survival, baby. And have your thoughts in order when you talk to them by knowing what they care about.
    5) Consider that you may be off target in your approach. Sometimes, we have to read the metadata. If you are being rejected repeatedly but there's really no clear answer why, maybe it's your track record. Maybe the assessment is that while your ability to execute is good, the questions aren't compelling. Look deeply into the mirror, past the fog of the biases you may hold about yourself and the importance of your work.
    6) Re: 5 - be prepared to adapt. We all enter this with the idea of what we'd like to be. Be that, but be prepared accept a less than perfect version of yourself.
    Anyway end of rant - I only rant because you seem to have time to turn this around. Maybe you are already doing these things but if not maybe there's something that will suggest additional actions.

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    @DM "I had several peers bail while apparently successful..."

    Several??? Really? What did they end up doing with their lives?

  • Grumble says:

    "make sure they [your POs] know you are struggling."

    This is key. I know someone who was struggling, about to throw the towel in, when his R01 came back with a score in the high teens. Unfundable, and he prepared to wind things down. But, deus ex machina, the grant was picked up at the last possible minute - and one factor was probably that his PO knew how desperately he needed the money, and that he was preparing to quit if he didn't get it. So, he got 5 more years of relative security.

    "What did they end up doing with their lives?"

    This very same person actually did quit a few years into the R01. He works for a company that designs and sells scientific apparatus used by the people in the field he worked in. He has an engineering background, so was able to capitalize on that - and he is quite valuable to the firm because his research background helps them to understand what their customers want and need.

  • Dave says:

    ....make sure they [your POs] know you are struggling.

    Ha! My recent PO spent an entire phone call bitching to me about my soft-money position. She was faux-shocked that I am responsible for most of my salary, telling me to apply for other jobs blah blah blah. She hinted that this would become a negative for me and my R01 chances, once my scores are in range. Very frustrating conversation, and it's amazing how blinkered some at the NIH are, or at least how much they pretend to be.

  • Philapodia says:

    "....make sure they [your POs] know you are struggling."

    This assumes they will actually talk to you. The good ones will, but there are some that simply won't respond to e-mails or calls, even after repeated attempts. Since you don't get to decide who your PO is, this can be one of the most frustrating parts of the process because someone who simply doesn't care (or is completely overwhelmed) can tank your career through neglect.

    This highlights the need to diversify your research portfolio, since if you stay strictly in the bunny hopping area and there is an unresponsive PO, you'll never get the information you need. However, you may have better luck if you can spin your data into another area (perhaps bunny sexual dysfunction?) who will have a different PO who may be more responsive.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    She hinted that this would become a negative for me and my R01 chances, once my scores are in range.

    Wow. I wonder if this is part of some stealth plan for getting the Soft Money Monster under control, or whether this particular PO was just in a bad mood.

  • DNAdrinker says:

    "soft money positions ... a negative for R01 chances"

    I always grade the "environment" heavily on the hard/soft money factor. If the PI's home institution doesn't have any skin in the game, why should the NIH?

  • Dave says:

    I always grade the "environment" heavily on the hard/soft money factor. If the PI's home institution doesn't have any skin in the game, why should the NIH?

    Why do you care? Ah, I know, because it means more dollars for you. Right?

  • The Other Dave says:

    I like the way DNAdrinker thinks!

  • Philapodia says:

    "I always grade the "environment" heavily on the hard/soft money factor. If the PI's home institution doesn't have any skin in the game, why should the NIH?"

    This is really not the job of the reviewer. Reviewers are supposed to gauge the impact of the science, if the science can get done, and if there are any technical issues. The SROs in the study sections I've been on have constantly harped on the fact that we aren't supposed to deal with the money outside making sure there are appropriate budgets for animals/supplies, ect. necessary to get the work done. Tanking an application because someone is in a soft money position is overreach and petty (and I agree, Dave, probably a way to get soft-money folks out of the mix). Let the POs make that call.

  • Grumble says:

    "This assumes they will actually talk to you. "

    Just because your PO doesn't respond doesn't mean they aren't reading your e-mails or listening to your voice mails. This sort of behavior is very unprofessional and POs like that ought to be fired for malpractice. But some of them might just be overworked.

    "Wow. I wonder if this is part of some stealth plan for getting the Soft Money Monster under control, or whether this particular PO was just in a bad mood."

    While on the topic of PO malpractice, one can have the opposite problem from a PO who talks to you too little: a PO who talks to you too much, filling your head with bullshit. One needs to learn how to filter the chunks of meat out of the PO soup and chuck the rest down the garbage disposer.

    "I always grade the "environment" heavily on the hard/soft money factor."

    I assume this is sarcasm. If not: How do you know for certain whether a particular faculty member has a hard or soft money position? It can vary even within institutions, and there is nothing at all within the grant application that addresses this.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Philapodia:

    NIH explicitly asks reviewers to score the environment:

    "Environment. Will the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Are the institutional support, equipment and other physical resources available to the investigators adequate for the project proposed? Will the project benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations, or collaborative arrangements?"

    If the institution isn't willing to pay someone, that's pretty piss poor institutional support, don't you think? And remember that funding is competitive. There are lots of good projects needing money. A good environment pays its PIs so that more money can be devoted to actual science.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Brilliant DNAdrinker. We should all review on the basis of personal self-interest in "who" should be funded. Personally I think those on hard money with lots of institutional support for their research clearly don't need the grant money so I mark them down. Sorry, I mean that I "grade heavily".

  • drugmonkey says:

    that's pretty piss poor institutional support, don't you think?

    No, it isn't.

    And even if you do see it as one negative feature, let's face it, soft money environments tend to be better than 100% hard money environments in equipment, colleagues, other ongoing research projects, etc, etc. So you are going to trump *actual* resources because you are butthurt about the NIH *system*? mmmmhmmmm.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Grumble: If you read the budget justification, it tells you how much of the money is going to be frittered away on PI salary because the crappy nonsupportive environment is too cheap to pay its people, which basically makes them barely-employed temp workers and the project overall a shady investment.

    Budget talk is not officially condoned. But you seriously don't think reviewers think about it?

  • Dave says:

    ...a PO who talks to you too much, filling your head with bullshit. One needs to learn how to filter the chunks of meat out of the PO soup and chuck the rest down the garbage disposer.

    I'm still learning that lesson, I think. But key advice.

  • Philapodia says:

    @TOD

    I think you're misreading this line:

    "Are the institutional support, equipment and other physical resources available to the investigators adequate for the project proposed?"

    This section is in the context of scientific environment/resources and not payroll issues. Institutional support can be read as core facilities and research resources (sponsored programs office).

    I strongly disagree that it's OK to penalize applicants with potentially excellent science/proposals on the basis of their institutions staffing policies. It's punishing the so-called temp workers for things outside their control.

    "Budget talk is not officially condoned. But you seriously don't think reviewers think about it?"

    Not if they are doing their job correctly, they don't.

  • drugmonkey says:

    PIs without personal skin in the game are a horrible bet to work on the experiments proposed. They are running for dessert not supper. Mark them down accordingly.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Advice to talk with POs is not saying you are going to have your 35%ile app picked up every time. You are playing the long game here. Part of that game is educating them on things they might be wrong about. Like you and your soft money appointment. For example.

  • Dave says:

    One point about the 'institutional support' thing is that there often is quite a lot of support for soft-money faculty beyond hard formal salary support, depending on very local factors (department management, division chiefs, non-federal pharm grants, deans, deanlets, overall financial health of the institute etc). The point is that it is very difficult for a reviewer or a PO to know what the true financial environment is like without paying the applicant a visit and seeing how the day to day science is done in their labs.

  • jmz4 says:

    I think the Institutional/environment criteria seem like an incredibly vague and arbitrary way of evaluating a grant, making it ripe for abuse. As Dave points out, it's quite often hard to tell what kind of support is available unless you've actually worked there. In theory, we have an in-house flow cytometry core for just 3-4 labs, which should be a huge boon for us. In practice, the machines are falling apart and the guy working there is drunk half the time (or was, till he "retired") and so we take our stuff to the much larger core.

    It really should be more of a bonus point or something rather than one of the main evaluation standards.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @DM: PIs running for supper are the ones lying because they are desperate, and institutions who won't pay their PIs are only interested in exploiting them for the ICR. That's not the sort of system that I think taxpayers should support.

    Salary is essential research support. If an institution doesn't provide it, then it's not as good an environment as one that does. All else being equal, a project that doesn't need as much salary money is also a more economical investment. I honestly don't see how you could argue with these things.

  • mH says:

    "PIs without personal skin in the game are a horrible bet to work on the experiments proposed. They are running for dessert not supper. Mark them down accordingly."

    Who doesn't have skin in the game, other than the well-funded who are just playing at empire building?

  • mH says:

    Oh and my goal for 5 years from now is to still have a job and know where the keys to the lab are, period. Grand scientific ambitions are for Boomers and an ever-dwindling proportion of their labradoodle progeny.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nah. They know that being a lying fake is going to get them booted, unlike firmly implanted tenured folks who have protections. And anyway, cheats are rare. The real problem lies with the folks who don't bother working on what they promised.

    So, if salary is "essential research support" then please explain why the entity seeking the product (the funder) shouldn't pay the bill?

  • qaz says:

    Grant reviewers are explicitly NOT supposed to score based on budget. If you feel that there is a budget problem, then there is a separate place on the review form to communicate that to program.

    It would be perfectly within your rights to communicate that salary support is unreasonable in the budget justification, but it is NOT within your rights as a reviewer to change your scores based on unreasonable salary support.

    Environment is supposed to be "If the budget is funded, can the project be done." If you think that the budget is unreasonable because something is mis-assigned, then you need to say that in the budget comment (which is after scoring), not in the environment score.

  • Philapodia says:

    I agree with DM. Hard money faculty who do significant NIH-funded research and don't draw appropriate salary are not giving their university full value for their money. The 9-months salaries (at least at most R1 state schools) is usually paid for undergrad/grad teaching via student tuition, and summer salary generally needs to be recovered since not as much teaching goes on in the summer. That means that if you are doing research during the 9-months academic school year when you are being paid for teaching then you are not giving the University fair value for the money they pay you unless you buy out of courses, which gets you back to increasing faculty salaries on grants and in essence becoming soft-money faculty.

    Soft-money positions are at least honest in that you say you'll put 25% effort on this project spread throughout the year and you can actually do that without trying to juggle teaching as well as research.

  • jmz4 says:

    ^Except don't they explicitly ask you to rate "institutional commitment"? If its a place that *does* offer hard salaries, but didn't to this guy/gal, isn't that a black mark? (note, I don't think soft money should count against NIH grant-seekers)

  • drugmonkey says:

    Good point Philapodia. It is morally disgusting that "hard money" scientists are unfairly paying for their work with the student loan debt of undergraduates instead of via the broader US tax base.

  • Ben says:

    "That means that if you are doing research during the 9-months academic school year when you are being paid for teaching then you are not giving the University fair value for the money they pay you ..."

    Not really, my institution explicitly says that my responsibilities for my 9 mo (hard money) salary is 50% research, 40% teaching, and 10% service. I think that's not uncommon and positions at all R1 unis expect significant research.

    I don't think proposals should get dinged for soft money. I'm pretty sympathetic with my soft money colleagues - must be a very stressful existance these days.

  • Philapodia says:

    @ Ben

    But where is the money coming from to pay for that 50% research? Most likely tuition dollars. Just because your institution says you should do research doesn't mean that the money paying for for it was earmarked for research. Do the student know that the tuition that they will be paying off for decades is subsidizing research they will never see or benefit from?

  • Ben says:

    @ Philapodia

    I don't think research is primarily subsidized by student tuition. Tuition is only a small part of the revenue stream for most big universities (~25%, so I've read), which also get substantial funding from state and local governments, endowments, etc. If research was a big part of tuition, then SLACs would be significantly cheaper than R1 universities and I don't think that's the case. Besides, I think students get substantial benefit from being taught by active researchers. My large lecture classes incorporate lots of current research, including my own, and my lab class directly benefits from my research program since it has shared techniques. That's not to mention the fact that I've trained dozens of undergrad student researchers in my lab who have gone on to medical or graduate school.

  • Ben says:

    By the way, although students (and parents) sometimes get irritated when they hear that professors have duties other than teaching, it's hardly a secret that professors at major research universities spend substantial time doing research. That's the primary mission of R1 universities.

  • Lincoln says:

    @Ben

    Yes, a main point of PhD training at an R1 is to learn to do research from people who do research. Courses are important but not extraordinarily so. People hung up on this may need to steer their kids to non-research careers.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Stupid noob question, but are overall impact scores really affected by Environment, except in extreme cases? If the grant is teh awesome, are the DNAdrinkers really gonna kill it through Environment?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @A Salty Scientist:

    I don't think I've ever paid much attention to the environment criterion except at the extremes. If they're at a tiny institution with no resources, then I'm wondering "How is this person going to do the work?" If the work they propose requires lots of time on BigFancyInstrumentX and their Uni just happens to have one of the biggest BigFancyInstrumentX centers in the world, then that's a point in their favor.

    But most of the time, environment is not really a factor compared to the research plan and impact.

    As for the soft vs hard money pissing contest, I've worked in both environments and both have their place. Personally, I've had more glam publications since moving to a hard money position, but that depends on a lot of other factors. The main slam against soft money positions is their role in contributing to out of control unsustainable growth in PI numbers, not the fact that they exist at all.

  • Philapodia says:

    @A Salty Scientist
    "If the grant is teh awesome, are the DNAdrinkers really gonna kill it through Environment?"

    Every point counts, and in such a competitive environment getting a lower environment score can make the difference between funded and not funded.

    @Ben
    Universities vary in revenue sources. Many have seen increases in tuition to cover base budget costs (faculty/staff salary and benefits, facilities, etc) due to declining state support and endowments for non-ILAFs tend to be modest. IDCs from grants helps some but are not the lion share of revenue. I would guesstimate that the base budget at my State R1 is about two-thirds undergrad/grad tuition, with undergrad tuition generating about 10 times the revenue as grad tuition (much of which is paid for from grants at research universities).

    I do agree that having active researchers as teachers helps give students a better education (if they can actually teach, which I've seen isn't always the case). But it's the rare undergrad student who has gone to a school because they were excited that hot-shot researcher Bob Graybeard would be teaching them. Bob wouldn't give them the time of day or wouldn't even see them.

  • Philapodia says:

    "As for the soft vs hard money pissing contest"

    My IDC is bigger than your IDC... 🙂

  • Dave says:

    Stupid noob question, but are overall impact scores really affected by Environment

    It's not just the environment scores per se we are talking about. It's the overall negative perception by some hard-money snobs of soft-money positions. As you can see by DNAdrinkers and TODs comments, this negativity likely affects their view of the entire proposal and the candidate, so it can really impact the score. It's a bias like any other, and should be dealt with as such IMO.

  • Grumble says:

    "Stupid noob question, but are overall impact scores really affected by Environment"

    Just about the only time that Environment can sink an application is when a newbie applicant doesn't provide sufficient/correct information to establish that s/he is independent and has the institution's support to do the project independently. I don't think I've *ever* seen the Environment score have a negative impact in other situations. I mean, it's not always 1 or 2, but rarely worse than 3 - not enough to tank the application assuming that everything else is good.

    "this negativity likely affects their view of the entire proposal and the candidate, so it can really impact the score"

    I still don't believe that reviewers actually sit there and figure out who is a soft-money and who is a hard-money researcher, and award or subtract points on that basis. Again, there is NO INFORMATION within the grant on which to base assumptions about where the money comes from. Even if an applicant gets 90% of her money from grants, her position could *still* be hard money: she's just bought out of teaching by being successful at getting grants.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    "The main slam against soft money positions is their role in contributing to out of control unsustainable growth in PI numbers, not the fact that they exist at all."

    When discussing soft vs hard money positions, what are the considerations for semi-soft positions (≥50% covered by hard, remaining the PI has to obtain)? IMO, soft money positions that require PIs to cover a major portion of their salary i.e >50% are a huge contributor to the current too-many-mouths-at-the-trough problem because as some other folks have mentioned, institutions have little to no skin in the game and can hire away (and fire away) as they please.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    Despite my comment above, I should clarify that for me the 'Environment' only applies to scientific and related matters. I don't bother (i.e ding) over salaries or other monies for that matter. I think it is none of my (and other reviewers') business to worry about that..

  • The Other Dave says:

    I get it. Some of you are on soft money and you're worried. Your job is precarious under the best of circumstances, and there are reviewers out there, like me, who think that not paying for facilities and not paying for people reflects the same lack of institutional support. Which could hurt your funding prospects. Why do we feel this? Well, even DM thinks that applicants should have some 'skin in the game'. Remember that *institutions* apply for grants, not PIs. Soft money researchers are the victims of unscrupulous employers.

    If you're in a soft money position, you should think hard about your long term future. The days of soft money from NIH are winding down...

    From the BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH WORKFORCE WORKING GROUP DRAFT REPORT (to the Director of NIH) http://acd.od.nih.gov/bmw_report.pdf

    Salary Support

    Originally the conduct of federally-funded research at universities and other extramural institutions was based on an understanding that institutions would provide the bulk of facilities and salaries to the researchers and the NIH would provide the majority of funds for conducting research. Over the past decades, this distinction has become increasingly blurred, with NIH providing an increasing proportion of faculty salary support and the institutions covering a larger percentage of the research costs. This is especially true during the start-up period, which has become significantly longer as young investigators struggle to receive their first R01 grants. The growth in “soft money” positions in academic medical schools, in which investigators are required to raise 100% of their salaries and research funds, has contributed to the negative views of a career in biomedical science, and has had the additional consequence of encouraging institutions to expand their physical space without making additional long term commitments to faculty.

    The working group believes that institutions should provide some fraction of salary support for their researchers in order to qualify for NIH funding. That being said, the working group appreciates that any reduction in NIH salary may have major consequences on institutions.

    The working group recommends that NIH consider a long-term approach (over a 20 year period) to gradually reduce the percentage of funds from all NIH sources that can be used for faculty salary support. [The bold is in the original report]

    No one should be surprised to see NIH start weaning soft money researchers.

    DM even blogged about this topic years ago:
    http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2010/01/21/collins-warns-universities-to-roll-back-soft-money-jobs-sortof/

    Even scientific organizations like FASEB are on board with soft money reduction:
    http://www.faseb.org/Portals/2/PDFs/opa/2015/Sustaining%20Discovery%20Report%20Final.pdf

    Soft money support is going away. It's happening. Face reality.

  • DNAdrinker says:

    "I always grade the "environment" heavily on the hard/soft money factor. If the PI's home institution doesn't have any skin in the game, why should the NIH?"

    Sorry folks, just trying to incite some discussion.

    I admit to looking and wondering about the hard/soft money factor on applications I review, but as other say the "environment" score never really had any effect on the overall score.

    However, for the people saying hard money research is subsidized by student tuition dollars or something . . . Yes, yes it is. What do you think all the faculty in philosophy, sociology, history, queer studies, etc do? They are expected to publish some form of research, and they are not supported by outside grants.

    Which reminds me. . . These people complain that the sciences get oversubsidized by the university! They hear the administration say we get 50% indirect costs, but the true costs of research are really like 80%. They take that to mean that the university is taking resources that could be spent on arts/humanities research and diverting it to science research.

    There are arts/humanities people who think that the university should not accept ANY money for research. They think all paid-for-research should only take place in an off campus institute, and the university would be stronger if they adopted this policy.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "Which reminds me. . . These people complain that the sciences get oversubsidized by the university! They hear the administration say we get 50% indirect costs, but the true costs of research are really like 80%. They take that to mean that the university is taking resources that could be spent on arts/humanities research and diverting it to science research."

    In my university, in my college, the opposite is true. The sciences heavily subsidize the humanities. We have many more students in the sciences, and also research dollars. The dean openly admits that the sciences subsidize the humanities, but justifies it as the only way that the college could operate. According to the dean's perspective, the humanities do a valuable service teaching writing and other subjects to science majors, to ensure that they get a proper well-rounded education.

    I am not saying that I agree. I am just saying that's the way it is where I am.

    That said, the dean is not stupid enough to kill the golden goose. We in the sciences have always had our budgets protected. When the recession hit, humanities departments here were reorganized and people lost their jobs. Meanwhile, the sciences got what they needed to improve the university's revenue stream.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @The Other Dave

    I thought what you described was the norm at most places, similar to football/basketball revenue keeping the other sports afloat.

    As for the Environment, I am at an institution that ranks in the top 10 in NIH funding. As you can imagine, we have great facilities and cores everywhere. When I was still research faculty, I had submitted a R03 that got scores of 3, 1, and 5 from the reviewers for Environment (with a final impact score of 29). The reviewer that gave me the 5 said that my accomplishments warranted my move to tenure track and that my lab was too small. The reviewer actually stated that this was my department's fault. So, I think Environment means different things to different people. I was always told tenure track status did not matter, but it consistently came up in my grant reviews. That being said, NIH put out data last year showing which of the 5 criteria correlate with overall impact score, and I believe Environment was at the bottom. However, as DM states, every little detail matters with scores being so close and funding being so tight.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @Emaderton3: I agree that Environment means different things to different people. This discussion thread proves it.

    That said, I think reviewers like me are the least that soft money people have to worry about anyway. Soft-money researchers are actively being weaned from the NIH teat. Institutions need to change how they support their researchers, and/or a lot of people need to find more secure jobs. I have a long comment awaiting moderation (due to links to more info) about that.

    @DM: Maybe it's time for a new blog entry on the topic of the future of soft vs hard money positions?

  • Dave says:

    I was always told tenure track status did not matter, but it consistently came up in my grant reviews.

    How did the reviewers know your situation? I refuse to give any hints as to my position to reviewers. I'm not required to mention it in my biosketch, so it would be highly speculative of a reviewer to even bring it up. Surely grounds for appeal if these types of comments come up. It's bordering on discrimination.

    That said, I think reviewers like me are the least that soft money people have to worry about anyway. Soft-money researchers are actively being weaned from the NIH teat.

    You clearly have convinced yourself that the NIH is 'actively weaning' soft-money faculty from their teat, and you now see it as your job as a reviewer to do the culling. Zero sum game, after all, right? But it's a damn shame we have colleagues like you in SS.

  • Newbie PI says:

    Are PIs in hard money positions really requesting $0 in salary support on their grants? Around here, everyone requests salary support. As a matter of fact, the whole university requires faculty to request the funds, though it is only the medical school faculty who MUST pay a percentage of their salary with grants. Those in hard money positions then get kickbacks in the form of lab slush funds to reward them for bringing in salary support.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    "How did the reviewers know your situation? I refuse to give any hints as to my position to reviewers."

    Reviewers on study sections are not total strangers. Unless one has been hiding under a rock and not attending conferences in the field, many people know who the application is. Word about positions (tt/non-tt, scientist, etc) get around fast.

    This might not apply as much to a SS that is way out of one's area of research, but the assumption here is that people are applying to SS that typically fund proposals like theirs.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Dave

    I had to list my position as Research Assistant Professor which was instantly a red flag. Assistant Professor at my institution is reserved for either tenure track researchers (PhD or MD) or clinicians on a teaching track.

    I would be interested in some sort of data regarding soft money positions. While I see more people leaving these positions, I also see many doing quite well with new faculty coming aboard in these type of departments. If anything, many clinical departments here are expanding and adding more researchers (which would all be on soft money).

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Dave

    Also, for one of the large societies that funds early stage investigators, I actually had to supply a schematic showing my lab space (which was also a red flag because it was tiny and did not highlight the entire room since I had "dedicated" space in my previous post-doc/K award mentor's lab).

  • The Other Dave says:

    @Dave: The weaning *IS* happening. DM hasn't gotten around to releasing my earlier comment from moderation. I'll re-post it without the links....

    -------

    I get it. Some of you are on soft money and you're worried. Your job is precarious under the best of circumstances, and there are reviewers out there, like me, who think that not paying for facilities and not paying for people reflects the same lack of institutional support. Which could hurt your funding prospects. Why do we feel this? Well, even DM thinks that applicants should have some 'skin in the game'. Remember that *institutions* apply for grants, not PIs. Soft money researchers are the victims of unscrupulous employers.

    If you're in a soft money position, you should think hard about your long term future. The days of soft money from NIH are winding down...

    From the BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH WORKFORCE WORKING GROUP DRAFT REPORT (to the Director of NIH) [link]

    Salary Support

    Originally the conduct of federally-funded research at universities and other extramural institutions was based on an understanding that institutions would provide the bulk of facilities and salaries to the researchers and the NIH would provide the majority of funds for conducting research. Over the past decades, this distinction has become increasingly blurred, with NIH providing an increasing proportion of faculty salary support and the institutions covering a larger percentage of the research costs. This is especially true during the start-up period, which has become significantly longer as young investigators struggle to receive their first R01 grants. The growth in “soft money” positions in academic medical schools, in which investigators are required to raise 100% of their salaries and research funds, has contributed to the negative views of a career in biomedical science, and has had the additional consequence of encouraging institutions to expand their physical space without making additional long term commitments to faculty.

    The working group believes that institutions should provide some fraction of salary support for their researchers in order to qualify for NIH funding. That being said, the working group appreciates that any reduction in NIH salary may have major consequences on institutions.

    The working group recommends that NIH consider a long-term approach (over a 20 year period) to gradually reduce the percentage of funds from all NIH sources that can be used for faculty salary support. [The bold is in the original report]

    No one should be surprised to see NIH start weaning soft money researchers.

    DM even blogged about this topic years ago: [link]

    Even scientific organizations like FASEB are on board with soft money reduction: [link]

    -----------------

    Got it? I didn't convince myself that NIH is weaning soft money. NIH said it directly, in pretty close to those words. And they seem to have support for it.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Whoops. Forgot to close the bold on my reply above. Plain text should stop just before "No one..."

  • Dave says:

    I had to list my position as Research Assistant Professor which was instantly a red flag.

    Who says you have to do that?

  • Dave says:

    The working group recommends that NIH consider a long-term approach (over a 20 year period) to gradually reduce the percentage of funds from all NIH sources that can be used for faculty salary support. [The bold is in the original report

    Is that it?????!!!???? The fucking NIH working group report.

    You clearly are confusing the NIH putting more pressure on institutions to support some salary long term (which I think is reasonable) and your job as an NIH grant reviewer right now. Perhaps you should have a chat with your SRO about your views and whether the working group specifically recommended that their plans be executed in the SS by snooty pissed off reviewers with an axe to grind.

    NIH said it directly

    No. They didn't tell you as a reviewer to do anything.

    Shocking stuff from you TOD. Truly. Must be trolling.

  • AnotherRAP says:

    > I had to list my position as Research Assistant Professor which was instantly a red flag.

    What if you are a RAP but on (mostly) hard money? Where do you put that information in your grant to avoid the anti-soft-money bias?

  • The Other Dave says:

    Hold on there, Dave. Settle down. I didn't say that I use that NIH policy to score environment.

    Regardless of that policy, I think that salary support is part of 'environment'.

    The INSTITUTION applies for the grant, not any individual. Remember that. PIs are technically interchangeable. They are not unlike equipment or other institutional resources.

    If you can score the environment higher because there are lots of good people and resources at a place, then you should certainly be able to score the environment lower if the institution does not have reliable access to essential people and equipment.

    If the project's success depends on the PI, and the institution has failed to 'secure' that PI, then I think the environment score should suffer. Same as if the applicant institution had failed to secure any other essential project resource.

    Does that make sense?

    We all know PIs in soft money positions or NTT positions who have gotten a grant and used it to get a better position. Good for that researcher, right? But think about it from NIH perspective. They have given a grant to an institution that failed to secure an essential resource, and now that resource has left. It's like an essential piece of equipment walked out the door. That definitely affects whether the institution will be able to successfully complete the project, right? The stability of an institution's workforce is part of the environment. If it's not stable, then I think the scores should reflect that.

  • E-rook says:

    In my 2 K01 and 6x R01 applications submitted over the course of 3 years, the reviewers specifically criticized the lack of institutional support as weaknesses. However, this was in the "Investigator" criterion.

    The "Environment" was outstanding, obvs.

    On the phone a few times, the PO said that the reviewers were "looking out for me."

    I'm no longer in academia.

  • MoBio says:

    @TOD: Appreciate your perspective...from where I sit this appears to be one held by a minority of members of review groups I've sat on (continuously for more than 20 years).

    My sense is that most of us understand that although the NIH may wish to imagine that the grants are going to 'institutions' we understand all to well that they are going to actual humans (with families, homes, students who depend on them and so on).

    I've never downgraded an Environment score because someone had a soft money position and don't ever recall this being a serious topic of discussion in terms of overall score. The exceptions being the rare instance where it appeared that the individual wasn't 'independent' but was a minion of a BSD--and these are rare in my experience.

    It would be instructive to actually poll folks here who sit regularly on review groups.

  • Philapodia says:

    "They have given a grant to an institution that failed to secure an essential resource, and now that resource has left. It's like an essential piece of equipment walked out the door."

    While the grant is submitted by the university, the Investigator is a key part of the grant and is not "interchangeable" as you say unless they die or go somewhere that they can't take the grant (such as leaving academia). There is also a whole scored section called "Investigator" in the SS reviews, remember? In addition, 9 out of 10 times the NIH is perfectly fine with the grant moving to a new university with the PI (unless the university fights it), so the work will still get done if the PI moves.

    @E-rook

    That's an asinine critique. It's possible that while they were saying "looking out for me" they really meant "looking out for myself". Bummer... BTW, if you've escaped academia, why come here to hear us bitch and moan?

  • E-Rook says:

    @Phil, Habit. It's a long weekend. I still find the discussions interesting.

    In K01s, I believe that institutional support is a valid critique, given the instructions. Indeed it felt like an unfair catch-22, that the institution would give me more support if I could get an R01 and I could get an R01 if I had some start up or support. But whatever, I didn't end up on the streets.

    On investigators moving, there is a huge kerfuffle in So-Cal right now ... a PI of a Alzheimers center grant wanted to take it with him from UCSD to USC, and UCSD ended up filing a lawsuit because the investigator tried to keep "his" data? the saga is still ongoing ... Look up Paul Aisen. I would think twice before transferring an interdisciplinary, multi-component, longitudinal clinical study to a different institution. The programs momentum could rely on infrastructure that is in place. On the other hand, if there are demonstrable problems at the original institution, and I've seen the sunken cost fallacy keep deadwood programs on the books, a case could be made to move it.

  • Philapodia says:

    I get having issues with moving a center grant with clinical trials with a lot of different players, but I think it's trivial when us riff-raff move between institutions. Moving a single R01 from USCD to USC would probably barely elicit a raised eyebrow from a PO.

    I'm glad you hear you didn't end up walking the streets. If I were in your shoes I'd be sitting back with some popcorn, enjoying the back and forth and laughing at us fools :')

  • Dusanbe says:

    Only riffraff settle for a happy spouse and healthy kids. Saints like us who are gonna cure cancer and solve the brain have simple-minded but devoted wives whom we don't see very much but rest assurred are doing all that boring family stuff while the men of the household are being all selfless and groundbreaking and stuff in the laboratory.

  • JC says:

    newbie PI: Are PIs in hard money positions really requesting $0 in salary support on their grants? Around here, everyone requests salary support. As a matter of fact, the whole university requires faculty to request the funds, though it is only the medical school faculty who MUST pay a percentage of their salary with grants. Those in hard money positions then get kickbacks in the form of lab slush funds to reward them for bringing in salary support.

    Typically 1-2 months summer salary support. Buying out of teaching consistently is frowned upon because then you aren't contributing to the dept. overall. Just for comparison, NSF flat-out refuses to fund more than two months from ALL NSF grants.

    After this discussion, I'm extremely thankful for my 9-months hard money position. My struggles are nothing compared to most.

  • Geo says:

    It is true. The days of NIH supported soft money basic research faculty positions is slowly coming to a close.

  • Newbie PI says:

    Maybe a dumb question, but is a soft money position one in which 100% salary is required to come from grants? What about a position that requires 50%? Honestly, I'm really curious about whether or not reviewers like DNADrinker are holding my institution's 50% requirement against me. But also, how would a reviewer really know what different schools require, and how strictly it's enforced?

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Dave

    Well, because that was my position. And my grants manager or the Office of Research that has to approve all submissions would have probably changed it (plus they fill out all the parts of grants that have that kind of information except the biosketch). I did have a PO once tell me to leave off the "Research" to make it look like I was tenure track which implied more concrete institutional support.

    @MoBio

    I struggled because I was initially in a non-TT position with dedicated space in the lab of my mentor of my K award. But, I was doing my own work without my mentor's involvement, and I did nothing for my mentor's research endeavors. I even had a small startup. However, the reviewers just assumed I was a minion that was not independent (even when my Chair support letters indicated the potential for more space with expansion of my research).

    @AnotherRAP

    I am not sure what it is like at your institution, but at mine a RAP is usually under a TT PI. However, I know on the academic side that such titles are often used for people that are teaching but not running a full lab (and not generally under someone). Perhaps you could somehow make it evident in the description of your research in your biosketch? That is where I tried to emphasize that I was doing independent work (unsuccessfully).

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    "It is true. The days of NIH supported soft money basic research faculty positions is slowly coming to a close."

    As it should be. Universities (and other soft money institutions) better step the fuck up or stop hiring all these people that they cannot support with at least 9-mo of salary+benefits.

  • Laffer says:

    As someone currently on 9 months salary, I am happy with my situation, but there is no question I am not able to give 100% of my attention to my research and people as a result. However, teaching and interacting with undergraduates and graduate students helps my research, forcing me to be fluent in science not in my direct area of expertise and focus, providing potential insight that I would not have had. DrugMonkey probably believes that most of the 9 months salary-supported grantees including me are small-town grocer types, not truly dedicated to research because my ultimate allegiance is elsewhere. Yummy dessert.

    So I see a benefit to soft money, pure research positions, and I think they are an integral part of the NIH research agenda. I have come around to DrugMonkey's argument that research should be treated like any other government contracting relationship where they pay for a specific product, even throwing in some surplus money for 'profit' (indirects?). It would be nice if the funded research institutions had some personnel skin in the game in terms of salary support, but how much is enough? I think he would agree that 100% soft money isn't ideal.... At the Med School here, we have I think 70/30, and that's better, although everyone would prefer 50/50 (other than the Deans). That way, there's some need to keep funded and moving things forward, but you can still get work done (e.g. survive) without fear of losing overlapping R01 support.

    I am also sympathetic to bumping the REAL modular budget to 300-350K, although that's probably still less than inflation for the past 20-30 years. That way, there would be more people happy with one-and-done R01 support, and they wouldn't feel the need to kill themselves writing endless grants just to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid.

    I think it's dangerous for reviewers to let themselves become influenced by what kind of salary support is available, although the contractor mentality does lend itself to considering who can get the most done with the least amount of money, and that could find its way counting against pure soft money investigators.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Laffer

    Your medical school is generous. The place I am out wants over 90%.

  • dnadrinker says:

    "I have come around to DrugMonkey's argument that research should be treated like any other government contracting relationship where they pay for a specific product, even throwing in some surplus money for 'profit' (indirects?)."

    I think that would be a good idea, but would require that grants compete on TOTAL costs. It will never happen because the expensive places for doing research (Boston, NYC, SF, etc) will be at a significant disadvantage to the cheap places (midwest, south, etc).

  • Dave says:

    There is a lot of misconception here about the so-called soft money research position. It is NOT a position only for junior folk working under another PI. In many med schools, the career progression is the same as it is on the TT (assistant, associate, full) but there is much less emphasis on didactic teaching but still an expectation of service. There typically is the option to change track or jump straight to tenure, which some do (but most never do). Most dont choose to jump to the TT because the risk-reward ratio is not favorable. Tenure is not tenure at these places.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Dave

    I hope I did not contribute to that misconception. I was merely trying to relate my experience as non-TT and perceived levels of independence/support by reviewers.

    Indeed, tenure is not tenure anymore. At many places, it does not guarantee you anything. It seems to be more of a status symbol/accomplishment, but if you run out of money, you are at risk (which is the soft money problem).

  • Grumble says:

    @NewbiePI: "is a soft money position one in which 100% salary is required to come from grants? What about a position that requires 50%? Honestly, I'm really curious about whether or not reviewers like DNADrinker are holding my institution's 50% requirement against me."

    Salary CANNOT come 100% from federal grants, because it's illegal to write grants while being paid by them. Some effort (typically 10%) has to come from the institution. Most med schools have a target of ~50% grant support for assistant profs, going up to 75% (or higher) for full profs. So your 50% soft money support makes yours firmly a "soft money position." Finally, DNAD has no fucking clue what percent of your effort is covered by soft money, so don't worry about him/her. I'm fairly certain that few other grant reviewers give as much of a shit about it as DNAD seems to.

    @Emaderton3: "tenure is not tenure anymore. At many places, it does not guarantee you anything."

    Actually, at many medical schools, tenure does mean quite a bit. It means you are guaranteed a base salary. Typically that salary is much less than it would be if you met the school's expectations for grant support. But the base salaries I've seen (in expensive metro areas) has been in the low 6 figures - hardly too little to live on. On top of that, it's not as if the school immediately cuts yours salary as soon as you drop below the amount of grant support you are expected to achieve. It's a gradual process, taking several years, and your salary resets when your funding goes back up into the expected range. So far, most faculty are able to survive pretty well under this schema. Don't worry about tenured profs wandering homeless in the streets - or fleeing academia for more secure employment elsewhere. It doesn't exist.

  • Dave says:

    I hope I did not contribute to that misconception. I was merely trying to relate my experience as non-TT and perceived levels of independence/support by reviewers

    No, not at all. It's just that the soft-money faculty that are represented on DMs blog tend to be younger, newer faculty, which doesn't reflect the overall soft-money workforce.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Grumble

    I just meant that the level of support has diminished with time. I probably should have worded that a little differently. The level of salary support can be drastically different at some places if based on average faculty salaries that lump in senior MD PIs with new humanities professors. That coverage is nothing for the MD who makes a much higher salary than the PhD PI.

    @ Dave

    Agreed, we just use the interwebs more lol.

  • dsks says:

    5 years from now I predict that my lab will have cured the cancer and be hot on the trail of male pattern baldness. And y’all will be postdocs lashed to the oars below decks in the awesome empirical enterprise that I have created, lamenting your lot as you heave it across the tides of history - ankle deep in the festering bilge water of my unrelenting ambition – while I myself stand proudly on the prow in a halo of glory, spear held aloft and ready to deal yet another gash in the flanks of the Great White Leviathan of mystery.

    Or I’ll be teaching Human Biology at a community college near you. It could go either way.

  • jmz4 says:

    That was brilliant. I, for one, welcome our new megalomaniacal overlord.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Laffer-

    Not exactly. I simply feel that teaching requirements reflect real actual brain effort which is subtracted from a finite pool. Also that claims about how teaching improves the research perspective are....vastly inflated. And at best this alleged benefit of heavy teaching is countered by the need / opportunity for soft money types to maintain more lines of research and establish collaborations.

    Regarding grant reviewers that intend bashing the appointment for independence and commitment as assistance- the sentiment that this is a help to the applicant is real and heartfelt. And every A1 that comes back with a better appointment or firmer Chair letter is viewed as validation. (I mean sure it can be a stock critique easy dismissal but it is often meant sincerely to assist.)

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ DM

    The criticisms of the reviewers from multiple grant reviews and a strongly worded letter from my mentoring committee to my Chair resulted in my move to tenure track and a better letter of support. That being said, all that happened in reality was a title change, but it was enough to satisfy reviewers and played some (even if small) part in my recent success at getting two grants.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "Regarding grant reviewers that intend bashing the appointment for independence and commitment as assistance- the sentiment that this is a help to the applicant is real and heartfelt. And every A1 that comes back with a better appointment or firmer Chair letter is viewed as validation. (I mean sure it can be a stock critique easy dismissal but it is often meant sincerely to assist.)"

    Yes!

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