In July, 2007 I wrote:
Create career awards (not fellowships because of the way institutions use this to screw fellows out of the usual employment benefits) for that category of doctoral research scientist who is happy to labor away in someone else’s lab without being a PI. These people already exist, in great numbers and often work through to retirement in nebulous job categories. Let’s recognize that these people are an essential fuel for the NIH engine. It can be on the 5 yr cycle so that productivity is assessed and individuals are accountable to produce. This will create a great deal of independence in these individuals so that they are not beholden to one PI. Think of the side bennies on scientific fraud!
In Aug, 2008 I wrote:
I have a modest suggestion, of course. The K05 mechanism. Or rather, something much like the K05......Suppose something like this were made available for career Ph.D. scientists as essentially a fellowship. Without any requirement for a professorial appointment and minimal actual research component. The important point being that it is applied for, awarded to and evaluated for renewal by the career scientist with every expectation that this is a career award. There would be details of course. You'd have to have a host lab at most times- but allow for transition if one lab loses grant support or something. Nice and easy for the supported career scientist to find a new lab, don't you think? "Hey, PI Smith, I have my salary supported and I'd like to come play in your lab..." would go over quite nicely. Progress could be evaluated just as with any other award, keeping the pressure on for the individual to publish.
I commented at Rock Talking in Feb 2011:
Returning to the OP question about workforce, one of the most profound changes over 30 years is the length of time, sometimes career length, spent in the dark twilight of postdoc/superpostdoc/research scientist/etc in traditional academic settings.
Some could be perfectly happy in such a role if there were a little more career certainty, benefits and insulation from exploitative PIs.
One thing the NIH could do is create a K mech sort of like the K05 but intended for the staff scientist level. Career level benefits required. Has to be renewable too. It could be tied to Rmechs of a lab head (for the primary research support) but it should be easily switched to a different lab w/in the University if necessary. Competitive review would focus on productivity rather than the *specific* project.
I think you can see why I am so excited about what NCI is proposing [video link, start at 2:20] to do as described by Jocelyn Kaiser At ScienceInsider:
The K05 “research specialist award,” as NCI is calling it, would be aimed at scientists with a master’s, Ph.D., M.D., or other advanced degree holding positions such as lab research scientist, core facility manager, or data scientist.
Applicants would need to be sponsored by a PI and their institution. The award could cover up to 100% of their salary, but not research expenses. The 5-year, renewable award also would be “portable” if the recipient moved to another lab or institution.
Notes from the NCI presentation:
at 2:26:30 it is emphasized that this award has to be independent from a PI's grant.
slide at 2:26 notes it would be for individuals including but not limited to : lab research scientists, core facility managers and data scientists.
2:27 slide emphasizes "only to individuals who have made significant contribution to a cancer research program".
2:28 only for that portion of salary devoted to cancer research, expected to be at least 50% effort
[DM- this taps into a sticky point I've mentioned before which is how this is supposed to work for cross-IC scientists. I think they need to work this out better, maybe do it from the OD if necessary. It's all for the good of NIH, right? So they need to work out how to have a scientist be able to jump from a NCI lab to a NIGMS lab if necessary]
2:29 -the research proposal is to be written jointly by the applicant and the sponsoring PI, describing the research.
[DM- I think this is workable even though my eye started to twitch. There is going to be some slippage here with respect to the goals of making this award portable and not tied to the fate of one lab's research grant]
2:29:55 -Initially the Research Specialist to apply while supported on an existing research grant. Once the K05 is awarded, it would be expected to be 50/50 support with the grant and then continuing on the K05 100% once the grant ended.
2:30:30 - Review criteria. Accomplishment of applicant individually and within the nominating lab's program. Accomplishment of the PI and Uni. Importance of the applicant to the research program of the PI.
[DM- Welp. This is certainly going down a road of contributing to the rich getting richer which is not something I support. Unless "importance to the research program of the PI" means helping to stabilize the science of a have-not type of PI who struggles to maintain consistent funding.]
2:31- They are going to launch this via RFA as a pilot program. 50-60 awards planned over an 18 month period.
2:32: slide on portability of the award - possible but requires PO approval if PI and K05 move together, if the PI leaves and K05 stays, if the grant is lost, etc.
if K05 Specialist chooses on her/his own hook to leave old lab, it will require a new PI, approval, etc. The old PI is eligible for 2 year administrative supplement because they are "suddenly missing a critical support component".
[DM- ugh, this last part. Why should the original grant be compensated for the K05 person deciding to leave? It will already have benefited from that 50% free effort. Rich get richer, one. and a reward for that scenario where the PI is such a jerkface that the K05 leaves him/her? no. and regarding "critical support component", dude, what about when any postdoc chooses to leave? happens all the time. can I get some free money for suddenly missing an awesome postdoc?]
2:36 on assessment of the pilot. "critical to get input from the PI about how well their needs have been served"
[DM- well sure. but...... grrrr. this should be about the K05 awardee's perspective. The whole point is that the existing system puts these people's careers into the hands of the big cheese PI. That is what the focus should be on here. The K05 Research Specialist. Not on whether the PI's loss of control has allowed him or her to continue to exploit or whether this is just a way to shield the haves of the world from the grant game a little bit more.]
Bar-Sagi: Restrict the applicants to PhDs? Should Core Directors be excluded (because business model of the U makes security different)? 2:39:20- situation where it "backfires" on the lab
Golub: "but, the quid pro quo is that they (the staff sci type) exchange the lack of obligation to raise their own salary for the lack of independence". wants to know if somehow this is a bait and switch
[DM- well yeah, but that ship has sailed. the goal here is to fix the part where staff scientists can no longer rely on the BigCheese just being endlessly funded forever with out interruption]
2:46 Gray: " a mechanism by which one could survive a hiccup in funding".
[DM ugh- the "one" here is clearly meant as the PI. Sooooooo focused on the PI and not the K05 person.....]