NCI announces the R50 Research Specialist career award

(by drugmonkey) Nov 02 2015

PAR-16-025 invites applications for the R50 Research Specialist award.

The Research Specialist Award is designed to encourage the development of stable research career opportunities for exceptional scientists who want to pursue research within the context of an existing cancer research program, but not serve as independent investigators. These scientists, such as researchers within a research program, core facility managers, and data scientists, are vital to sustaining the biomedical research enterprise. The Research Specialist Award is intended to provide desirable salaries and sufficient autonomy so that individuals are not solely dependent on grants held by Principal Investigators for career continuity.

This mechanism is for salary support up to 100% and for travel up to $5,000 per year. Maximum duration is 5 years. It is interesting that they chose to make this an R mech instead of a K mech. I like that. A lot.

This idea was discussed by NCI a little bit ago, as discussed in this blog post, in the wake of a hint from Varmus when he left the NCI Director office. The devil will be in the detail but this new mechanism appears to leave some wiggle room for the Research Specialist to avoid some deficits I identified in the original discussion (start at 2:20).

I was most concerned about all the discussion focusing on the original PI and how this proposed new mechanism was to his or her benefit more than the Research Specialist themselves.

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.]


2:32: 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.]

Two interesting parts of note in the section on Award Administration from this new PAR:

5) Funds freed up through the R50 will be restricted from any other personnel use, but may be rebudgeted for other research costs with NCI prior approval.

6) Research Specialists would have the option, with prior NCI approval, to move to other research programs or institutions (e.g. if the Unit Director's laboratory is closed, if the institution closes a core, etc.).

Number 5 is a bit weird. Why not be able to hire another person to work on the project? And re-budgeting is allowed only with prior approval? For a salary? This is unusual.

But everything about this rests on what Number 6 turns out to be in practice. It echos another part in the FOA scope part that reads:

The proposed new research support is intended to provide desirable salaries and sufficient autonomy so that individuals are not solely dependent on grants held by Principal Investigators for career continuity. Research Specialists would have the option, with prior NCI approval, to move to other research programs or institutions while maintaining funding from this award (e.g., if the Principal Investigator's laboratory is closed, if the institution closes a core, etc.).

This is the part that gives the Research Specialist the true "sufficient autonomy" and "not solely dependent" business that is written all throughout the PAR. It is essential how broadly this "e.g." is interpreted, particularly with respect to who makes the decisions about permitting a change. Obviously, the one major thing missing from these examples is the autonomous choice of the Research Specialist. What if she or he simply wants to join a different lab or university? How easily can it be moved to another city when the person's spouse gets a new job? How easily can they detach themselves from a toxic PI? etc.

h/t: @superkash

29 responses so far

Advice for Asst Prof stage 

(by drugmonkey) Oct 27 2015

They will only stand up when you stand down.

17 responses so far

Are departments and Universities realizing their mistake?

(by drugmonkey) Oct 26 2015

Entirely predictable but I have not heard a lot about this, personally.

What about you Dear Reader? And if you have heard muttering, what is the source of the concern that is driving it?

21 responses so far

Marijuana Use, Abuse and Dependence Increased Over the Past Decade

(by drugmonkey) Oct 23 2015

A new paper from Hasin and colleagues at JAMA Psychiatry reviews data:

from NESARC and from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III (NESARC-III), a survey of 36,309 new participants.
The NESARC field procedureswere similar to those in NESARC-III.

There are really three key observations, although the tables also break down the findings by sex, age, race/ethnicity, education level, etc.

First, past year use of marijuana went from 4.1% to 9.5% of the sampled populations. Interesting, but hey, could just be more people feeling free to try it out, right?

Second finding looked at prevalence of meeting DSM-IV criteria for a Marijuana Use Disorder (including Abuse and Dependence subcategories) in the past year. This measure went from 1.5% to 2.9% of the population.

The third finding is that if you condition only upon those individuals who have tried marijuana at least once in the past year, the rate of a Marijuana Use Disorder went from 35.6% to 30.6%.

This is all relevant to a few themes we've discussed before on the blog.

I don't see how you can view these data other than in a context of growing liberalization of medical marijuana laws and availability of marijuana. This refutes the occasional position struck by the pot fans that changes in legal status and attitude won't change use rates because everyone who wants to smoke marijuana already does. Clearly the US population undergoes significant changes in exposure to marijuana. In this case only over a decade.

My position has also been that, in general, as you increase the number of people who are exposed to a given drug you are going to see an increase in problems related to that drug. In the absence of other information, we must start our estimate of that rate from what we observe at a given time. The first two numbers in the study confirm this. As use rates increased, so did rates of meeting criteria for DSM-IV diagnosis of a MUD.

The conditional probability measure also addresses this phenomenon, perhaps in an even better way. I have mentioned before that it is really hard to assess conditional probability of dependence between drugs that feature significant base-rate exposure differences. You can't help but assume there is going to be a curve whereby the more democratic the exposure, the larger will be the occasional user population. That is, I assume some sort of nonlinearity is going to occur against the general estimation I mention above. I presume the lower the incidence of exposure to a given drug, perhaps the higher the conditional probability of dependence and the higher the incidence of exposure, the lower the conditional probability.

In this case, I'd say the change in conditional probability is not that significant. Something around a third of those who smoke marijuana in a given year are meeting criteria for a MUD across a doubling of the incidence of exposure. The curve is still pretty linear although I assume we will be getting another jump in a decade and can see how this curve shapes up.

This estimate of a MUD is really high to my eye, no doubt because it includes abuse and dependence together. Perhaps the data I usually think about (7-9% dependence rate) references dependence without abuse...I have to go check on that. In case you are wondering, the difference really boils down to symptoms of tolerance (diminished effect at same dose, increasing dose to get desired effect) and withdrawal, as well as some indicators of uncontrolled use relative to a person's intentions.

Now interestingly the authors reference another similar study (NSDUH) that didn't find an increase in prevalence that was so large- only 12% reported by Pacek et al, 2015. The present authors suggest more detailed questioning in the NESARC approach may explain the difference.

9 responses so far

Fewer postdocs?

(by drugmonkey) Oct 23 2015

From @NatureNews:


The full story by Monya Baker

21 responses so far

SFN 2015: What are the socials for?

(by drugmonkey) Oct 21 2015

The SFN Annual Meeting is famous for the overwhelming barrage of science being fire-hosed at you. It is intimidating and can be impersonal.

Almost equally famous, particularly for the experienced hands, are the evening thematic socials. These are gatherings that may be focused on a scientific topic (Dopamine), University, lab (for the big ones), academic society (yes, the competition comes to SFN to troll for members) and/or organized by vendors (such as a journal/publisher).

Here is a list of the things I accomplished at one social this year:

-Talked with a colleague from whom I requested an emergency grant support letter just prior to the meeting. I explained the wheres/whys and thanked her profusely.

-Chatted with a colleague who is in semi-competition with one of our research domains. We worked some stuff out, talked a little about plans and I hope pre-empted what could have been bad feelings on one side or another.

-I met a junior scientist (that I didn't know except second hand) who had asked me for a letter of support for a grant application on the recommendation of a PO. This person told me more about the project and I was able to comment on a few things.

-Met a philanthropist who donated to a lab in which I have an interest. I kid you not.

-Chatted with a more-senior member of my field who is of pretty high stature in a subfield. I would not necessarily have gotten to know this investigator absent this particular SFN social over the past couple of years. This PI commented about my research directions in a thoughtful way that shows she actually knows me beyond social recognition.

-Met a postdoc who is nearing the job market in a subfield in which I have slightly better than average ear-tuning about job openings. I will be able to forward things that I hear about to this person now.

That's off the top of my head. I am sure there were several less-obviously work-related conversations that in fact have a work-related component to them.

So there are two points.

First, when you hear people talking about this or that fantastic party they attended at SFN, remember that these socials are there for work and career related purposes.

Second, the party that I am referring to was BANTER, organized by Scientopia's very own Dr Becca over the past five or six years. The organizing theme is not any of the usual one that you might think of as being specific to your career interests. It is based on the online science community, most especially the Twitter-based neuroscience community. It is not screened for any particular subdomain of neuroscience, including mine, and yet I had the above-mentioned interactions.

The implication* of this latter observation is that you can engage in useful work-related conversations at almost any SFN social, which means that it can be less forced. Go to the ones where you have the most interest, or an "in" or whatever. The key is to

*I think it also points to how firmly BANTER has become implanted on the SFN social map. Well done Dr Becca, well done.

41 responses so far

Thought of the Day

(by drugmonkey) Oct 16 2015

I know this NIH grant game sucks.

I do.

And I feel really pained each time I get email or Twitter messages from one of my Readers (and there are many of you, so this isn't as personal as it may seem to any given Reader) who are desperate to find the sekrit button that will make the grant dollars fall out of the hopper.

I spend soooooo much of my discussion on this blog trying to explain that NOBODY CAN TELL YOU WHERE THE SEKRIT BUTTON IS BECAUSE IT DOESN'T EXIST!!!!!!!!!!!!

Really. I believe this down to the core of my professional being.

Sometimes I think that the problem here is the just-world fallacy at work. It is just so dang difficult to give up on the notion that if you just do your job, the world will be fair. If you do good work, you will eventually get the grant funding to support it. That's what all the people you trained around seemed to experience and you are at least as good as them, better in many cases, so obviously the world owes you the same sort of outcome.

I mean yeah, we all recognize things are terrible with the budget and we expect it to be harder but.....maybe not quite this hard?

I feel it too.

Believing in a just-world is really hard to shed.

69 responses so far

NIH grant application changes are in the offing

(by drugmonkey) Oct 16 2015

The Weekly NIH Guide (for 16 October 2015, that link will update) has a whole slew of changes summarized in NOT-OD-16-004.

NOT-OD-16-006 seeks to simplify the Vertebrate Animals section by deleting requirement for describing vet care, euthanasia if consistent with AVMA guidelines and justification for the number of animals used.

NOT-OD-16-011 seeks to implement rigor and transparency in grant applications. Focus is on "the scientific premise forming the basis of the proposed research, rigorous experimental design for robust and unbiased results,consideration of relevant biological variables , and authentication of key biological and/or chemical resources."

oh, and for certain people around here NOT-OD-16-009 plans a change in allowable fonts that can be used in NIH grant applications. Key features are black text, 6 lines per vertical inch, 15 characters per linear inch and 11 pt type. The usual fonts are "recommended" although "other fonts (both serif and non-serif) are acceptable if they meet the above requirements"

15 responses so far

The adults in the room

(by drugmonkey) Oct 14 2015

Do you want to talk about what a pleasure it was to see actual adults in the Democratic debate yesterday?

And about what a contrast it made with the preening, unserious clowns running for the Republican nomination?

My take is this: Hillary is the most Presidential of any candidate running....on either side and by a considerable margin. Bernie has the right policies. Clearly. And O'Malley made great strides in introducing himself to a national audience. His closing comment was really strong and you should check it out. Maybe the Dem's bench isn't empty* after all?

Second take: I am of the opinion this is the Republican's election to lose. It just seems to me that enduring inability to see what Obama has accomplished (with Repubs holding one of his hands behind his back) will put another Democratic administration far behind in this race. No matter who the Democratic candidate is. Well, Bernie and Hillary gave me a little more hope last night. Decency may win out after all.

*I still say Hillary and Bernie are too old and am disappointed there has not been a very deep bench on the Democratic side this cycle.

57 responses so far

Bad Prof behavior is rampant

(by drugmonkey) Oct 13 2015

In case you missed it, this is related to news of a UC Professor.

The Twitter responses to this indicated that my experience was a very common one. Now sure, one creeper prof can be the example for dozens or scores of graduate students. But still. For every one of these Geoff Marcy types that hit the news, how many more go unnoticed save locally? Scores? Hundreds?

33 responses so far

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