Wow, the NIH seeks input on an amazing new initiative!

From NOT-OD-15-064 we learn:

The strategies for sustaining a vibrant biomedical research enterprise are complex and multi-faceted.  NIH strives to support not only the biomedical research workforce, but to support the foundation of research programs that our workforce has created. 

An important issue for NIH is the long term success  for the research we support.  Over the years, NIH has been persistent and creative in efforts to support early career investigators through policy changes and new programs.  But we must also consider the needs of our mid-career investigators and how NIH can assist with the continuation of their well-established research programs, since evidence has shown that the most innovative and productive years of work come from PIs in the 40-59 year old age range.  While these highly productive investigators are happy pursuing their research questions in the laboratory, current funding stresses have hindered the current generation relative to past generations of mid-career scientist.  Our most vibrant investigators have invested their careers to establish the intellectual and technical infrastructure needed to pursue their research questions, and it is in our interest to facilitate progress in their established programs.

Yes, I agree! Totally true.

Therefore, NIH would like to explore potential mechanisms to facilitate the needs of the most productive members of our biomedical workforce. We would like to gauge community interest in a new type of award that could allow established investigators to maximize their output under funding from NIH research grants, while greatly advancing our scientific knowledge and resources. Such an award could permit an established investigator to form partnerships with other faculty members in order to facilitate research inquiry in an efficient and cost-effective way under P-mechanisms as with prior generations. The established investigator would, of course, be expected to train and equip junior colleagues to contribute to mutual interests and research projects while working with them in a mentoring role. If such a collaboration is not feasible, a mid-career award might allow some established investigators to complete expansive projects within their own laboratories.

Wow. Really good stuff here NIH. Glad to see you finally recognizing what brung ya and what you need to bring to the race to keep on winning.

Request for Information This Request for Information (RFI) seeks input from the research community, including scientists from all career stages; research administration professionals; departmental chairs; deans; professional societies; and other interested stakeholders. Public comment is sought for the following:

  • Community interest in an award that allows a mid-career investigator to flourish without being dependent on submitting so many NIH research grant applications
  • Ideas for how one would utilize a mid-career award (e.g., to facilitate laboratory sustainability; to promote novel research inquiry; to provide opportunities for expansion of larger collaborative research projects)
  • Suggestions for the specific characteristics for a mid-career award (e.g., number of years of support; amount of support; mechanisms of evaluation)
  • Ways in which NIH could incentivize the use of a mid-career award, from the perspectives of both mid-career investigators and institutions
  • Impediments to the participation in such an award program, from the perspectives of both mid career investigators and institutions
  • Any additional comments you would like to offer to NIH on this topic

Oh, for sure. I'm going to run, not walk, right on over to the form to submit my approval.

 

Oooooooohhhhh.

 

Wait.

 

This is for EMERITUS faculty? Such as those past the age of 65 who keep on submitting copious numbers of research grants? And the NIH wants to somehow use this to persuade the unwilling* to wind down their lab in good order?

 

What a disaster.

 

Additional Reading:

DataHound

RockTalking

 

__

*This mechanism for winding down a PI's career while sustaining his** "legacy" laboratory and program already exists and is in current practice. A senior PI simply steps down from the PI position and the University nominates a junior person to take over. Maybe with continued Co-investigator status for the Emeritizing person. It works to serve this goal. It is proven.

 

**yeah, "his". that's who these people are. For the most part.

73 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    As those of us who are in the 40-59 demographic are at the peak of productivity, we apparently do not need the handicap that the kids and the oldsters need. Maybe we'll benefit from this type of award in 25 years when the total NIH budget is still $30B and the standard modular R01 is $25K.

  • eeke says:

    The old boys network has to be kept alive somehow.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    As mentioned by someone over at DataHound's place, in a lot of soft money places, tenure doesn't mean much if you stop bringing in the $$. There may be oldsters who would be interested in transitioning to a more teaching/service/mentoring role, but if they lose their research project grants, they're at risk of losing their salary in a few years.

    I could see something like this being helpful if it encouraged older PIs to transition out of the R01 game by providing some sort of salary support.

    Not sure how it would work, though.

  • drugmonkey says:

    salary support ....and overheads, amirite?

  • SOYLENT GREEN IS PEEEEEEEOOOPKLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • MorganPhD says:

    "...evidence has shown that the most innovative and productive years of work come from PIs in the 40-59 year old age range."

    I bet 60-79 year olds are more productive than 21-39 year olds, though.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I bet 60-79 year olds are more productive than 21-39 year olds, though.

    More productive than their 21-39 year old students and postdocs who do all the work?

  • jmz4 says:

    "More productive than their 21-39 year old students and postdocs who do all the work?"
    -Someone has to go to all those faculty meetings and eat those sandwiches.

    So the point of this was to induce retirement in the senescent population of PIs? And apparently this already happens all the time? So why are they trying to drum up support to dedicate a grant mechanism to it?

    The only thing I can think of is that there's one guy in the planning office who just won't shut up about his idea to sunset old labs and how it will save the entire research infrastructure. They put this thing up so they can have a digital record of every instance of someone telling him how wrong he is.

    Does anyone have any good ideas for how they could incentivize the 65+ crowd to give up their labs and give someone else a turn? Do we have any hard data on how much money this would actually free up? I mean, according to a old DM blog post, PI's over the age of 65 only constitute about 8% of the R01 holding population (admittedly, its on a rather sharp incline).

    If they do institute this, won't this just be turning the old guys into kingmakers? Wouldn't that be bad?

  • zb says:

    I'm sincerely confused. What does an emeritus award have to do with sustaining mid-career (40-59?) faculty?

    People seem to be arguing that has something to do with figuring out how to get 60+ year olds to stop relying on NIH grants, by, what, giving them a grant? Or are these emeriti handing off their programs to mid career faculty?

    Actually, clicking through the links, have they changed the entire document? It doesn't say what drugmonkey excerpted anymore, does it?

    Still confused but also still alive.

  • Ola says:

    @jmz4 8% of $15bn is a fucking big number. Even if this is just a way for old folks to be kingmakers, bring it, make me a king, sugar daddio! Do you prefer your blow job standing up or sitting?

  • Philapodia says:

    @zb, DM took creative license with the RFI. I like his version better.

  • Philapodia says:

    A little back of the napkin math on the number of R01's going to PI's over 65. If this is really 8% of the $15b budget, that works out to $1.2b. If the average R01 is $2million, that means there would be ~600 R01's going to these PI's. That's a lot of ESI/NI's who could be getting their first R01 or mid-career investigators keeping the lights on.

  • drugmonkey says:

    zb- yes, I was making a point with copious editing of the text. I thought I made it so absurd that it would be obvious...

  • LincolnX says:

    NIH's new motto: We fix what ain't broken, and keep what's broken running just a little bit longer.

  • neuropop says:

    @phila "If the average R01 is $2million, that means there would be ~600 R01's going to these PI's." $1.2b/year and each R01 is way less/year ($250K at full modular). So 5X more PIs (figuring an average indirect of 60%.) Or does NIH account for each new R01 fully with current appropriations? I think not, but stand to be corrected.

  • Cynric says:

    LincolnX: NIH's new motto: We fix what ain't broken, and keep what's broken running just a little bit longer.

    Or: if it ain't broke, break it.

  • Philapodia says:

    @Neuropop Oops, I was basing the number on a full $250K/year 5 year R01 at ~60% IDC, so I think you're right. That just makes it worse...

    @DM you should write these RFIs for NIH. It actually sounded reasonable and logical rather than absurd.

  • qaz says:

    How many research labs really need to be handed down? How many long-term research labs running decade-long experiments need to be handed down? Do we have any numbers on this?

    It's not like most R01s are waiting for the next drop of pitch to fall or running a longitudinal Alzheimer's experiment. Most R01s are designed to be done in 4.5 years. (Huh - I wonder why that is.)

    Given that labs are addressing experiments that last less than one R01 cycle, why can't retiring PIs just retire and new faculty hired? If those new faculty want the equipment or the technicians, that's easy enough to pass from lab to lab.

    [Cross-posted at DataHound.]

  • rxnm says:

    I've seen a couple BSDs attempt to anoint successors. Awkward all around. They seem to think they are being responsible and kind and that everyone around them is desperately concerned about what will happen to the department/field/science/universe after they retire.

    But yes-this is 100% an institutional responsibility. Flexibility is built into the 5-year project model, empire building should be discouraged, and we should celebrate when a renewal 6 R01 finally creaks to a halt. I value my senior colleagues enormously, but turnover is beneficial to science and deference is harmful.

  • Ola says:

    One aspect of this I haven't seen discussed here or elsewhere, is the following....

    Look around your Department, poke your head around the door of an old crusty faculty member's lab. See any decent equipment there among the rot? Do you really really need to inherit a 30 year old spectrophotometer that runs on a PC with Windows NT? Do you really really need that analog-dial controlled water bath crusted up with lime? How about that glass pipet washing gizmo? How about all those dot-matrix printers eh? What about that collection of old chemical bottles from Merck or BDH (neither of which have been in the business of selling chemicals to Universities for a long time)? How about the space - don't you just love those wooden cupboards and laminate counter tops? Doesn't that fume hood caked with an inch of crud really offset the rust on the old metal desk in the corner? And then there's that drawer full of weigh-boats. So. Many. Fucking. Weigh. Boats.

    What I'm really getting at - if you've ever had the (dis)pleasure of helping to clear out an old lab from some emeritus dude, it's really a toss up between trying to salvage 5% of what's left versus torching the whole lot. I don't see a bunch of junior people's careers being boosted by inheriting a pile of old junk.

  • Jonathan says:

    "As mentioned by someone over at DataHound's place, in a lot of soft money places, tenure doesn't mean much if you stop bringing in the $$. There may be oldsters who would be interested in transitioning to a more teaching/service/mentoring role, but if they lose their research project grants, they're at risk of losing their salary in a few years."

    And? Why should NIH pay for that? NIH pays for research, not for alter kakers to lecture undergrads.

  • LincolnX says:

    I've had a day to recover from the wave of negative emotions I feel about this.

    I'll pitch an idea given how overall awful I think this is - truly under the category of making lemonade.

    The ONLY way I could see this working is if it provided true incentive for senior investigators to leave the bench early or to transition to senior collaborator. The only meaningful cost savings would be if it were time limited, and support limited. I haven't done the numbers, but if the percentage of R01 holders over 60 suddenly transitioned to R03 level funding, that should free up more money for new investigators. If this were then earmarked, specifically for new investigator awards, (expanded kangaroos or early R01s), it might change my stance.

    But the support would have to be limited to a small percent salary offset, be limited in time frame, and be non-renewable.

  • drugmonkey says:

    No older investigator is going to give up substantial funding for this reason. The ones that are already facing the fate of no more grants would be happy to take yet more lifeline funding though.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    How about actually providing more money than an RO1 but with a stipulation that once a PI gets one of these grants, they can no longer apply to any other mechanism (new or renewal). This is it. Last grant for you. That would ensure that these folks would truly transition out of the system.

  • LincolnX says:

    "No older investigator is going to give up substantial funding for this reason. "

    Maybe, I'm not so sure. If the payline for this was extremely relaxed it might be an attractive transition, depending on the requirements of the award.

    Noncoding Arenay, where would the cost savings come from in your plan? If someone got a big fat grant toward the end of their career wouldn't they likely be close to retiring anyway, and the increased size would suck more available resources toward older investigators? It would need to save at least another cycle of funding to actually save money, right? Are the percentages enough to bend the needle on the problem this is proposed to correct?

  • drugmonkey says:

    What payline? This only works if people give up *current funding*. Your mention of payline shows you agree with me that this is about new applications. Hence, *additional funding to the geezertariat*.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @LincolnX - they wouldn't be close to retiring until they decide to retire. In this funding climate maybe many are thinking of winding down but are not quite there yet, so help them do so by offering an attractive last grant that would let them work in peace for another 5 years, tie loose ends, wind down their work, hand off to juniors, etc and then ensure that they leave the system in fully glory. A larger $ amount than the usual RO1 would certainly act as an incentive in this scenario. Otherwise why would they not just keep applying for RO1s till their fingers can't type anymore?

    Yes, it will take a bit of time and it will initially suck more resources toward older investigators, but if it can gradually lead to the cost savings that Philapodia and neuropo mentioned above, I think it is worth it.

  • LincolnX says:

    "A little back of the napkin math on the number of R01's going to PI's over 65. If this is really 8% of the $15b budget, that works out to $1.2b. If the average R01 is $2million, that means there would be ~600 R01's going to these PI's. That's a lot of ESI/NI's who could be getting their first R01 or mid-career investigators keeping the lights on."

    @Noncoding Arenay, if we accept neuropops estimate, then with a "bolus grant" it still seems like the initial savings would be less, and might even cause a short term reduction in early investigator funding.

    I guess what I'm trying to find is a way to do it that does not encumber additional resources and leads to immediate tangible savings that could be immediately redirected to a junior investigator program. What if it was treated like a supplement to an existing R01 of a collaborator, provided salary offset but not the big bucks of an R01 - closer to R03 level funding. Make it so easy to get that it is attractive compared to the risk of not getting an R01. Stipulate a short timeline, and stipulate that they cannot apply if an R01 is submitted. Then, if the investigator doesn't retire they could continue, but only as a funded collaborator on the parent grant or other grant and not as PI, ever.

    Again, I'm negative about the whole thing but seems like a solution to this should:
    1) Provide incentives for the desired behavior;
    2) Direct any savings to the problem of not enough support for junior investigators.

  • jmz4 says:

    Maybe a solution would be to offer a separate applicant pool to convert an existing R01 to a new lab in a non-competitive renewal cycle. The salary money would go to the old PI, the research funds (and staff salaries) to the new one. The catch would be that it still has to have a year left on the grant, and it cannot be renewed by the old PI.
    It'd be an attractive option because its a risk-free 3-4 year extension, but it does the job of shuttling the old timers into their retirement.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Stop trying to make this work. It's a disaster in principle and in any possible practice.

  • Lady Scientist says:

    Maybe the Congress could get the NIH to could join forces with the NRA, hand us all guns and... winner takes it all!

    And, what's up with that Scott Walker? I am so sorry for the University of Wisconsin right now. Actually, I am so sorry for ALL of Wisconsin right now.

  • Philapodia says:

    Don't like the idea? Let the NIH know, dammit! The form is simple and submitting your rationale and respectful comments there will be much more effective than bitch'n on here or at Sally's place. Do it!

    http://grants.nih.gov/grants/rfi/rfi.cfm?ID=40

  • If you want to shell out old fuckers, just have a sliding payline that tightens with age. How about one percentile tighter per year over 65? No need to spend money paying these greedy fucken geezers offe. Just fucken wacke 'em. SOYLENT GREEN IS PEEEEEEOOOOOOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Philapodia says:

    I'm amused by Ellen Vitetta over on RockTalk who's going on and on how all stages of investigators should have special opportunities and how people are being discriminatory because some oppose special handouts to greybeards/greyhairs. This coming from someone who's had more than $15 million total costs from NIH since 1991 and one grant that's in year 17. It makes me chuckle and appreciate being able to science stalk people on RePorter.

  • Jonathan says:

    "If you want to shell out old fuckers, just have a sliding payline that tightens with age. How about one percentile tighter per year over 65? No need to spend money paying these greedy fucken geezers offe. Just fucken wacke 'em. SOYLENT GREEN IS PEEEEEEOOOOOOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

    Perhaps it could come with one of those euthanasia tablets from Children of Men and when the funding period expires the PI does too.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Philapodia-
    She appears to have been out of funding since 2010, with projects extended via unfunded extensions to 2013 (which implies she is still battling to get more funding). Perhaps she's been having difficulty lately?

    Stupid RePORTER seems to cut off the search at 1991 but history of the last available project suggests a 1984 start at the least.

    She appears to have finished her terminal degree in 1968 and has been publishing since 1967.

    It's a bit hard to nail down but it looks like she may have started her first faculty position in 1974.

    She also appears to be amazingly accomplished scientifically. So if she's having trouble getting grants......well, too bad. She had a fantastic run.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Perhaps it could come with one of those euthanasia tablets from Children of Men and when the funding period expires the PI does too.

    This just screams for a Logan's Run remake where the protagonist is a PI on the run from the NIH hit squad that's sent out to "retire" researchers over a certain age.

  • ELLEN VITETTA says:

    Hi drugmonkey !
    Your stats are correct.
    Full prof. In 1976. center Director in 1988.
    I have worked incredibly hard for many years. Success was NOT handed to me, especially early on when women had a hard time and I had a family to raise. It was hard.
    My work also involved raising monies for very expensive clinical trials.

    Everyone has been having difficulty lately due to the NIH Payline. Yes, I had a good run and I will continue to keep at because I love it, am good at it, and I have trained many terrific people.

    Peer review must decide my fate just as it does everyone's. It has never been easy (In my entire career I received only one NIH ROI grant on the first try.) I just keep at it!! Several were submitted in 2014.

    I just think that a " career- capping " Grant ...if highly competitive and unusual would be great. They give young investigator Awards , Pioneer Awards, so why not this?
    If the applicant can't cut it Is/he won't get it!! That's how it works.

  • drugmonkey says:

    So you think that NIH grant awards are only to those who work hard and are deserving? And conversely those who come up short are less deserving of research support?

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    Drugmonkey....In essence yes.... As long as money is in short supply.
    The NIH should award funding to the most MERITORIOUS proposals. To write one and demonstrate that you have what it takes to get the job done does indeed require creativity, hard work, stamina, energy and thoughtfulness. A track record shoukd come into play, at least after the first award. Whether you are 35 or 65 is irrelevant.

    Of course identifying the best proposals is subjective and of course it's far from perfect, but it's the best thing we have. When the payline was 20%, a study section could USUALLY pull it off. When the payline dropped below 10%, the system became dysfunctional. So now, the study sections might as well put the top 20 proposals in a hat and pick out 10. It's a lottery.

    With that said, what we do now is to weed peple out by other criteria such as age, trendiness of their work, whether we like them, etc. It's a bit like tossing people off the life raft....
    (Academic Lurker chooses Age, as do many).
    Personally, I think that the lottery is more fair.

    If only our government would restore the NIH budget all of this would be moot. But, how do we get them to make that (very wise) move? Beats me!!

  • drugmonkey says:

    At 20% it was no more functional. It's just that those of you of a certain age never had to seriously worry. As a more senior colleague put it to me "I used to just write a grant when I needed one".

  • Ellen Vitetts says:

    Disagree ... I think it WAS more functional, less stressful and researchers did not snipe at each other so much. One actually had time to think and work instead of becoming a full time grant writer.

  • drugmonkey says:

    When 20%ile paylines were common, this was the precise time the revision/traffic holding pattern was hardening. Of course the people affected were not those senior faculty who got their jobs in the Golden Era. Those people were the ones putting n00b faculty grants into the endless revision cycle for silly reasons. The message of "we come first, you outsiders can wait" is one that was clear.

    So sure *you* had time to think instead of being a "full time grant writer". Others were not so generationally privileged. The kids these days don't have time to think at all. It is astonishing that you cannot admit your generation had it really, really good for a really, really long time. The facts are readily available, when it comes to NIH success rates. Also, for that matter, when it comes to the percent of the NIH $$$ held by PIs of various ages from the 1980s to the present.

    You keep claiming the system rewards merit. Are you suggesting faculty hired in the Golden Era are just better scientists than the following generations? And that this is why they have existed in such a generational privilege bubble wrt NIH funding?

  • yikes says:

    Just to clarify, DM, what were the pay lines in the 'Golden Age?' It sounds to me like you and EM are agreeing in principal that a higher payline improves things, but disagreeing over whether a payline of 20% is high enough for that to be significant.

  • MoBio says:

    A better question is 'how long ago was the Golden Era'?

    It would seem to have been many decades ago...when I started out (early 90's) the pay line at NIMH (where I get funded) was <5%.

    Indeed, I received a 5.3% on my first RO1 in 1993 (an A2 to boot) and was told it was not going to get funded...and it wasn't.

    There was a slight boost during the doubling of NIH funding but my experience has always been that I needed a single digit % to get funded.

    I recall my PhD advisor telling me that he considered the 1960's to have been the 'Golden Era' in terms of %'s.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The Golden Era refers to when a certain generation trained and obtained their faculty appointments. This generational privilege has carried them through their entire careers. At any stage of the NIH game over the past 40 years, they have been on easy street *relative*, and I repeat for the slower folks RELATIVE, to every subsequent generation.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yikes- no I am saying it wasn't "functional" just because paylines were higher in the past.

  • qaz says:

    In the past, two things combined to make it a GoldenAge[tm] - (1) an enormous advantage was provided to continuation of a successful study and (2) study sections were very stable(*) and one could resubmit grants several times with the expectation that they would score it well if you answered their issues (that is, grant review was more like paper review).

    This meant that you could be pretty sure that you were going to get your grant renewed if you did a pretty good job. This meant you could reliably use a single grant to fund a lab in a hard-money environment, and you could use alternating grants to fund a lab in a soft-money environment.

    * Even though study sections are still pretty stable, we have been very explicitly discouraged from saying "the PI answered my methodological concerns, fund it".

  • qaz says:

    PS. Another thing that made it a GoldenAge[tm] that we should not forget is that most labs were university labs that had large endowments coming from private or state coffers. This meant that there was a lot of additional support money (like for salary).

    The impact that the destruction of our societal community over the last 30 years has had on the stability of the scientific job should not be underestimated.

  • physioprof says:

    Speaking of which, nice jobbe Scott Walker's doing in Wisconsin, trying to destroy one of the best state unversity systems in the country.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Ellen Vitetta: Academic Lurker chooses Age, as do many

    I was joking about the hit squads. More or less...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Oh and EV, with respect to "tossing people off the life raft", you realize that we're only discussing that segment of the population that *wasn't* locked in steerage right?

  • […] recent discussion of topics related to the Emeritus Award being considered by the NIH powers that be has been robust. […]

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    Hi drug-monkey,

    Then I guess your opinions don't apply to me! As one if the few female members of "that" generation,, I spent the first 15 years of my career in steerage.

    Now that it's no longer cool to discriminate against women in science I guess that we have moved on to age discrimination.

    Sad!

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is interesting that you mention age discrimination. you are part of the generation that waged age discrimination war for your entire careers and continue to do so up to this very day. Yet your generation has the nerve to shout about age discrimination when the latest self-helping initiative (Emeritus award RFI) receives tepid opposition. Fascinating.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Care to weigh in on any of the last three posts, EV? I posted them especially for you, you know.

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    Especially for me, huh?
    What an honor

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    The rest of my list has disappeared!

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    Especially for me, huh?
    What an honor

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    Second try..
    Especially for me, huh?
    What an honor!

    I guess I was too busy dealing with gender discrimination to notice any age discrimination by my peers. As far as I (personally) was/am concerned, I never participated in this practice and in fact spent a hefty amount of time mentoring, teaching and training. I still do and this and it is well documented. Even now, my former trainees consult me on their grants, papers etc. Ditto for junior faculty. I was also a strong proponent of young instigator awards, etc. As AAI president I started the Junior Investigator Award in Immunology. I help the next generation as much as I can because I want to see our profession stay afloat. Things are hard for all of us.
    Of course I can't speak for everybody in my peer group.
    Are there some FACTS related to how, by whom, and against whom "we" discriminated?

  • qaz says:

    EV - This has been my experience with wonderful mentors (all of whom were baby boomers). Individually, they would never support any sort of "age discrimination" and were wonderfully supportive of their trainees and the junior faculty under their mentorship. They were all wonderful to me and helped me and my colleagues. They were individually very wonderful people and I often ask myself when running my lab how would my former mentor(s) have solved this situation.

    And yet, the facts are that several policy-level initiatives conjoined to create difficulties for the generation after the baby boomers.

    1. There were R29 and other processes to help new faculty, which vanished as soon as my lost generation appeared. [DM has noted that the new help for young faculty such as NI and ESI reappeared when the millennials started to show up.]

    2. The "continuity" of grants dropped away to nothing. It used to be that doing pretty good work got you funded in the next round as long as you wrote a half-decent grant. This has never been true during my scientific faculty lifetime.

    3. They kicked all of the assistant professors off of study section. This was a major blow to my generational cohort. It meant that we couldn’t learn how study section worked, we couldn’t get into the old-friends network, and we couldn’t argue against the previous generation’s support for each other’s grants.

    4. The A2 grant vanished. There was a time where you could get in line, work your way through the grant system, and be pretty damn confident that you would get your grant funded once you had addressed all the study sections concerns.

    5. And the most important one is actually that the basic system of Keynesian government support for a community disappeared. When the baby boomers were coming up in the 1960s it was all peace and love and community, but when they actually got some power (in the 1980s and 1990s), it was all “I got mine. F--- you.”

    We can see the facts in the data. There was a little bit of underfunding of the old folks and the young folks in 1980, but generally, the funding tracked the faculty distribution. By the 1990s, the underfunding was almost all junior folks. By 2010, there is no underfunding of old folks at all and massive massive underfunding of young folks. Compare the blue bars and red lines on the video DM posted.

    When I look at departments I see a gap in faculty in those middle years. There are old folks who had a successful run (some of whom want to keep running) and some new young folks starting to coming in, but there is a dearth of that middle generation (who have had terrible struggles maintaining a lab). You can see it in the way the red lines stretch with the baby boomers. Not only has funding been a problem, but there has been a massive shift in the age of med school faculty.

    There is nothing nefarious going on here. But maybe you can understand how people in my generation have little sympathy for the whining of the baby boomers who have eaten our lunch since day one.

    PS: I have argued from the beginning that our goal should not be to bring the privileged down to the level of the un-, but rather to provide the same privileges for the un-. But giving a special grant to help the privileged get more is not the answer.

  • drugmonkey says:

    EV-
    I don't think you understand bias. It can be entirely inaccessible to your conscious introspection, see http://implicit.harvard.edu/ for example.

    then there is that recent simulation from TE Day showing that small (presumbably hard to detect or introspect upon) biases can have huge effects. See http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2015/02/11/a-tiny-bias-goes-a-long-way-when-it-comes-to-grant-review/

    Then we get to the Oppression Olympics. Just about everyone has an array of things that leave them privileged and things that leave them at risk for unfair negative bias. I am well familiar with the fact that a female scientist of your generation faced a metric boatload of sex discrimination. Sure. But this means very little to the question of whether generational bias exists, which it does. We're talking about the Emeritus grant policy that is about scientists of a certain age, not those of a certain age and sex. Bleating on about how one particular person's array of privileges and biases means...[whatever] is unproductive when it is being used as an anecdote to deny the general trend.

    Let me put this in terms perhaps more familiar to you. There is a certain phenotype of hail fellow well met normative white male in academia who juuuuuust so happens to have escaped some allegedly dismally poor upbringing in Appalachia somewhere. Of course he bootstrapped his way to Harvard, Yale or similar (as doctoral studies if not undergrad), obtained a sweet faculty gig and now exists in the sweet bubble of lowest-difficulty-setting privilege. Now, despite enjoying all the obvious advantages this person is forever bringing up his poor upbringing to prove to you why various affirmative action efforts that benefit underrepresented folks of various stripes in the Academy are discrimination against him personally. It is entirely unjustified and beside the point, of course. We can start with the fact that said member of the Academy now passes, entirely, for the privileged class in a way that many with the other dangly bits or skin tone will never be able to do. We can also recognize that regardless of this economic start, said guy has a bunch of other positive-bias attributes that even at the time all other factors held equal gave him a huge leg up against those that were poor, female, minority, etc, etc. And, we should be able to recognize that not all biases are equal in impact. For a whole host of reasons.

    So yeah, you probably had it tough as a woman in science relative to the men of science of your generation. You also had it pretty good as a member of a certain generation of scientists relative to those less generationally privileged.

    Can you explain to me why the former disproves the latter?

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    qaz,
    Very thoughtful reply.. its interesting to me to see different perspectives on this. I always learn from these discussions.

    Let me comment further....
    1. I agree that the NIH funding is a total mess and that every one of us has been affected.. science is in crisis. We all agree. However, its not the fault of NIH or the study sections or any generation of scientists. It is the fault of our government and the fact that the NIH budget is discretionary. It should not be. Our country cant be a leader in science if they don't pay the bills for doing science. Nor should you tell scientists what to work on by putting money in certain "pots" (biodefense, The brain, Ebola, etc.). I do my best to keep sending those thoughts up the food chain.
    2. I agree with your points 1-4. Awful.None of us likes this but none of us had much of a say in it either. The NIH is not evil...it deals with its bank account as best it can. (Perhaps my only serious gripe about the NIH is the intramural vs extramural division of the budget). Anyway, I don't always agree with what the NIH does but I don't have a crystal ball either.
    3. I disagree with point 5 that my generation was all "love and light". As a WOMAN in my generation, my first 15 years were not like that at all. It was hard and frustrating and discriminatory...many of my female peers dropped out. Furthermore, I never felt like "F...you" once I got past that. Nor did I sense this attitude from my male or female peers, at least HERE AT MY INSTITUTION AND IN MY FIELD. I cant speak for other places or other fields. Maybe it was very different.

    In fact at my Institution, a great deal of effort went into alternative methods of funding new/junior investigators...from "Endowed Scholar" awards to "High risk-high impact-no data -yet" awards. We all worked together and we worked hard to make those things happen. As for mid-career investigators, an enormous effort went into (and is still going into) supporting our best people for the HHMI and later for endowed chairs, which the faculty worked hard to raise. I just did not see the attitude you describe, even though I now see that many of you feel that way. You are angry and your anger seems to be directed at my generation. I get that but I am not sure it is deserved.

    When you say that Boomers were 'privileged' perhaps you are right. But we had little to do with getting that privilege. We came up at a time when science was supported with 20% paylines. That is all we knew. Looking back I still think it was VERY hard, albeit not as insane and unfair as it is now. Because I had a "good run" (to quote DM) I don't think I deserve to be tossed under the bus. On the other hand, I might not have anything to say about it either!!

    When they announced the "emeritus" grants, I thought it sounded like a great idea if the awards were competitive and for something important. My reaction was NOT based on feeling that "we were privileged and therefore deserved it" but rather that people with the same number of years in the game would have to compete against each other for something that might help everyone. This is not unlike newbees competing for Young Investigator Awards. Obviously, my opinion was not shared by most of you who commented. That's OK. HOWEVER, I was just appalled at all the age-discriminatory comments that I read.

    Sure the system should work on merit (which is always the best idea...assuming it really happens), but that's hard when comparing newbees with seasoned warriors who have carved out huge areas. Making the payline more favorable for newbees helped, but not entirely. Perhaps we should compete within age groups. I really don't have any magic answers.

    The bottom line for all of us is that it is very hard to watch what is going on now in science. However, I really think that we need to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the guilty party, OUR GOVERNMENT. Fighting useless wars and running into enormous debt was/is insane. We scientists have all suffered... some more than others as you correctly point out.

    With all that said, and recognizing that life is not fair, I don't feel anyone should snipe at different generations or different fields, or different genders, or whatever. We should be ACTIVE in making our government realize what a mistake they are making....

    Anyway, my two cents!

  • drugmonkey says:

    You are not "sure". Have you reviewed the data? At all? Have you read what I am saying...at all? It is not open to your gut feeling that yeah you had it rough. There. Are. Data.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Oh and btw you had 40%+ success rates, especially once you had your first award. Not 20%.

    As far as magic answers go...precisely. Nothing that avoids pain for everyone is possible. Right now, those younger than your cohort have been paying the price. The question is, why won't your immensely lucky cohort just stop already? Instead of whining to the NIH for *yet more* privileged treatment now that you finally, after all this time, feel the tiniest little bit of the struggle the rest of us have felt our entire career.

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    1. Perhaps 40% for some. Since women started at 10% maybe we ended up at 20%!! I have a file drawer of rejected A2s.8
    2. I am not known for whining any more or less than anyone else.
    3. Why don't we "stop already?". Probably for the same reason that we are still here... It's not in our nature if we survived this long! YOU need to realize that. Boomer survivors were selected for that quality.
    4. I did not define this as privilege in the first place. That's what I was trying to say. You did not live on my shoes or me in yours.

    I am sorry for our collective pain... But going forward, let's focus our energy on getting through to the govt.
    and not on blaming each other. It does not solve anything. Obviously I was in the minority in support of the emeritus awards. But that's ok. We all learned from this and the NIH at least ASKED.

  • drugmonkey says:

    thank you for putting on such an object lesson in why we are in this situation. Totally impervious to facts and data and patently obvious reality should these ever suggest in the slightest way that a ~Boomer gen (incl immediate pre-War types) person think of someone else for once.

    It affects us in science, sure, but it is also the reason for our dismal political state. God forbid you people should pay your own way. Use up the infrastructure built by the prior gen and then run up the national credit card for future generations. That's the generational model. All the while playing the "poor us, we're oppressed" card. It is really amazingl

  • qaz says:

    My point #5 was actually about the overall generation. One of the things that the baby boom generation did in the last 30 years was to destroy the communitarian view that the previous generation had created. As with my individual mentors, each of whom tried to help their offspring, the scientists tended to be in a minority arguing for more communitarian support (particularly for their universities and their fields), but the fact is that the baby boomers undid all of the state support for the universities and the state support for science, both of which undercut our ability to survive in laboratories.

    And it is unfair for you to pull the female card here because the grant and discussion was not targeted at women who have had it difficult from the aging generation, any more than it was targeted at minorities who had it difficult from the aging generation. The grant we were talking about was aimed at all members of that generation and (has been pointed out many times above), this grant is likely to preferentially support non-women and non-minorities of that generation.

    In any case, I agree with you that these conversations are useful. The real thing we need to do is to increase the NIH and other infrastructure funding. As I said, my goal has never been to pull others down - it is to bring everyone up.

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    We share this goal, even though our gender and generational perspectives and experiences might be somewhat different. I think that the key is to be as active as we can in getting our government to fund Science....and to look ahead rather than back.
    Thanks for the conversation!

  • drugmonkey says:

    Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to.....what was it again?

  • Ellen Vitetta says:

    ....And those who dwell on history and are fixated on "blaming" never move forward to solve things.

    ... And that is my last comment.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yeah, that's not a thing. Those who understand history are the ones most able to make lasting change.

  • […] I noticed that makes for a nice simple soundbite to go along with your other explanations to the willfully blind old guard about how much harder the NIH grant game is at the […]

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