Notes on a page

Dec 22 2016 Published by under Day in the life of DrugMonkey

If you love the NIH and its mission, your mantra for the next four years is a simple one. "The Chinese are out-investing us in biomedical science and are eating our lunch scientifically."

Related: I wonder if Trump knows about RFA-AI-16-006.

The "tuition" paid for graduate students that comes from any source that might otherwise be used for research purposes is Indirect Cost recovery by stealthy means.

It is totally okay to submit your manuscript reviews earlier than the deadline you have been given.

I am glad I waited another round to resubmit a particular grant application because our progress in the past several months on an entirely different project has really framed up what I need to do.

Recently, my lab needed to know more about the background on a small body of publications. As in, the parts of the data collected in the broadest arc of this work that were either not published or obscured in some way. I talked to two of the most-involved postdocs. One sent me a whole bunch of data. One gave me a whole bunch of clues as to what was going on. Science works. This is not novel, I had another highly similar such example of data sharing years ago. I really don't understand what these Open Science data leech types are on about. If you want to know something, ask the people who did the work.

Francis Collins wants to stay on as Director of the NIH, but this political position often changes hands with a new Administration. Maryland Congress critter Andy Harris is bucking for it. This guy. He has a lot of standard issue right-winger "We shouldn't fund that stuff I don't like" hidden under his coat of concern for Early Stage Investigators so watch it.

Complaining about a big pile of research funds you "have to spend out" should be done in highly select company, in my view.

13 responses so far

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I came into my lab this week with the best intentions but without a great deal of motivation. It probably doesn't help that the lab has been "shut down" for the holidays. While I have several things due in the next few months, I am fairly caught up with other things. Why am I here?

    My biggest accomplishment was putting together the 157 piece mini-brick Nikon Eclipse Ti2 that I got at the conference I attended earlier this month. But I am unsatisfied with my achievement since I ended up with a leftover piece. Did I miss it or is it an extra? Is it 157 or actually 156 pieces? Why does this bother me so much?

    I am not sure why I did this (and why I am admitting it), but at the aforementioned conference I happily told the SFN rep at her booth that I read this blog but didn't know who you were. She looked at me puzzled and responded with a very uncomfortable smile.

    I am not sure why I continue to check eRA Commons more than once a day for a summary statement to a grant that was not discussed. I doubt they are even working this week. After all, it's only been six weeks.

    Should I analyze that cell data or wait for the undergrad to return after the break to do it?

    Anyway, thanks again DM for another great year of your blog! Happy holidays everyone!

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Re: graduate student tuition. At my institution, tuition is under a special category of "direct costs not subject to indirects." So yes, still stealthy, but at least not double dipping.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am not sure why I did this (and why I am admitting it), but at the aforementioned conference I happily told the SFN rep at her booth that I read this blog but didn't know who you were. She looked at me puzzled and responded with a very uncomfortable smile.

    Thanks for the promotion of the blog!

    I am not sure why I continue to check eRA Commons more than once a day for a summary statement to a grant that was not discussed. I doubt they are even working this week. After all, it's only been six weeks.

    Regardless, you are in good company in this.

    At my institution, tuition is under a special category of "direct costs not subject to indirects."

    I don't really care whether it is "double-dipping", that can be addressed simply by adjusting what is ultimately an entirely invented tuition number.

  • Morgan Price says:

    "If you want to know something, ask the people who did the work."

    If you want to look at just one data set in detail, and the person who did the work is still in academia somewhere, great. Otherwise...

  • qaz says:

    You are absolutely right about tuition. The proof of that is that (in my experience) none of the tuition dollars goes back to the people teaching those graduate classes. Unlike undergraduate tuition, a portion of which goes back to departments teaching undergraduate classes

    In my experience, regents and other administrators don't realize that graduate tuition comes out of the same research budget and that when they raise graduate tuition, they are effectively taxing our research budgets.

    On the other hand, we already have lots of unreasonable made-up numbers in the current research model, including the fact that indirect costs are not based on actual costs, but rather on the negotiating ability of universities and institutes (*), or the fiction that a grant can pay part of someone's hard-money salary (**), or the idea that an institute is providing a salary for a soft-money position, but not actually going to pay any of that salary (***). I mean WTF is "percent effort" anyway?

    * Have you seen the indirects for some of these institutes or private universities?!?

    ** Originally, this was the extra 3 months of the 9 month salary or a way to buy out of classes, but most people getting these PI salary components are not teaching much anymore, so this is just a fiction to shift money into non-federal systems. (NIH pays the salary instead of the university, so the university puts the money that would have gone to salary into another account.)

    *** My favorite is my friend who has tenure at an institution that has committed $0 to her salary. So they can't fire her, but they don't have to pay her anything either.

  • Grumble says:

    "I mean WTF is "percent effort" anyway?"

    A question the good DM has brought up several times. I applied some small fraction of % effort this morning as I was performing my regular ablutions and thought a little bit about one of my lab's projects. Sometimes these little bits of morning effort have a huge impact, as eureka moments in such circumstances are not unheard of. At other times, well, it's as if the effort were just flushed down the toilet.

    Effort in science is so far removed from effort in most other lines of work that it becomes a meaningless concept. Yet every quarter I am asked to confirm some fiction about my lab staff's and my own effort allocation.

  • Grumble says:

    "I wonder if Trump knows about RFA-AI-16-006"

    The idea that Trump knows anything at all is a strange one.

    The idea that Trump has the slightest inkling about an obscure NIH program for facilitating collaborations across labs in the US and China is beyond laughable.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I have seen indirects qaz because I take a look when I am reviewing grants. For awhile there was a website that had a database of them as well.

    1) IDC at State Us are usually far too low to pay for the necessary infrastructure costs. Part of this is b/c someone else *chooses* to pick up the real costs. It doesn't mean those aren't actual coats.

    2) It is funny to see you assert the usual whine about IDC in the same breath as you are admitting Us take a stealth overhead by inventing "tuition" for graduate education.

    3) There are many other accounting tricks used by Us to grab stealth IDC out of DC budgets. Benefits rate I've seen as low as 25% and as high as 50%...big diff in costs. Cage charges. Fricken *internet fees* ffs.

  • qaz says:

    Did not mean to imply that IDC is not real (it's very real and very important because [as you say] someone has to pick up those costs). But I do not think that IDC at StateUs are smaller than private b/c someone else *chooses* to pick up the real costs. I suspect that IDC is related to the ability of the university/institute to negotiate with the feds, leaving someone else is *forced* to pick up the real costs.

    I only meant to point out that there are lots of stealth budgeting put in service of paying for research and infrastructure.

    Theoretically, the total IDC (stealth and non-stealth) should add up to the real infrastructure research costs. But I suspect that this would be hard to measure and unlikely to yield a reasonable answer because most of these non-direct costs are based on what administrators can get away with rather than any sort of actual justified costs.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I guess I don't understand why you think that one University or other applicant institution would be disadvantaged and another advantaged in negotiating IDC. Every one has the same set of rules, no? It's just that their circumstances differ. As with that recent Columbia U scandal where an off site location had a lower IDC b/c the State (or something) had already paid for the building. Iirc. Same negotiating entity, but the rules ended up permitting different IDC depending on the performance site. When that IDC database was active, you couldn't see similar IDC differences within several other applicant institutions as well.

  • jmz4 says:

    ^I'm confused as to why you think the ol' boys club mentality would stop at the door of the Indirect Cost Service office of the NIH? I don't doubt that Harvard hires someone extremely chummy with the NIH office to negotiate their IDC rates. That's probably why their IDC rates are 6% points higher than Boston University Medical School's, or even Harvard's School of Public Health, which is literally across the street.

  • jmz4 says:

    Also, I'm a little worried stoking fears of Chinese competition in the sciences could lead to some xenophobia at our institutions here. There's already a fair amount of anti-Chinese sentiment in biology, I wouldn't go trying to rile it up.

  • jmz4 says:

    Also, I'm a little worried stoking fears of Chinese competition in the sciences could lead to some xenophobia at our institutions here. There's already a fair amount of anti-Chinese sentiment in biology, I wouldn't go trying to rile it up.

Leave a Reply