February 7, 2011
Biomedical research scientists in the US (and worldwide) are bright, highly educated and creative folks. Most are dedicated to the public good, undergoing years of low pay while fueling the greatest research apparatus ever built- the NIH-funded behemoth that is American health science. Yet they persist in various types of employment stress and uncertainty for years, with minimal confidence of ever attaining a “real job”. It is dismaying to realize that by the time he received his first R01 (the major NIH research grant) Mozart would have been dead for 7 years (tipohat to Tom Lehrer). The official noises coming from the National Institutes of Health, and even some individual institutes such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (scroll for comments on the young investigator) are positive, sure. We’ve heard such sentiments before, however, and most objective measures show long, uninterrupted dismal trends for the young and developing scientist.
Some things have improved since I wrote this. The NIH started taking things a little more serious with respect to unending “training” and the slow transition to independence via their first genuine broadly-available transition mechanism (the K99/R00), Early Stage Investigator checkbox (with special funding priorities) and (yikes) DP5 award. But we still have people lamenting the job market and claiming that their local institution refuses to hire anyone who comes without pre-existing grant funding.