We occasionally lapse into discussions around here on various career and grant related topics. One that emerges now and again is what constitutes an acceptable Impact Factor of a journal. Yes, higher is better but out in the real world there are a lot of us publishing most of our work in journals with impact factors that are an order of magnitude lower than Glamour.

I make a big point out of field specific expectations- this is a well known, well discussed….. and generally ignored property of the IF. Nevertheless if we limit ourselves to NIH-funded biomedical research and excuse ourselves from discussing outlier scores…..”society level” journals are generally going to be below 10 IF, most frequently in the 2-6 range and with a gut-feeling point of deflection around IF 4 or 5. As in the number of journals really thins out past this point. Whether that reflects some objective or arbitrary standard of quality…that’s a debatable point. At any rate, there are those that sneer at journals of almost any IF below Glamour level (i.e., north of 20). Some, such as my coblogger PhysioProf, are known to make comments suggesting that the expected norm is something other than what I describe it to be.

Something else we talk about now and again has to do with the desired target lab size as expressed in Direct Costs value of extramural funding. This is the cash value you have to spend on supplies, personnel, equipment, etc in a given year. The R01 from the NIH is theoretically unlimited however the cap for writing a modular budget (instead of full itemization of expenses) is $250,000 / yr and you have to get special permission to even submit one for over $500,000 per year. Under the presumption that most newbies try to stay under the modular cap (and they should in most cases) my recommendation is that even a starting-out lab should be trying to land 2 R01s. I.e., I suggest that you need $500,000 in direct costs just to give yourself a fighting chance at scientific survival and (modest) success. There are those, likely those that are still fighting just to get one-R01 level funding, that argue that this is wild excess and the source of all that is wrong with success rates at the NIH grant getting game.

Well, wouldn’t you know, Director Berg of NIGMS has yet MORE data for us to geek over and it is relevant to these two discussion points. He has a new post up on his blog reviewing the scientific output of NIGMS grants first funded in 2006. Out of nearly 3,000 investigators

…the median annual total direct cost was $220,000, the median number of grant-linked publications was six and the median journal average impact factor was 5.5.

I was particularly struck by the second figure.

A plot of the median number of grant-linked publications from 2007 to mid-2010 (red circles) and median average impact factor for journals in which these papers were published (blue squares) for 2,938 investigators who held at least one NIGMS R01 or P01 grant in Fiscal Year 2006. The shared bars show the interquartile ranges for the number of grant-linked publications (longer red bars) and journal average impact factors (shorter blue bars). The medians are for bins, with the number of investigators in each bin shown below the bars.

Look at that interquartile range for the IF of the journals in which the papers were published. Up to the total laboratory R01/P01 funding level of $500K in direct costs per year, the 75th percentile is still only around an IF of 7.5-8. And the 25th percentile is below 5.0. So even if you do not account for subfield differences already there is plenty of evidence about what is a “normal” IF level for NIGMS awardees. And that norm reads one heck of a lot closer to my concept of normal than that of the GlamourAdvocates around these parts.

The second point is the obvious support for my position that around $500K / year in direct costs is a good target because the number of publications increases pretty steadily up to this point and then flattens out from ~$600K-$1M in direct costs.

There are a couple of interesting questions that naturally occur to one upon reviewing these data. First, the relationship between number of publications linked to a grant may be increasing because you can list more than one grant for a given paper. So if you have two or three grants, it is possible that you have a sort of convenient synergy. Sometimes one project is going better and leads to an extra publication- if you list both of your grants, this might be slightly overcounting the impact of the project which isn’t going so well and would not have produced that paper in isolation. Second, it could be that as you get into the zone well north of $500K, you start reaching a different type of laboratory. One that focuses more heavily on GlamourPubs is going to (inevitably?) trade IF for number of publications.

Scicurious picked up an issue of Women’s Health magazine while working out at the gym. She grew gradually unamused.
Go Read. and Read. and Read.

Of course there is no particular reason to think that bike racing celebrity types should be any smarter than your average Hollywood actor or even one of those ruthless self-promoting celebrities who you can’t quite figure out why they are famous.

Levi Leipheimer is a US professional cyclist who has become, over the course of a long career, a top talent with a long list of accomplishments. Recently his accomplishments have been in association with Lance Armstrong who is an absolute pitbull when it comes to battling cancer. I’ve mentioned before that following his Twitter gives you a whole new appreciation for how much this guy works at the whole LiveStrong charity.

And it isn’t like Levi is just a passive participant. He puts the name of some kid with “pineoblastomas, a rare and aggressive brain cancer that afflicts less than 2% of all juvenile brain cancer patients” on his bike. Or remembers the name of a junior high school counselor who fell to colon cancer in another race.

He sponsors and promotes “Levi’s Gran Fondo“, a charity ride to raise money for various causes including “The Lance Armstrong Foundation received a $10,000 donation from the GranFondo for their ongoing funding of cancer research”.

So what in the hell is he doing
tweeting this?

Odesssa and I hanging w/ @richroll and @jaiseed at the 30th anniversary [famous ARA wackanut organization-DM] Gala. Great night http://yfrog.com/3upsxnj

I’ve said it before…we really need to get Lance Armstrong focused on including animal research as part of his message.

Grant applications, that is…..

I was recently thinking back on my primary motivating reason for writing some of the many grant applications I’ve written. I concluded that one possible way of categorizing is the triumvirate of Obligation, Necessity and Desire.

Grants of Obligation are motivated by the need to satisfy an obligation to others. Perhaps it is a group project to which you contribute. A departmental training grant, a research center with a lot of expensive toys that go “ping!”, a collaboration with the Dean of whatnot or perhaps support for a research conference.

Grants of Necessity are motivated by the need to fund your laboratory before something dire occurs. Startup funds are dwindling or perhaps you are down to the last year of your last R01. Maybe you are merely facing losing a key staff member or resource.

Grants of Desire are motivated intrinsically. Perhaps there is a research question that is just eating at you. Maybe it is what you’ve always wanted to do your entire scientific life and you finally see the chance. Or maybe you are in job situation where you would never even think of writing a grant unless it was something of deep personal interest.

Naturally there is overlap. You never have only one motivating reason for writing a grant applications and in some senses “Necessity” is always part of the picture. If I had private philanthropic funds being showered on my group….well, I don’t like writing grants that much, if you know what I mean.

One thing I was also pondering is if the motivating factor is associated with 1) better or worse grant application writing/preparing; 2) better or worse review outcome or 3) better or worse scientific outcome for those grants that get funded.

I have concluded the answer to all three questions is “No”. I have for sure written some real clunkers that arose out of my fondest heart’s desire, scientifically speaking. And while I’m hesitant to review my own writing, I would be loathe to claim that any of these three factors lead me to prepare my best or worst applications that I’ve ever submitted. I’ve had some pretty smoooooth Grants of Obligation…and some ones that looked like an obligation. Outcome? Well, if we’re going on the funded/not funded axis I certainly have received funding for grant proposals I’ve written primarily from all three of these motivators. And you know that means that I’ve come up short for proposals under all three categories as well.

How about you DearReader? Do you write under these motivations? Check all that apply.