Prof-like has a pair of questions up.

1) should unfunded PIs be included on panels or study sections?

2) Should postdocs (if funded by Federal funds) be included on panels or study sections?

The implication here seems to be that the NSF allows professorial rank people without NSF (or other major governmental?) awards to review proposals. Perhaps also that postdocs (or perhaps research scientists?) that do have funding to review grants. If so, this is most unlike the NIH where the vast majority of reviewers have to be of Associate Professor status or higher. Also unlike the NIH expectation that reviewers have to have been awarded a grant similar to those which s/he is reviewing. My answer got a little long so I thought I’d pop it up as a post.

I’m on record in favor of PIs who are not yet funded by the NIH being represented on review panels. So Yes on #1. I throw out a “maybe even some senior postdocs as well” but I always figured that was an extreme Overton shifting position. Are you telling me that NSF lets postdocs review research grants? Interesting.

I’m in favor of this because it seems like basic fairness, one, and the only way to combat biases, two.

Look at it this way- The NIH has explicit rules that study sections must have diversity. Check this link

There must be diversity with respect to the geographic distribution, gender, race and ethnicity of the membership.

In my experience this seems to be taken quite seriously. Ethnic minorities would appear to be well represented on panels on which I’ve served. Women run about 35-40% I think at one point I check this for my most frequent section against the CSR overall numbers. Through conversations suggesting reviewers to an SRO or discussing why so-and-so had been ad hoc’ing for two years and not appointed, it became clear to me that the geographic distribution is a pretty hard line.

Notice anything missing in this “diversity” statement? No? Well how about this comment…
There is a need for balance in the level of seniority represented among members of a study section. Too many senior-level reviewers are just as problematic as too few.

Right on. And too few junior reviewers are as problematic as too many….what? Where is that statement? Not to be seen…

So why do we have diversity requirements if not to make things *fairer* for all applicants? What would be the point of requiring a diversity of reviewer backgrounds, perspectives, seniority, geography, etc, if not to ensure fairness through the competition of biases? hmm?

So why would one suspect class of applicant be overtly and intentionally excluded? The NIH made a lot of noise recently about purging assistant professors off the panels. Their justification for doing so was almost entirely unstated and for damn sure free of any backing data.


October 13, 2010

Some cancer researcher named Scott E. Kern, M.D. published one of those grouchfestos about how scientific trainees these days are lazy and don’t work enough at the bench. Of course normally these types just content themselves with a letter to their lab which occasionally, hilariously hits the Intertoobs for everyone’s enjoyment. Of course, these screeds are almost always dripping with the privilege of having been a trainee at a time far removed from the present. A time when a single scientist’s salary supported a family life and the American Dream, when female spouses were much more likely to pick up the slack on the homefront, when it was acceptable to be an out-of-touch Dad because PraiseTheLord this science stuff was….important!
There is another angle to this story and it has to do with worker protections. I’ll direct you to this excellent reminder of why we have labor laws that protect all of us from the completely obvious logic that we should work 80 hrs a week at our jobs, whatever they may be.

Let us return to the days before May of 1918. Young children can be trained to run gels and staff the centrifuges of our nation’s cancer research centers. Piecework and child labor made this nation strong once before. Let them be wielded once more as mighty weapons in the War on Cancer. A beneficial side effect is that many children, like the slate pickers, will likely be exposed to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, since the little dickens just aren’t always so careful and clever as they think they are. So they can work for us while simultaneously serving as de facto research subjects, and think of the cost savings with that kind of vertical integration!

This brings me back to the fact that a couple of commenters have been going at it in the comments here this week over whether Americans are lazy and deserve to be outpaced by eager beaver immigrants.
Well, turns out the idea of being overworked is as American as apple pie.


According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.

This analysis couldn’t possible apply to St. Kern’s screed, could it?
Someone is profiting, it just isn’t the average postdoctoral trainee in American labs.
Is it the cancer victim that is profiting? or is it the PI who heads a large lab group that is profiting from the overworked scientific trainee?