Four

February 7, 2011

Oh my. Has it really been four years?
And really, we are still talking about the same stuff round about these parts, are we not?

Mozart would have been dead for 7 years…

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.

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21 Responses to “Four”

  1. miko Says:

    PIs use money to pay for postdocs to do research. There is not enough money (or jobs) for the vast majority of those postdocs to then spend the next 30 years paying more postdocs do research. What’s confusing about this? How could shifting around NIH codewords possibly change it?

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  2. Odyssey Says:

    Well congratulations on the four years! Here’s to many more.

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  3. expat group leader Says:

    To be fair, the life expectancy in France and England was only about 35 in 1750. Therefore, most people, including Mozart, would not have lived long enough to reach the average age of first R01 granting 🙂
    Also, have you ever seen Mozart’s childhood home in Salzburg? In fact, his living conditions were quite good.

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  4. mikka Says:

    “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.”
    I would like some hard data about this last part because it is of vital interest to me.
    But I doubt anyone is surveying hiring committees.

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  5. Physician Scientist Says:

    Mikka-
    At our top 20 medical school, we do not hire anyone without substantial pre-existing funding (K99, Burroughs, etc).

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  6. At our top 20 medical school, we do not hire anyone without substantial pre-existing funding (K99, Burroughs, etc).

    This is the stupidest fucken thinge I’ve ever heard. So some brilliant post-doc with two Cell papers from a Howard Hughes lab who didn’t bother applying for that kind of shitte doesn’t get an interview? Man, you people are fucken stupid. Good for us, though. We’ll continue to snarf these people up, and continue to remain substantially higher than “top 20”. Fucken imbeciles.

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  7. miko Says:

    “top 20 medical school”
    LOL
    I guess I’ll apply for jobs in the top 19.

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  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    I would like some hard data about this last part because it is of vital interest to me.
    In lieu of that we have random-Internet-klown anecdata. In the comments on that thread and a Twitter exchange that followed, there were some people saying their departments didn’t care, some that their departments were requiring funding.
    Nothing really changes. It is still a good idea for a postdoc to try to do very attractive science and to land a transition type of mechanism if possible. Every relative advantage counts. It always has. It always will.
    CPP is correct in that those institutions that manage to save their startup-package-money as late in the game as possible will have the best picks of the litter. So when funding eases up a bit (if it does) they will be poised to do better than average at acquiring funding. It is called “investment”, yo.

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  9. those institutions that manage to save their startup-package-money as late in the game as possible

    “manage to save”
    “as late in the game as possible”
    Dude, what the fucke does this gibberish even mean?

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  10. jekka Says:

    To mean the implication is that these institutions that require tons o’ funding are hurting more than others, and probably can’t afford your salary or much startup. Anyone know what the offers look like for the chosen few?

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  11. whimple Says:

    So some brilliant post-doc with two Cell papers from a Howard Hughes lab who didn’t bother applying for that kind of shitte doesn’t get an interview?
    Uh… extramural funding is “that kind of shitte”? The brilliant post-doc should be smart enough to realize the money is what we want.

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  12. lamar Says:

    no I want to turn this shit around and say to the institution: “If you don’t have the confidence or sheer competence in your shaky little program to adequately support new investigators, then F you, I’m looking elsewhere. I can smell your weakness; your hiring committee smells like scared little turd-stained infants.”

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  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    That’s nice, lamar, but if the trends advance to more and more Universities, eventually you have little choice. Unless of course you are one of CPP’s rock starts.
    This is not substantially different from soft-money versus hard-money jobs. There are tons of soft-money job investigators now, I don’t know about the relative proportion over time but it simply has to have accelerated over the past 30 years. One institution does it, then the next, then the next. Partial soft-money too. Eventually it becomes the industry standard practice.
    Or the contingent-upon-funding job offer.It was *really* late in the game that NIH PO types were sniffing that “the deal” (job offer contingent on funding) just shouldn’t be happening. well, it was and I know many colleagues that are now quite successful scientists.
    Question is whether the practice of essentially requiring funding in advance will become a default expectation. I’ve seen one department go from hiring asst profs straight out of grad school (no postdoc) to only taking on already-professorial-rank new hires. Over about a 15-20 year interval (yes, this dept was a late holdout for one considered to be somewhere top 10-20, sometimes top 10, for their program in the US over decades). I don’t know if this dept is on the cutting edge or swirling the drain. I suspect that the trends will show it is just one of a very large pack moving in an inevitable direction.

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  14. Odyssey Says:

    Or the contingent-upon-funding job offer.
    Kind like of tenure-track.
    What concerns me a little about “requiring” funding to get a job is that the K99 etc. awards haven’t been around long enough to know if they’ll be a good predictor of future success. They’re certainly better than the old R29’s, but does anyone have a feel for how K99 awardees applying for R01’s are being viewed on study section?

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  15. They’re certainly better than the old R29’s, but does anyone have a feel for how K99 awardees applying for R01’s are being viewed on study section?

    In my experience, their status as a K99/R00 awardee per se only has a pretty marginal influence on the Investigator criterion score. And I don’t think I have ever heard it raised in the discussion. More important is the effect of the extra start-up R00 money (institutions are theoretically barred from decreasing start-up packages to offset the R00 funds) on the ability to ramp up the new experimentally.

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  16. DrugMonkey Says:

    institutions are theoretically barred from decreasing start-up packages to offset the R00 funds
    HAHAHA. You know when I first saw that provision I called bullshit and I am still curious how in the name of St Noonan it is even possible to assess this. Every negotiation differs right? Within institution, department, the type of requirement for a given lab is not going to be the same as for the prior hire or the following hire, right? Across institution? forgeddaboutit.
    How about it K99/R00-ers? What BS did the program officers accept as being evidence that your startup was not being reduced?

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  17. mikka Says:

    About the “contingent-upon-funding job offer”, isn’t this explicitly forbidden in the R00? quick googling offers the line “Stipends are not provided as a condition of employment”. Or does this line refer to something else?
    I know that this is really hard to enforce, but if this becomes widespread PO’s will at least notice?

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  18. pinus Says:

    program officer looked at offer and said that it seemed appropriate.

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  19. DrugMonkey Says:

    program officer looked at offer and said that it seemed appropriate.
    See? That is absolute and total bullshit. At the very least, the PO should have to look at all of the startup packages made in the last 5-10 *years* from the hiring institution to get an idea of what the trends were in terms of startup for Assistant Professors that are vaguely doing the same stuff that the K99/R00 person is being offered.

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  20. the PO should have to look at all of the startup packages made in the last 5-10 *years* from the hiring institution

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  21. Nothing really changes. It is still a good idea for a postdoc to try to do very attractive science and to land a transition type of mechanism if possible. Every relative advantage counts. It always has.

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