Really, first there was the diatribe of one D. Noonan that kept giving and giving and giving. And seriously, people, you need to comment and remain engaged. Some clown wants to publish his rant in

…ASBMB Today, the monthly news magazine for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (

Rumor has it that this is being passed around as if it represents the will of the damn people, or some such nonsense. And these diatribes from left field have a way of being used to support existing agendas at the NIH. Your voices of reason need to be heard so make sure to comment over at Rock Talk.
Oh, and go read Odyssey’s comment on mid-late career folks who simply will not listen to anyone about the quality or importance of their research programs.
Meet you back here after the jump…

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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.

David Kroll had a recent post up at Take as Directed that discussed matters related to Hermitage’s post on the Academia Ghetto. In the course of his musings, Kroll mentioned this post of mine which he found to be related. So, here ya go.

This post originally appeared April 28, 2008.
The irrepressible PhysioProf had a recent post pointing out, among other things, that women had motivation to blog pseudonymously in part because of a certain species of stalker-commenter. In the discussion I arrived back at a more traditional topic for women in science careers:

when Abel says:

I have learned so much from people like FSP, MsPhD, Zuska, et al., that we have a long way to go in rehabilitating or eliminating fascist, racist, sexist men.

and Dr. Jekyll says:

Bravo for standing up for women,

I’m starting to get a little WTF myself. Is it really so rare for men to vocally stand up for women? rare for them to ask “wtf? where are the women on this symposium slate? why aren’t we interviewing any women?”. really so rare for them to say “um, colleague-dude, that comment really wasn’t cool.”
is it really so rare?

Many women chimed in with “yes” in the comments, for the most part kindly leaving unspoken “you irredeemable doofus! although one did question my terrestrial attachment. Dr. Jekyll and/or Mrs. Hyde went so far as to take in up in a post.

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I had no idea.
Many of us PIs in the US are used to trying to suss out, hopefully subtly, whether or not potential postdocs who are approaching us are US citizens.
This is not because we are all jingoistic bigots, it is rather because the NIH NRSA training grant (institutional or individual) requires that supported trainees

must be a citizen or a non-citizen national of the United States or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence

So if a potential postdoc qualified for the NRSA, there is at least the possibility of landing NIH support for the person’s stipend.
Conversely the thinking is that a non-qualifying person would be more limited in the types of additional support that are available.
Well a kind reader has alerted me to the F05 International Neuroscience Fellowship announcement which has been around at least since 2006. The purpose?

The goal of the International Neuroscience Fellowship (INF) is to advance the training of qualified foreign neuroscientists and clinicians at the early or mid-career level, by enhancing their basic, translational or clinical research skills in a research setting in the United States (U.S.). This program aims to strengthen the intellectual capital of neuroscience research in international institutions. Awardees are expected to pursue future independent and productive careers, which stimulate research in the neurosciences on a global scale.
Eligible individual applicants include non-immigrant foreign scientists at the early or mid-career level.

Sweet! NIH fellowships for foreign postdocs. wait, what about that tricky language about the host countries having to be sufficiently disadvantaged?

“All applicants must be from a low- to middle-income country based on Gross National Income per capita classified by the World Bank

As my correspondent notes: “Scroll down to “lower middle income countries”. Note the presence of both China and India on that list.“.
Well, all good then, amirite?
I mean c’mon, don’t be worried domestic postdocs. After all

All applicants must have a doctoral or equivalent degree, and an endorsement from their home institution, with a guaranteed appointment upon completion of the fellowship.

What could go wrong?

Say what?

For example, Paul would slash funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 28 percent and for the National Institutes of Health by 37 percent. (An ounce of prevention might be worth a pound of cure but I guess we’re not paying for either one.)

Surely I heard that one wrong.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES…………..$26,510,000,000. (26%)
Notes: FDA is cut by $230,000,000; Indian Health Service is cut by $650 million; CDC is cut by $1.17 billion; NIH by $5.8 billion.

And Sen Paul’s overview [PDF].

More thoughts on Professor Noonan’s lengthy criticism of the current state of NIH extramural research funding.
Realizing that not all aspiring scientists have what it takes to compete in this business, and recognizing that there needs to be a winnowing process at some point in the matriculation of an aspiring academic researcher, NIH has taken it upon itself to make this at the competitive renewal stage rather than the traditional initial funding stage. In doing this they have taken a substantial portion of an ever diminishing pool of funds for competitive renewals and established investigator grants, and thrown them into a large assortment of new investigator awards and special projects. What this results in is a very limited pool of remaining funds being competed for by a very large pool of independent investigators that includes Nobel Laureates, National Academy Members, research institute scientists and academic scientists. Unfortunately, the vast majority of academic scientists, with their teaching responsibilities and small lab operations, are relegated to the very little that is left after the funding initiatives and Wal-Mart operations have captured their piece of the pie.

“their piece”?

Says it all, doesn’t it? That and the part about the winnowing process being at the initial funding stage. BS. Look, perhaps it is true that once upon a time anyone who managed to land a grant and then pretty much had a pulse could keep getting renewed. And now it is a little harder.

But the entry card for starting scientists is no easier. Every bit of demographic and funding success data supports this. So the notion that there is a flood of easy-street new appointees competing for Established investigator’s private funding pool is a bit ridiculous.

More than likely these poor Established investigator’s would not be competitive for *jobs*, never mind NIH grants, if they had faced the same competitive environment our postdocs face today.

Maybe people like Professor Noonan should be grateful for the easy run they had because of circumstances, not intrinsic worthiness. And then, you know, STFU about “their” reserved pool of sinecure funding, and how “unqualified” reviewers are robbing them of it.

I shit you not. All scientific like.

lekking is relatively uncommon and mainly confined to birds – although some fish and insects do it. In a lek, basically, a large group of eligible and horny bachelors get together in the same place, fairly close to each other. They then each do some kind of individual (although, rarely it can be coordinated) mating display. They may show impressive feathers, or brightly colored throat sacs…They may call out, do an ornate dance, jump up and down, or even jostle or fight each other. Their main goal is to show that they are the biggest, strongest, most healthy males in the group…
In any case, by whatever definition of sexiness this particular species uses, the females in the area all gather around and watch the males in an attempt to determine who they should mate with.

Or maybe it was football and cheerleaders. Something like that.

Scientific collaborations, like relationships, have their ups and downs. Sometimes, the douchenozzle lets you down. But you know what?


This is for one of my blog peeps. This is totes how I picture you as a scientist. 🙂

A lengthy comment on the new blog of the head of the Office of Extramural Research at the NIH is an absolute goldmine. One of the specific proposals is that the NIH should now have a special initiative to fund grants for investigators who have previously held NIH awards but do not currently hold NIH funding.

Create funding vehicles that emphasize funding of smaller research operations…As done with the New Investigators, create a category of “Unfunded Established Investigators” and fund this category in the 25-30% range.

No offense but this bloody well already exists.
1) When they were using the R56 Bridge mechanism liberally, I seemed to notice that it was going preferentially to established investigators. You know, the long time buddies of Program staff who just happened to be hitting a dry spot.
2) When the squeeze came down around 2006 or so, I had conversations (Hi Ed!) with more than one PO in which they made it overwhelmingly clear they were all about “saving” their established investigators who were (allegedly) “going to have to close their labs”. My point that these folks had hard money jobs with tenure and were not at the same risk as newly minted Assistant Professors fell on deaf ears, I can tell you. As did my points about so what if they can’t compete, what about those of us who ‘should’ be just hitting our stride who fully deserve the multiple awards if we can successfully compete for fundable scores.
3) We’ve talked several times about the psychology of the study section and the way people are biased in ways that do not follow the strictest assessment of the merits of an application. It is a human endeavor and it is simply ignorant to pretend human judges are ‘unbiased’, or ever could be. One of the biases is that experienced investigators are more like the reviewers and therefore the reviewer sympathies are going to be with their generational peers, not the n00bs.
So no, I don’t favor a creation of a special category of help for experienced investigators who run out of funding. Yes, even though that would in theory be to my own benefit some day.

Found this fascinating suggestion over at the new blog of the head of the NIH Office of Extramural Research:

Place a diminishing formula of indirect costs on multiple grants (e.g. 100% for the first grant, 50% for the 2nd and 25% for the 3rd). This is by far the most abused aspect of NIH/DOD funding. Everyone knows that 99% of the investigators receiving a second and even a 3rd NIH grant receive little to no additional research space or administrative help. Nor is their usage of utilities exceptionally higher.

…ain’t that the truth*.

That is but a snippet so go read the whole exposition typed by one D. Noonan.

*of course the local University is going to argue that their IDC calculation is not really a per-grant or per-direct-cost-dollar calculation but that it includes this notion that some of their labs have more than one grant…

We live in interesting times, those of us in NIH-funded science careers, do we not? I’m sure there has always been change that looked dramatic but still. There is a lot on our plates.

There are other factors, many of them with far reaching implications.
The one on my list for today is the individual postdoctoral fellowship, the NIH’s NRSA / F32 award.

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I’ve been reading a little chatter from a few newish looking PI types today on the perennial topic of lab size. It provides a nice counter to a recent post at the Sb DM and a note today from Mike the Mad Biologist.

The most defined statement was to the effect that “we can all agree” that 4 R01 awards (concurrently) is excessive. The corollary is that science would be so much more efficient and productive if individual PIs were capped somewhere south of 4 R01s.

I’ll let the comments run for a bit but I have some woodshed time for the n00b PIs saved up for later.