As we’ve discussed before, the change to permit only a single revision of a NIH grant has thrown a lot of uncertainty into the extramural research force. Although one obvious solution would be to just submit another “new” grant that is a thinly disguised re-working of the prior unfunded version, the CSR of the NIH is on to us. They have been working diligently to convince us that they will weed out such dodges with extreme prejudice.
I have just noticed that they have an extensive description of their screening process up on a web page. Complete with some examples and scenarios.
Key things that caught my eye include:

Which Applications Are Problems?
· Applications submitted as new (A0) but appear to be resubmissions (A1)

Yikes. So even if you get triaged and have criterion scores in the 7s and 8s, you can’t just start over with an A0? The decision isn’t up to you. You have to resubmit.
More after the jump…

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Jennifer Rohn has a nice bit up at the Nature News entitled “Give postdocs a career, not empty promises” which overviews an issue of scientific careerism that is dear to my heart.

Consider the scientific community as an ecosystem, and it is easy to see why postdocs need another path. The system needs only one replacement per lab-head position, but over the course of a 30–40-year career, a typical biologist will train dozens of suitable candidates for the position. The academic opportunities for a mature postdoc some ten years after completing his or her PhD are few and far between.

The bit is an expansive argument for the problem, no doubt, and Rohn carefully outlines the need for something else in the nature of careers for doctoral-trained scientists. Something other than professorial rank, lab-head (aka PI) positions as the end game. She makes this rather explicit:

I also propose a solution: we should professionalize the postdoc role and turn it into a career rather than a scientific stepping stone.

I ran across this on the Twitts via laudatory forwards from Ed Yong and David Dobbs earlier today. Then some jerk rather snarkily observed that : “when I’ve made that proposal on blog, at least I’ve put up a mechanism, rather than pipe dream…”

What I meant by this is that the Rohn piece leaves us hanging. It is all well and good to describe the problem. But in some senses this is an obvious problem. It is discussed endlessly. The solution, some career-type position at less-than-PI level, is not a flash of unique brilliance. What the real question is, in my view, is how our business could be tweaked to accomplish this goal. How can we create these positions within the Universities in our respective countries and under the general funding mechanisms available to us?

I have a specific proposal in mind that could easily operate within the US NIH-funded atmosphere. I probably first alluded to my solution here at the old blog (before DrugMonkey sold out and went all corporate) and most recently in a comment over at the OER blog. As far as I can recall (ok, Google), the fullest description of my proposal was in an entry that I’m reposting, below. My point for today is not that this is the correct solution, rather that it is a solution. A specific proposal that could be acted upon. Perhaps you would like to supply similar proposals, large or small, that could accomplish this goal which has been described so nicely by Jennifer Rohn.

This entry first appeared Aug 6, 2008.


A Policy Forum piece by Michael S. Teitelbaum in Science opines at length on the so-called “structural disequilibria” in biomedical research [h/t: writedit]. This is mostly a recitation of all of the familiar NIH funding woes (including reference to the NIH budget undoubling analysis); if not entirely novel in theme, at least there is a new focus here since Teitelbaum is arguing that until serious changes in the structure of the biomedical research/funding enterprise are put into place we will continue to experience boom/bust cycles no matter what the NIH budget may be. Much is familiar so your eyes may have glazed over after the first or second sub-sections. I wish to draw your attention to something interesting Teitelbaum mentioned right at the end.

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