The NIH Jobs Plan

September 12, 2011

The NIH budget, $30Billion in round numbers, runs something on the order of $100 per taxpayer.

One five year R01 is about $2M, including overhead. This provides about 1.5-2 jobs on the direct science front. Also small fractions of the effort of a number of administrative and support staff (from housecleaning to security to animal care staff….). I don’t know how this compares with other stimulus proposals. But I do know that if I land a grant, I need to create a job and fill it. Or at the very least I avoid laying someone off. Yes, during this economic downturn the award of NIH grants for which I am the PI has resulted in the employment of the previously unemployed.

If one wanted to fund salary lines directly through fellowships, $58Million would buy about 1,000 junior scientists. Grad students or nondegreeseeking techs, if that was your desire.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a makework government program which happened to leave a durable legacy. I was just enjoying some CCC built trails and park facilities this past summer, as it happens.

The impact of scientific advance is likely to leave an even more durable public legacy. That however is bonus. The real focus should be on employing people.

Increasing the NIH budget can help with that.

for any new to this blog, see Disclaimer. I am an interested party. But then so are the denizen’s of Wall Street, GM line workers, renewable energy folks and anyone else advocating for their business to enjoy federal stimulus.

No Responses Yet to “The NIH Jobs Plan”

  1. juniorprof Says:

    I’m on board for this plan! We should all be mentioning this when we write our Congressperson about the importance of NIH funding. I know from first hand experience that at least some of them (well, their staff) find this to be a compelling argument that they do not often consider.


  2. kevin. Says:

    The unemployment rate of the college-educated is 4.3%. Spending money to stabilize infrastructure, extending unemployment benefits, or job re-training would probably more effective than scientists, tubes, and mice.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    A CCC leaning plan on the fellowships/salary line side could possibly make technicians out of people w/o Bachelor’s degrees, Kevin.


  4. becca Says:

    DM- Since sales tax et al don’t go into the NIH budget, is it fair to say there are really 300 million taxpayers?
    Just saying. It’s still a bargain at $200/taxpayer, and you avoid the argument with the psycho conservatives.

    @Kevin So target folks with AS degrees. This credential inflation in academic science should be fought anyway.
    Also, I suspect that less time invested in training = less angst when the program funding runs out and inevitable career changes occur. Either that, or design the program so that it builds up academic-industry enough that it ultimately gets people at the bench discovering things that can also turn a profit. That’d be a huge win-win for the workers and the economic sector. Although you’d need someone much cleverer than I (or the average NIH funded PI) to figure out how to actually do that with any reasonable efficacy.
    Also, unemployment is 7.3% among college-educated African Americans (compared to 2.5% among college-educated whites). If we can make the funding *permanent* for minorities, it’s probably a great idea. Although in my personal observation, it’s very possible for faculty to fight to get a minority grad student to get the R01 supplement, and then neglect them and underpay them when the money runs out. So I’m not sure how to get around that aspect. People are assholes.


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    becca, my experience is that techs and even undergraduate ~semester lab credit workers gain skills that are desired by biotech and pharma. Over the years I’ve seen some revolving door for career lab techs, going back and forth between companies and academic labs. So in terms of the jobs, we got this covered….


  6. whimple Says:

    It would be an even better American jobs plan, if there were a requirement that Americans were the ones that got hired… Just sayin’


  7. dsks Says:

    “The impact of scientific advance is likely to leave an even more durable public legacy. That however is bonus. The real focus should be on employing people.”

    One’s moral objective may reasonably be to make sure people are employed (only a cynical shit would wish unemployment on anyone), but whenever a policy embraces that objective directly, it always goes tits up and causes more harm that it alleviates. It bodes better for employment when employment is not seen as an end in itself.

    In that regard, the reason that government funding of R&D is good for the economy is that it reduces capital barriers to innovation and creates a highly competitive and innovating private supply chain to support it. This, in turn, creates jobs. Not because of a moral imperative but a practical one, and as such those jobs tend to have staying power, and more importantly tend to involve training that tacks closely to the changing trends (something policy makers cannot predict).

    Government is great at providing support for venture capitalism and giving markets subsequent room to figure out where the jobs are needed and create them. Government is, always has been, and based on current evidence probably always will be, uniformly shit at directly creating jobs through policy decisions.


  8. becca Says:

    whimple- if you make it for below Bachelor’s degrees, the huddled masses on the J-1 visa probably can’t use it. On the other hand, Americans (i.e. people from the Americas) who are not US citizens could use it. Not sure if that would all be good or bad, myself.

    DM- except that biotech and pharma are investing less in research each year. The argument “we can create as many skilled workers as we want, and never worry about their long term job opportunities because industry wants them so badly” is bullpockey, pure and simple. Furthermore it’s bullpokey that just “happens” to serve the interests of the ruling elite and keep the prices of labor as low as possible. Shame on you for even saying that. You should know better.


  9. pablito Says:

    A CCC leaning plan on the fellowships/salary line side could possibly make technicians out of people w/o Bachelor’s degrees.

    I agree that funding the NIH is a good investment and fewer grants awarded will cost people jobs but what type of technicians are you talking about? Our experience indicates that people with less than a bachelor’s degree are not competitive for tech positions involving bench work. For example, we currently have an opening for a Senior Tech (min. requirements: BA + 3 years experience) and 70% of the applicants have a PhD (27 out of 38). It’s sad really.


  10. drugmonkey Says:

    I would prefer to have a technician with several years of experience and prior employer testimonials of excellence than a BA with no experience for some of my openings.

    but we seem to have a bit of disagreement here whether there is a glut of already-trained people (pablito) or lower than average unemployment for the degreed class of folks (kevin).

    Which is it?


  11. becca Says:

    We in the biosciences have a glut of already-trained people who would like to continue working in biosciences. If these people are nonetheless relatively able to get jobs outside of what they were trained in, the unemployment figures still make sense.


  12. DrugMonkey Says:

    Work *preference* seems outside of the main interests of public policy.


  13. becca Says:

    Irrespective of whether you care about the problem pablito described, the problems pablito and kevin have identified are not mutually exclusive.

    I also think it is the concern of public policy to address the broad problem pablito described. Public policy has an interest in helping whole systems that are too large for individuals to control to become more efficient. Right now we have a system in which we have skilled workers who have skills we don’t need. It’s not unique to biosciences. Remember when typing was a marketable skill?

    It is wasteful to train people for things they will never do, if these skills do not help them do other things.

    Most of the growth in the economy will be in jobs that require *some college*. The interests of the public are best served by public policy that encourages workers to get the training in jobs that will be needed.

    Although if those jobs are not, in fact, in biomedical research, then there are better jobs plans possible than #NIHjobsplan.

    (NB- if you would like to get in touch with the folks at Research!America and get together an #NIHjobsplan proposal/petition/email I can send off to my congresscritters, I’ll sign it in a heartbeat. It’s better than a lot of ways the feds wanna spend taxdollars, and it might benefit me personally- bonus! I’m just saying that it might not be ideal from a logical economic standpoint)


  14. kevin. Says:

    “A CCC leaning plan on the fellowships/salary line side could possibly make technicians out of people w/o Bachelor’s degrees, Kevin.”

    I completely agree that experience, interest, and hunger should trump a BA. I just don’t know how often a position with that kind of PI flexibility open up. I guess it really depends on the quality and number of BA level applicants one has.

    I just don’t see the biomedical research enterprise having as much organic growth left in it as other technical fields. Either we’re going to be munching along at the slightly better, kind-of-crappy treatment pace, or we’ll start really knocking out (curing) some diseases. Either way, we’re not going to be building a mouse that will fly us to the moon.

    Having said that, I do heartily endorse heaving shitpiles of money at biotech R&D to work on energy and bio-material-type technologies.


  15. becca Says:

    “Either way, we’re not going to be building a mouse that will fly us to the moon. “
    Wait, we’re not?
    well fuck it then. I’m out.


  16. anon Says:

    Cheer up, becca. You could still genetically reverse-engineer a dinosaur from a chicken.


  17. drugmonkey Says:

    Dsks- when has the US gov made jobs, save for going to war and the CCC?

    Or did you mean various austrofrench gov’ts?


  18. drugmonkey Says:

    Nobody sees the “organic growth” until it happens.


  19. DM 2012. Will CPP be your running mate?


  20. drugmonkey Says:

    CPp is more like Sec of State material.


  21. becca Says:

    @anon- awwwshucks you know just how to cheer me up!

    “CPp is more like Sec of State material.”
    That’d be a good way to create jobs by getting us into unnecessary wars.
    I’d think Secretary of Staff (i.e. the Rham Emanuel job). It’s well suited to his vocab.


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