NIDA and NIAAA Kill the K05 Senior Scientist Research Award

June 26, 2012

Per NOT-DA-12-016,

NIDA and NIAAA will not accept any K05 applications beyond the November 2012/ January 2013 receipt dates.

For those unfamiliar, the latest PA-12-148 FOA for the K05 is here and the purpose is listed as:

The purpose of the Senior Scientist Research (K05) is intended to provide protected time for outstanding senior scientists who have demonstrated a sustained high level of productivity conducting biomedical research relevant to the scientific mission of the appropriate institute to focus on their research and to provide mentoring of new investigators.

The DM Executive Summary is, “Salary support for BigSchwangingTypes to relieve the burden on their research awards, covered by a faked-up need for buyout from local Institutional responsibilities with regard to teaching and service“.

The junior faculty summary is, “What another total scam by which the GoodOldBoyes/Girlz extract yet MORE money out of the NIH grant system!

Note: If it were ever possible, you are damn right I would have applied for one of these in a heartbeat and I’m bitter that it was never possible for me to get one of these schweeeeet deals :-).

So when I first saw this notice I just thought “Good!” and moved on.


A reader of the blog wrote to ask for my take on this and further observed:

I am curious how this will impact these senior “NIDA” investigators and their current/future grant applications? If these K05 scientist now have to put more of their effort on their NIDA grants, what impact will that have on their grants, their trainees who are funded off their grants, etc.

I guess I am a little shocked, and happy, that they are finally sticking it to the senior scientists a little. This may indirectly help out us younger scientists?

First of all, I should make clear I have no insight into why NIDA and NIAAA have chosen to dismantle this program at this time. Haven’t heard any rumours about it at all.

Charging on over to RePORTER I find that there are only 33 K05s funded between the two institutes (13 NIAAA) at present. This is not a tremendously large number. The total costs seem to run from about $120K per year up to about $250K…over a R03 equivalent on the low end and we’re talking R21 territory for the bigger ones. I guess 30-50 more of the smaller R grants funded every year would be a good improvement.

Alternately, they could use these to offset one-module reductions for a larger number of R01 apps, or get perhaps 15 more R01s funded entirely. NIDA has about 90 new R01s funded in FY2012 (to date) and they funded about 122 new R01s in FY2011. Therefore, adding 10-15 more is a significant improvement. This could very well be the only reason. They are searching under the couch cushions for a way, any way, to keep the R-mech success rates up.

Getting back to the emailer’s suggestion that this is a way to stick it to the senior investigators….well, that isn’t quite clear. The senior investigator salaries have to come from somewhere. And as I alluded to, I think the whole idea of buying out local institutional service time was a bit of a sham. The K05 serves, in part, to relieve the burden on the PIs’ R grants. If they didn’t have the K05 buyout, they’d be looking to land another R grant to get the same percentage of their salary covered.

They will return to doing so (and here we have a nebulous, fluid population “they” which is made up of the current awardees and the next set of potential future K05 awardees). Putting in more R or P mechanism proposals that will compete with, you guessed it, everyone else. Including the junior investigators.

So it isn’t the case that this magically frees up money for the younger set to obtain. It throws the money, yes, but also the Greybearded and Bluehaired Professors back into the R-mech pool.

No Responses Yet to “NIDA and NIAAA Kill the K05 Senior Scientist Research Award”

  1. I assumed this was nothing more than a regrouping in anticipation of the merger.


  2. arrzey Says:

    At the risk of getting lynched (by young faculty), there is a group of not-BSD’s who benefit from (potentially need?) this kind of award. Faculty (even PhD’s) in clinical depts (esp. those who are not MD’s) need to carry 100% of their salaries. They may or may not have PI status. Sometimes they are Wives with Ph.D’s who are in entirely soft-money positions (and, at another time, we can debate the cultural implications & living with (possibly poor) choices made 20 years ago). It’s not always possible to maintain 2-3 R01’s to account for that much salary.

    Let me suggest that there is a perception bias in how younger faculty perceive NIH & funding to the greybeard/bluehair population. We all notice the BigSchwangingTypes, its part of the phenotype – the need to be noticed. However, ego correlates imperfectly with quality of science, and not all GB/BH’s deserve to have their funding yanked to enable the entitled generation to get “their fair share”.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    arrzey, EVERYONE “needs” this type of award. That’s the point. Unless you are in an institution that doesn’t permit any salary to be paid from the Federal grants, then you can benefit from an “extra” way to get your salary covered outside of normal research grant mechanisms. Not everyone can realistically compete for them though.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    I assumed this was nothing more than a regrouping in anticipation of the merger.

    I thought of that but then, why now? They don’t really have the integration plan yet so why do it bit by bit. No, I think there is something special about the K05.

    If we see more of these discontinuations roll out over the summer then sure, this was just the start of the merger.


  5. arrzey Says:

    Fair enough, DM. I was trying to talk about depts or positions without hard faculty lines, where everything is soft money. At least where I am (Medical School), there is a huge difference between basic sci depts (with salary lines, often based on teaching) and clinical depts (where you sing for your supper every night).


  6. drugmonkey Says:

    Yes, I understand that the pressure on soft-money folks is very, very high. And that the relief of winning a K05 is correspondingly a tastier looking carrot on the end of the stick. Yet I seem to see the K05s going to people who are already very successful at winning R01s and it has always looked like “rich-get-even-richer” to me.

    …of course I am not in their shoes and I’m sure they would cry me a river about how their appearance of “very successful” is invalid.


  7. Grumble Says:

    “I guess I am a little shocked, and happy, that they are finally sticking it to the senior scientists a little. This may indirectly help out us younger scientists?”

    All very nice, but junior scientists eventually become senior scientists, and now future senior scientists won’t have this option.

    DM is right that all this will do is increase the number of R applications from people who otherwise would have paid their salaries with K05s. So if NIDANIAAA doesn’t use the savings to augment the R programs, but instead applied it to some other stupid focused programmatic “enhancement”, the net result for most NIDANIAAA-funded scientists will be a lower grant success rate.


  8. Neuro-conservative Says:

    It is worth noting that this decision leaves NCI as the only IC providing K05’s.


  9. Drugmonkey Says:

    Good p0int N-c. I was trying to figure out if the other brain institutes still supported this and was running into what I though were RePORTER problems. apparently it was just that they haven’t had them for a good while (if ever?).


  10. Neuro-conservative Says:

    NIMH discontinued the K05 many years ago. Pretty sure NINDS never participated.


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