A full modular, $250K per year NIH grant doesn't actually pay for itself.

March 11, 2013

In response to this recent comment from Dave,

You need people to do the work, but you don’t need AS MANY. No…way. Not in a million years. Give me a break DM. You know this…as well as I do.

which he made as an elaboration on this comment

The role of the NIH is to fund science, not prop up the entire community by providing them with salaries. I see way to many R01s with multiple, multiple techs, co-PIs and post-docs that do zero work on the grant in question. The grant is used purely for salaries and bennies. I think that is wrong, personally.

I had this response:

I do. In fact I need more. It is my considered, and by now relatively experienced, view that for may types of research (read: the ones I am most familiar with) the $250K full modular grant does not pay for itself. In the sense that there is a certain expectation of productivity, progress, etc on the part of study sections and Program that requires more contribution than can be afforded (especially when you put it in terms of 40 hr work weeks) within the budget. Trainees on individual fellowships or training grants, undergrads working for free or work study discount, cross pollination with other grants in the lab (which often leads to whinging like your comment), pilot awards for small bits, faculty hard money time…all of these sources of extra effort are frequently poured into a one-R01 project. I think they are, in essence, necessary.

How about it, y’all? Do you see the amount of people-effort that can be afforded* within $250,000 in direct costs as covering the scope of work that is expected as reasonable output in your fields of interest? Be sure to specify the approximate contribution levels of PI, postdocs, grads, undergrads and techs and use appropriate salary ranges.

Current NRSA scale is here and salary cap is $179,700. You’ll have to look up your own benefits rates (20-25% of salary wouldn’t be that unusual) and local technician salary scales.

There are links on the idea of “productivity” under a grant award at the end of this post, the scatterplot posted by Jeremy Berg some time ago is highly relevant.
__
*don’t forget to add benefits on top of your salary estimate.

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90 Responses to “A full modular, $250K per year NIH grant doesn't actually pay for itself.”

  1. Bill Hooker Says:

    20-25% of salary wouldn’t be that unusual

    And you suckers don’t even blink. NIH Syndrome is essentially the same thing as Stockholm Syndrome.

    In the real world, salary on-costs are 30% and up. A few quick links:

    http://www.npost.com/blog/2009/03/30/fully-baked-the-real-cost-of-adding-a-new-employee/
    http://www.bls.gov/ro7/ro7ecec.htm
    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecec.pdf
    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecec.nr0.htm

    Like


  2. Fringes at 20-25%????? At MRU’s its 35-40%. I had a colleague at what I thought was a lower cost of living institution (midwest), and her fringes came in at 36%. And at my MRU… they get around the 8% for post-docs by “adding on” other costs at fixed amounts (health, etc) that effectively bump up pd fringes to 12%. And… if you have a sub-contract, the first 25K of overhead on the sub comes in as direct costs.

    As for your question: of course you can’t do it on modular. Undergrads for credit, rotating grad students, postdocs on other sources. Physiology exps with living, breathing animals (as opposed to bags of cells or bags of genes) can require 4-6 pairs of hands just to collect the data.

    In my experience, its not that the R01’s are funding a bunch of other projects, but a bunch of other sources are funding the R01’s.

    Like

  3. Joe Says:

    You need 350k, or you need to get the grad student a training grant slot and the post-doc needs an NRSA.

    Like

  4. dr_mho Says:

    ok, here’s an estimate, with some assumptions:
    – I have other funds for covering the rest of my salary
    – R01 yields 3 substantial papers – 1 per aim – an amount of work which, with a lot of luck, could be completed by a student and a postdoc, with tech support

    Tech (genotyping, making solutions, etc): $40k + 50% benefits = $60k
    Postdoc (do 50% of the experiments): $40k + 30% benefits = $52k
    Grad student (do 50% of the experiments): $32k + 30% benefits = $41k
    PI (50% effort): $50k + 30% benefits = $65k
    Supplies + mice for one year’s experiments: $60k

    Total: $278k

    Like

  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    Is that 3 papers per year? Or per 5 years???? 🙂

    Like

  6. Dave Says:

    PI @ 50% effort? Really? I thought asking for that amount raised a few eyebrows at the NIH.

    Like


  7. Sounds like one per aim. This does not count as adequate productivity in the day of 6% paylines.

    Like

  8. Dave Says:

    This does not count as adequate productivity in the day of 6% paylines.

    Really? Fucking hell.

    Like

  9. Grumble Says:

    I totally agree, DM. Look at it this way: if a grad student or post-doc applies for a NRSA and the PI doesn’t have an R01, the trainee’s grant is automatically laughed out of town. And R01s are no longer funded at $250k/year, but at <$200k, which nowadays is not enough to pay for enough hands to complete a reasonable 5 year project. So having an R01 is not actually a grant of sufficient funds to complete the proposed work. It's only the beginning – an opportunity to try to extract enough money from the NIH to do so.

    Sisyphus comes to mind.

    Like

  10. dr_mho Says:

    meant 3 total (1 per aim), this is pretty minimalist. got my first R01 at 40% effort, rounded up for simplicity, but if it’s less, you gotta get that money from somewhere…

    Like

  11. drugmonkey Says:

    Ouch Grumble. But you have a point.

    Like

  12. drugmonkey Says:

    A grant with only 3 papers is going to have a tough time at renewal time unless they are in C, N and S.

    Like

  13. pinus Says:

    when you say ‘full modular’ do you mean 250K a year, or the 200 or so you end up with after cuts?

    Like

  14. pinus Says:

    dr. mho’s #’s are pretty close to reality, although what you have to do is fund the tech at 50%, and split them with another grant. synergy!

    Like

  15. drugmonkey Says:

    Regarding PI effort…..do you really imagine a PI only spends one day per week doing tasks related to one R01? And this is *good* oh ye that want to reduce PI salary support on grants?

    Like

  16. Grumble Says:

    One other thing to consider is that science take a lot of person-hours because guess what? Shit messes up. Experiments fail. Great ideas turn out to be hard to translate into good experiments. Good experiments turn up results that aren’t quite what you expected, and so either aren’t publishable or will require a zillion extra experiments to flesh out. There’s a LOT of uncertainty, and the nice all-moving-parts-work-together pictures we pain in grant applications are just so much bullshit when compared to the real world.

    That, IME, is the real reason why it’s darn near to be as productive on a single R01 as required to renew the grant.

    Like

  17. Physician Scientist Says:

    dr_mho-

    Your numbers are bad. I have a very small mouse colony (150 cages) and my mouse costs are $42K per year. In a good month, we spend $6K on supplies. A bad month is $13K. $60K/year for mice and supplies isn’t realistic.

    Like

  18. pinus Says:

    60K a year for a grant is realistic, if you average 10K a month, that is roughly two grants.

    Like

  19. dr_mho Says:

    for fucks sake, it was a rough estimate…
    currently, my lab spends about $5k per month on supplies and $5k per month on mice. clearly, this is considerably more than a modular R01 can handle…

    Like

  20. Dr Strange Says:

    Nothing really to add. Don’t care to do the math, but I’m sure my preliminary data cost about as much to generate as I have received in the resulting grants.

    Like


  21. Alright. All my…ideas have panned out in the German system for sacrificing mice- and are about to be punished in the PLoS system. (Which is, ahhh. Interesting. And yes this does include human tumor data. Fuuuuuun- right? No, not really. Well. Unless you enjoy that sort of thing, heh.)

    I hate to say this. But. Maybe the USA system for ethical approval could- ah- stand to mimic the highly standardized German one…? (Which by the way is super-quick? Ah to be honest– maybe slightly too quick? Actually, maybe not for established experiments? Sigh.. I don’t know….headdesk.)

    But- I do feel money could be saved somewhere. Probably not where anyone desires, though….

    Like

  22. dr_mho Says:

    and of course, 3 papers total is not good, I was just being conservative…

    Like


  23. @physician scientist we all have different model systems, different supplies, and for me, different species. I build my own electrodes. The wire costs about 10K a reel (which will last 12-18 mo, depending on badly the trainees fuck up). Sometimes my animals are <1$ per cage, and sometimes they are primates that are 5K apiece. To doubt someone's costs without knowing exactly what they are doing is not wise.

    Like

  24. Pinko Punko Says:

    Current NIGMS modular is at 75% of 250K/year (188K). And that 188K is being funded at 90% with continuing resolution. So please tell me exactly what is going on an R01 for 160K a year? Study section loves saying “this budget is too high, bust it to a modular”- there is no such thing as a 250K/year R01 in NIGMS, unless it was a non-modular budgeted for 370K direct. This grant will not pay for the productivity expected in most study sections.

    Like

  25. Dave Says:

    A grant with only 3 papers is going to have a tough time at renewal time unless they are in C, N and S

    From a single modular grant? ROFL!

    Like

  26. Everybody be cool Says:

    Obama’s got it.

    Like

  27. drugmonkey Says:

    Are you starting to see the point then Dave?

    Like

  28. Mike Says:

    Sounds like one per aim. This does not count as adequate productivity in the day of 6% paylines.

    Statements like this are not helpful when talking with such a varied group of people. Standards for sheer number of publications are completely different between immunology and human genetics, for example.

    It always happens, one person says “I think X number of papers is what’s required, based on what I see”, then someone else says “No way! It’s X times 2!”, then someone else says “X times 2? Surely you’re joking, no grant gets funded with that sort of ‘productivity’.” All the while no indication of which subfield anyone is talking about.

    Like

  29. becca Says:

    Clearly, we need to stop doing research on animals.

    Like

  30. Crystaldoc Says:

    Definitely training grants, foundation grants, fellowships, free labor have to be subsidizing an R01 if it is to have anything like sufficient productivity. Not to mention the importance of a good “environment” in which neighboring labs of complementary expertise can provide free expert input and free special reagents, and institutional center grants support lots of infrastructure and subsidized services.

    At my institution (private med school) fresh techs out of undergrad with no training get 37k + 41% for benefits, fresh postdocs a couple K more. This ramps up fast and PIs do not set the salary scale. My tech of 7 years makes 57k plus 41% benefits. Even if dr_mho has good numbers for year 1, do you replace the whole lab annually? I doubt you would have any productivity or have got the R01 in the first place if so …

    Like


  31. well put Mike.

    Like

  32. whimple Says:

    Do you see the amount of people-effort that can be afforded* within $250,000 in direct costs as covering the scope of work that is expected as reasonable output in your fields of interest?

    Let’s suppose the answer to this question is ‘no’. What then? The NIH has no expectation of reasonable output; that all comes from the study section. That expectation comes from the experience of what previous grantees have delivered given a comparable budget.

    Like

  33. Ola Says:

    Our Dean has a rather amusing boiler-plate face/palm argument along these lines…

    (A) Because not all research funding comes with full indirects (54%), our total recovery on indirects is about 73c on the dollar. So, it actually costs the University (the endowment and the subsidy from clinical enterprise) 27c for every dollar of research funding the faculty brings in.

    (B) You should all be writing and getting more grants.

    Like

  34. dsks Says:

    “Clearly, we need to stop doing research on animals.”

    That’s about the size of it. Either that, or train your animals to replace your grad students/postdocs.

    Like

  35. drugmonkey Says:

    Fields where 3 papers after 5 years gets you renewed are at the far end of the distribution, Mike and Potnia.

    Like

  36. drugmonkey Says:

    Ola- according to administration each and every activity of a University is a loss leader.

    Like

  37. Dave Says:

    Are you starting to see the point then Dave?

    Ha!

    What I am seeing is NIH study section members assigning a paper count/dollar spent. I’m not sure I like that AT ALL. I’m still young and naive I guess, but I still care more about what someone is doing rather than how many LPU papers a lab can get out per dollar they have received.

    In my humble opinion these types of a priori expectations of productivity/dollar are a major part of the problem.

    Like

  38. drugmonkey Says:

    Interesting thought for the overhead geeks-

    If people are 80%ish of the cost of a grant, and benefits rates vary from, say, 25% to 50%……

    The differential in what is being charged to direct costs has to be considered when you are comparing indirects. So if (unlikely, but still) IDC piggie U charges a low fringe rate on salary then consideration of their “greed” needs to be tempered by the understanding that consensus IDC University with 50% fringe rate is getting a covert indirect costs bonus.

    Like

  39. drugmonkey Says:

    Study section members are free to view “productivity” as they see fit, Dave. Some count papers, some tally JIF, some compare Aims to figures published, some go on subjective “moved the field forward” grounds. Any of the above can be used to excuse or criticize a perceived deficit in another.

    Talking about paper count on this blog just forms a handy shortcut.

    In my experience, however, there is a certain floor. It is very difficult to see a grant with zero published papers after five years of funding getting renewed. As I said above, even 3 papers seems very low to me.

    There is a reason, of course, that diverse study section experiences need to rely on somewhat objective measures of progress. Otherwise it is the one or two closest-related members giving an opinion on whether the stuff you did has (or will) affect the field. Others would just have to take their word for it. People feel more comfortable with objective criteria. Thus, paper count.

    Like

  40. drugmonkey Says:

    And yes, paper count cycles the discussion right back to my prior comments on attributing multiple grant awards to every paper out of the lab.

    Like

  41. zb Says:

    I had developed a picture in my head the other day on where the money crunch taking career trajectory — I think it’s going to carve out the middle, with the middle being an average size lab in the field that relies on sequential RO1′, and mostly RO1’s (i.e. doesn’t have serious institutional support, endowment funding, private foundation funding, . . . .) behind it. It’s not the lab the hot post-docs are aiming for. That lab is going to loose funding at some point and end up on a downward trajectory that pushes the lab out of the field (institutional support for the PI, in the form of tenure with money helps because it’s support). This transition occurs in mid-PI career (think when people are in their late 40’s and 50’s). They will either have to grow big (multiple RO1s, 2 potentially being enough, attract sufficient private funding, or get a hard money position, tenured, laterally, if they’re not there already) in order to stay in the game when things get bad.

    If they grow big enough, they’ll be more likely to be in the “too big” to fail category and will attract more resources for themselves (including students and post-docs, some of whom will come with their own funding).

    How is this trajectory different than in the past? Science has always had churn (thought that new people entering the system was necessary for science to progress). The difference is that instead of narrowing people through the system, with a broad road that narrows to a few lanes to the ultimate destination, we’ll have a road being intermittently blocked in the middle (as funding gets tight). If you have sufficient resources to sit until the road clears, you get to keep going. If you don’t, you get kicked out.

    Has anyone done a graph of papers v time from degree? Is a trend in the average trajectory with age?

    Like

  42. Grumble Says:

    “IDC piggie U charges a low fringe rate on salary”

    What is the relationship between IDC and fringe? I wouldn’t be surprised if the two are positively correlated, at least to the extent that bald faced greed contributes to these rates. At my college it’s around 70% and 33% – in other words, for every dollar in salary my grants pay for, more than a dollar goes into the college’s greedy maw.

    Like

  43. Dave Says:

    People feel more comfortable with objective criteria. Thus, paper count.

    That’s ridiculous.

    Like

  44. drugmonkey Says:

    That’s ridiculous.

    really? When is the last time you were expected to render a fair judgment across individuals from disparate scientific disciplines only somewhat related to your own? Do tell how you did enough background research to be able to compare their real scientific contributions, completely untethered to the perceived quality of the journals and number of papers they published.

    What is the relationship between IDC and fringe?
    I don’t know. I have a very, very limited sample (think, multi-institute collaborative grant budgeting) which says negatively correlated. Hence my observation.

    Has anyone done a graph of papers v time from degree? Is a trend in the average trajectory with age?
    On the anecdotal level you can go to Web of Science, search out individual scientists that you know and look at the papers per year and citations per year trends. I like to do this for the ~70 year old folks, very instructive 🙂 Seriously though, looking at these two charts on Web of Knowledge can tell you a lot about the RealImpactTM (meaning citations, of course) of different strategies, the LPU versus CNS approach, etc.

    Like

  45. Jonathan Says:

    “At my institution (private med school) fresh techs out of undergrad with no training get 37k + 41% for benefits, fresh postdocs a couple K more. ”

    There you go folks, that’s what a PhD is worth – $2000 a year. (This is not a slam at you, @CrystalDoc, unless you’re the one that set that scale)

    Like

  46. dr_mho Says:

    @jonathan
    don’t be moronic…
    my tech does genotyping, makes solutions, pretty much does the scut work that needs doing without any choice in the matter…
    my postdocs get to design, implement, and own their projects, basically charting their independent course, hopefully to a career… that’s what the PhD is worth…

    reducing this to absolute dollars is ridiculous – if you’re looking for a grand payday, stay out of science, that should be obvious to anyone…

    Like

  47. pyrope Says:

    Datuz
    IDC: 59
    Fringe: 28 (but not on summer ad/comp)

    Like


  48. I agree 3 per 5 years is low. In fact, even if they are CNS, that is not tenurable, at any number of institutions across any and all of the lifescience subdisciplines. Even with all the $$$$ in the world (but then, why would you need tenure).

    Like

  49. Jonathan Says:

    Actually, the tech is way better off, since that compensation includes retirement contributions made when they’re in their early 20s, whereas the postdoc is getting nothing and is probably in their mid 30s. Oh, and dr_mho, I’ve seen plenty of postdocs used as nothing more than a cheap pair of hands whose input into the actual research is minimal at best.

    Like

  50. dr_mho Says:

    …then they should find another goddamn lab to work in, or another occupation.

    Like


  51. 20-25% of salary wouldn’t be that unusual

    HAHAHHAHAHAAAA!!! Or, you know, 56%

    Like

  52. Jonathan Says:

    “…then they should find another goddamn lab to work in, or another occupation.”

    Don’t worry, at least 80 percent of them are.

    Like

  53. Dave Says:

    When is the last time you were expected to render a fair judgment across individuals from disparate scientific disciplines only somewhat related to your own?

    Can’t we just find the right people to review grants in the first place? There is no shortage of potential reviewers in the scientific community.

    Like

  54. Dave Says:

    In fact, even if they are CNS, that is not tenurable, at any number of institutions across any and all of the lifescience subdisciplines

    Are you talking historically or just in the current climate?

    Like

  55. Eli Rabett Says:

    Just a note

    “And… if you have a sub-contract, the first 25K of overhead on the sub comes in as direct costs. ”

    That is only for the first year. After that subcontracts are not burdened.

    Like

  56. Eli Rabett Says:

    “What is the relationship between IDC and fringe?”

    Damn right, they charge IDC on fringe which means at a 25% 50% place you end up paying $1,9 for ever dollar of salary.

    Like

  57. drugmonkey Says:

    not getting any traction, eh? let’s make this specific.

    say you have $100,000 in salaries on a grant. Univ #1 has an eyepopping 90% indirect rate…but only nicks the direct costs 25% in benefits. Univ #2 has a more reasonable 50% overhead rate but charges 50% for bennies.

    The bennies cost the NIH $47.5K for the grant awarded at Univ #1 and $75K at Univ #2.

    Now admittedly that $100K in base salary has a differential cost to the NIH of $190K versus $150K. But then you have to boost the latter number by about $27.5K to $177.5K to really compare apples to apples in terms of personnel purchasing power, don’t you?

    That 50% overhead rate just became 77.5% in a big hurry. Entirely invisibly to those disgruntleprofs slavering about indirect cost rates….

    Like


  58. Ssh!!! Don’t tell anybody!

    Jeepers.

    Like

  59. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    (1) Fringe rates charged to NIH grants are also negotiated with HHS, just like IDC. Institutions can’t just charge whatever they want. In fact, my institution charges substantially greater fringe rates to non-federal accounts.

    (2) KILL THE FULL MODULAR FATTE CATTES!!!!!! R03s FOR EVERYONE!!!!!

    Like

  60. drugmonkey Says:

    I think you mean “crowd fund” everybody PP.

    Like

  61. highdesert Says:

    If you’re really curious, Google with the “site:” keyword is your friend. Most public universities, and more than a few private ones, publish fringe and F&A rates on their websites.

    Like

  62. Jonathan Says:

    +1 RT @drugmonkeyblog I think you mean “crowd fund” everybody PP.

    Turns out that’s not the only topic he’s reallyfuckingannoyinginglynaive about.

    Like

  63. drugmonkey Says:

    CPP? Or are you talking about Rumperlsteinskin?

    Like

  64. Jonathan Says:

    Yes, the latter. I was rather amused last week when he decided to tell my colleagues they obviously didn’t understand how the internet works despite running a rather successful website and community for 15 years.

    Like

  65. Dave Says:

    Rumperlsteinskin

    LOL!

    Like

  66. Kelli Says:

    How many of you on R01s get certain % kickback from F&A you bring in? Just curious.

    Like

  67. zb Says:

    ” I like to do this for the ~70 year old folks, very instructive”

    I’ve been doing this a little bit, and had a bit of fun comparing Kandel and Hubel.

    Like

  68. Dave Says:

    How many of you on R01s get certain % kickback from F&A you bring in? Just curious.

    Two years ago my place started giving back a bit of the F&A that was unspent. It was actually fairly substantial (our F&A is 50% and bennies are 25% if that helps).

    Like

  69. another anonymous person Says:

    Kelli: None. Anything that looks even vaguely like that (release time kickback to general funds, cost shared tuition, tution returns, etc) was eliminated in recent rounds of budget cuts and accounting audits. I’ve collected similar anecdata from friends at other institutions.

    Like

  70. anon Says:

    I’m puzzled by some of the comments on ‘fringe’ charges. Fringe is not some whimsical surcharge on salaries that the institution sticks in its pockets. At our institution, fringe charges are transparent and are something every employer must pay or deal with:
    FICA/Medicare: 7.65%
    unemployment: 0.1%
    retirement: 7-13% depending on employee enrollment (403b vs pension system)
    health benefits: $600-$1600 per month, depending on employee choices – so percentage varies with salary and plan choice (anywhere from 25-40% of salary for someone earning $30-40k per year)
    So minimum fringe charges of a full time employee with benefits including retirement (i.e., a decent job) would be ~40%. Except for some overhead on the health insurance, fringe charges does not go to the university’s ‘greedy maw’, that gets paid out in costs.
    Part of overhead/IDC goes to pay the HR/payroll people who manage these costs at the institution. Should institution be charging IDC on fringe or just on salary? maybe/maybe not.
    What you estimate for fringe for unknown future employees when you write your budget is a somewhat arbitrary number.
    At any rate, it’s a hidden portion of a $250k budget when someone is just adding up salaries. Put salary + fringe in your spreadsheet, then ‘inflate’ by cost-of-living increases, and what seemed like a reasonable personnel budget in year 1 has eaten up the whole grant by year 5… never mind increases in health benefit costs.
    I would definitely vote for an increase to the modular budget, even if it brought the success rate down.

    Like

  71. odyssey Says:

    I would definitely vote for an increase to the modular budget, even if it brought the success rate down.

    There is no “if”. An increase in the modular budget will result in lower success rates. It still seems like the right thing to do though.

    Like

  72. Dave Says:

    There is no “if”. An increase in the modular budget will result in lower success rates. It still seems like the right thing to do though.

    Yeh but the NIH will continue to decrease the size of each award in a (probably vain) attempt to maintain the already low paylines.

    Like

  73. odyssey Says:

    Actually Dave that’s why an increase in the upper limit for modular budgets won’t happen.

    Like

  74. Spiny Norman Says:

    Counterpoint: why are you all too #chickenshit to write non-modular budgets?

    Like


  75. I no longer ever submit modular budgets (unless required by the annual budget limits of particular FOAs), and haven’t for years. My annual R01 budget requests are generally just over $300,000 per year. This is small enough to usually not draw the ire of study section, yet large enough so that after the administrative cuts are imposed, I end up at right around $250,000 per year.

    Like

  76. Grumble Says:

    CPP: Do you typically ask for salary for you plus underlings, or for you plus PI-level collaborators plus underlings? How do you justify the $300k+?

    anon: I posted the “greedy maw” comment because I don’t think 33% fringe rate reflects actual fringe expenses. But I might be wrong. Let’s say health insurance is $10k/year, and the college contributes 7% to a retirement account. For a $100k/year employee, that’s $17k. What is the other $16k for? The rest of the benefits are nowhere near as pricey.

    But then again, there are plenty of employees making well under $100K, and health insurance costs for them will still be $10K. Assuming an average salary of $50K, fringe should cost around 27%. So maybe 33% isn’t too far off.

    Like

  77. NIHvictim Says:

    Since NIH nobody actually does what they proposed in their grants, this point is moot.

    Like

  78. Dave Says:

    How do you justify the $300k+?

    Isn’t the budget dictated also by the work????

    Like

  79. Ola Says:

    @CPP – I’ve been crucified for going non-modular at 3 recent study sections (yeah yeah study section isn’t supposed to comment on the budget – think again). I went back to modular and got funded. I didn’t ask for much ($325 directs, a small piece of equipment relevant to the research) but they killed it anyway, all the way down to stating the support level for an RAP in my lab’ is not justified, despite me justifying it heavily in the budget justification. Also, I sit on a study section and everything non-modular gets fried. The only immune ones are those doing clinical studies where all the personnel are clinicians at the salary cap or they have to compensate patients for the study. If you’re just doing mouse work, modular is almost a rule nowadays (in NHLBI at least).

    @anon- Jeebus where do you get those numbers. 13% for retirement? Tell me a University that contributes 13% to retirement and I’m there! Also IIRC FICA is not a University cost but an employee paid cost – at least it shows up as a deduction on my paycheck every month. Regarding healthcare, post-doc fringe at my institution is 26%, but the post-docs get the same shitty healthcare plan as the graduate students, which costs only $1500 flat fee per year for the latter, so where does the remainder go? There’s also the delightful fact that our out-of pocket healthcare monthly premiums have risen at a solid 12% every year for the past 5, despite independent market research showing the cost of healthcare in our local market is rising at only 6% a year (again, where does the difference go?) Throw in all the other lovely charges (parking costs that doubled in 4 years), and cuts (loss of some tuition benefits), and there’s definitely some “creative number management” going on in the payroll department. Put simply, there’s no frickin’ way the 35% fringe on my technician’s salary is going back out the door. Someone in the administration is creaming a bit off the top.

    Like

  80. whimple Says:

    Ola: Also IIRC FICA is not a University cost but an employee paid cost – at least it shows up as a deduction on my paycheck every month.

    You don’t RC. FICA is cost matched between employees and employers. The University contributes the same amount you do.

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  81. A few months of my salary, two post-docs, one grad-student, part of a technician, supplies, animal costs, travel, publication costs, and equipment maintenance takes the budget right to $300,000. Then when they administratively cut it 20%, I end up with $240,000, which means only one post-doc can really be on the project. Post-docs and grad students in my lab are extremely successful at competing for F31 and F32 support for themselves, so I manage to keep shit rolling like this.

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  82. And if you’re getting crucified for non-modular budgets, then either you are writing your budget justifications poorly or your grants are borderline to begin with, and the members don’t see the need for a non-modular budget in your particular case and it pushes them over the edge.

    Several collaborators and I just had a mutli-Pi grant reviewed that requested ~$450,000 per year in direct costs, we got a score well within the payline, and not a single comment was made by any reviewer or the panel on the budget.

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  83. zb Says:

    The more recent NIH Reporter grant amounts list direct/indirect costs so that one can look at how IC rates vary among different institutions for similar work (though, not the accounting details that DM mentions, with fringe costs, or other details, like IC on major equipment v other costs, etc.).

    The Details tab for more recent grants lists the breakdown.

    My wading into the database shows IC’s ranging from a low of 43% (UC Berkeley, Psychology) to 91% (Salk) in a field with which I am familiar.

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  84. qaz Says:

    Acceptance of non-modular budgets varies greatly from study section to study section. These things are VERY field dependent. Technically, study section is not supposed to comment on budgets until after scoring, but in every study section I have seen or have talked to someone on the inside about, there is a typical range of funded projects. Things that are too expensive are scrutinized more closely. What defines “too expensive” depends on the members of the study section. Just as we have said that while one study section will accept 3 papers for a renewal and another won’t look at less than 10, some study sections don’t blink at $350k. Other study sections worry about every non-modular budget.

    There is no one-size-fits all story for NIH. The labs, fields, needs, and available infrastructures are too diverse.

    Unfortunately, the world we live in is that we have to scramble to find the funding we need to run our labs. Part of that scramble is determining how to tune your grant application to the study sections that will fund it.

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  85. MorganPhD Says:

    I did a quick analysis using FY2012 data available at the NIH. 65.8% of NIH R01 grants are modular. This assumes a 60% average overhead, thus putting all R01’s below 400K/year in funding in the modular category.

    Modular grants in FY2012 (up to 250K direct costs, 150K indirect, in my model) constitute 52% of the available R01 money, with non-modular grants taking up 48%. The average age of the grant has no bearing on the size of the grant, with the average age of 400K+ and 400K- R01 awards was 6.5 years.

    In FY2004 (the last time the NIH did the analysis AND published it) you were just as likely to be awarded a non-modular grant as a modular grant, suggesting it’s better to go ahead and go non-modular. Success rates for modular R01’s was 21.63% and for non-modular it was 23.1%. (Obviously, I think most of us would be very very happy with a 20% success rate right now…)

    If this hold true today (the % non-mod vs. mod, not the total success rate), I wonder if we’d be better off just asking for more money.

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  86. zb Says:

    “If this hold true today (the % non-mod vs. mod, not the total success rate), I wonder if we’d be better off just asking for more money.”

    I seems unlikely that this would hold true today, but even if it were, it would just suggest that those submitting non-modulars are taking qaz’s calculus into account and choosing non-modular when they think they can.

    If everyone doubled the amount of money they asked for, there still wouldn’t be any more money.

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  87. Eli Rabett Says:

    The trick to Fringes is that they are an average rate computed across the entire University payroll excluding students. The largest Fringe rip off is that nine month faculty should not have to (IEHO) pay the full fringes on summer salary because things like health insurance come out of the nine month salary. Another trick is that the University may not pay retirement contributions on summer salary.

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  88. Spiny Norman Says:

    @MorganPhD — MANY thanks for that effort. It tracks well with my gut feeling. Brill post.

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  89. Eli Rabett Says:

    “They didn’t ask for enough money to do this work”

    “They goldplated the request”

    The only thing in common for these two is DNF. Been there, done that.

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  90. Carlos Merengue Says:

    I am SO glad to see all of you scientists suffer from the consequences of your own actions–clonal reproduction. Each lab that gets a grant trains how many future grant-seekers? Like in any other pyramid scheme, it was only a matter of time until shit hit the fan. Enjoy the LONG aftermath. Hope some of you join at Starbucks soon, as my baristas… 😉

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