Lab Size, take 3

May 17, 2019

I was struck by a couple of tweets. The first seems to find it worthy of remark that staff on a grant are expensive.

and the second seems to outline what appears normal for one grant proposal in the eyes of this tweeter.

One postdoc, three grad students, an unspecified part time for an undergrad and similarly unspecified time for a tech. Lets say part-time is half and “some hours” equals a quarter. But the specifics here don’t really matter because “my technician” gives us a pretty good clue when it comes to lab size.

I return to a question I have asked this audience before. What, in you view, is a standard, average lab size? What size do you think would be about right for yourself? What are the bounds? What size is too small for you really to feel like you have “a lab” going? What size is getting up there into “whoa, that’s a big lab” territory?

The follow up question is, once you have this ideal lab size in mind, how does it fit with your heartfelt beliefs about how NIH grant moneys should be distributed. This tweep came up with a number that is significantly above the full-modular NIH limit of $250,000 per year. It is a number that would require traditional budgeting and, in some ICs, might get cuts even larger than their default 10%. It is a number that would fit a lot more comfortably into two R01 scope grants…in terms of the budget.

Can you square your ideas of fair NIH grant award with your ideas on normal average nothing-special lab size?

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