Selfishness for the good of the herd?

Nov 14 2011 Published by under Careers

My last post, which outlined a potential way to stay alive during the academic biomedical science cull that seems to be in progress, drew a couple of comments from DrugMonkey that I thought were worth discussing in a little more detail.

First up DM opines and asks:

you are certainly recommending a strategy that will enrage the Rock Talk commentariat. selfishness for the good of the herd? hmmm...

very provocative. how do we know where we draw the line of self-servedness?

First up, I have no doubt that there are may who comment over at the NIH's Rock Talk blog who would vehemently disagree with my strategy.

If you have a R01 (or equivalent) grant, you don't need another, you selfish bastard!

Actually, yes, yes you do. Having just one puts you in a very precarious position. You're screwed if you can't renew it in a reasonable amount of time. Kind of like, oh I don't know... Some of the commentariat at Rock Talk?

And let's be honest here. How many people, given the opportunity to land a second major grant, are going to turn it down? Including the Rock Talk commentariat?

Secondly, where do we draw the line? That's a tough one. More than one major grant, but less than what? That's going to be very field dependent. If you do a lot of animal model work, more than two may be necessary just to be able to support the colonies and personnel necessary to make decent progress. In my own work, which doesn't involve animals, two is probably sufficient. But maybe not...

In response to my comment that collaborators should be included as Co-I's on grants (and you as collaborator on theirs), DM pointed out:

Getting extra $$$ as a mere Investigator on another person's grant is a good gig...but as the knives come out for capping total direct costs or # of awards, it will *discourage* collaboration in this way. Who wants to have their own lab limited by the total grant award amount when half the budget is going to someone else?

To which I responded that yes, should total direct costs and/or number of awards be capped, then this would be an issue. But then the game has changed, hasn't it? At that point the knives really will be out and it will be every PI for themselves. Let's hope we don't go there because, as I replied:

It doesn't take much imagination to realize that those kind of changes will really screw science - only the BSD's will be able to do the kind of science that is currently done by small town grocer labs (like mine) via collaboration. More people will have money, but not enough for many of them to really do anything other than science that is very limited in scope.

Food for thought.

9 responses so far

  • You are bang on with the comment that you need more than one major research award/grant in order to have a long term sustainable future in the game.

  • Glfadkt says:

    I agree about the need for more than one. As I have never been able to pull that off (despite much effort), my place in the game is now in serious jeopardy...

  • Dave Bridges says:

    one of my favorite things about science is the "hopefully" lack of oversight and governance in our little meritocracy. if you can get 20 R01's funded, bully for you. If you cant, thats too bad. I dislike the idea that everyone deserves a little something, and if that is the case, i dont think its helpful if it comes from the NIH

  • Dr. O says:

    but as the knives come out for capping total direct costs or # of awards, it will *discourage* collaboration in this way. Who wants to have their own lab limited by the total grant award amount when half the budget is going to someone else?

    Just so I'm clear - is this idea being discussed around NIH (so far as you or DM know)? Or is it still limited to some of the more disgruntled folks over at Rock Talk?

    • drugmonkey says:

      NIGMS has had a $$ threshold for double-sekrit-scrutiny of additional grant awards for many years. Berg discussed this many times when he was head and was blogging about funding issues. The question is whether 1) other ICs will adopt this and 2) how severe the special consideration really becomes.

  • odyssey says:

    Dr. O,
    As far as I know it's only on the Rock Talk blog. But Rock Talk did ask for suggestions...

  • odyssey says:

    Some people might note a possible inconsistency in one of my arguments above - that BSD's will be the only ones capable of pursuing "bigger" science if directs and/or total number of grants are capped. Some would argue that such caps would level the playing field and get rid of multi-multi-R01 BSD labs.

    In your dreams. BSD's really like being BSD's (and who can blame them?). They will find a way to continue being such. If any caps were put in place by NIH I predict that it will take no more than 4-6 weeks after the announcement before RFA's etc. with "exception to the cap(s)" clauses begin to appear.

  • physioprof says:

    NIGMS already has a "well-funded investigator" policy, which requires extraordinary justification to Council for the award of an NIGMS unsolicited R01 to a PI if that award would bring the PI's total NIH direct cost funding to > $750,000.