I have been experiencing a sharp uptick in high school projects that are apparently titled: "Email questions to some random expert on the internet" lately.
Is anyone else getting these?
Do you respond? In what depth?
I have been experiencing a sharp uptick in high school projects that are apparently titled: "Email questions to some random expert on the internet" lately.
Is anyone else getting these?
Do you respond? In what depth?
As you know, DearReader, I blog and engage with the Twittersphere under a pseudonym. I do so for a variety of reasons, some of which were in the forefront when I started and are no longer really an issue. Some reasons have appeared or become strengthened over time. Some are relatively more important to me and some are less important.
Some of these reasons overlap with the usual ones described in defense of pseudonymity and some are relatively unique to my own personal decisions on reasons that are both personal and professional.
Some reasons that I have for being a pseudonymous blogger are entirely related to making my blogging more effective in terms of what I want to do.
In what is now over seven years engaging in the blogosphere there is one issue that has brought me to do the most unsolicited, tut-tutting, pseudofatherly advice to bloggers via nonpublic communication methods.
Never assume your pseudonym is iron clad protection against being identified by people that matter to you. Ever. Blog accordingly.
My advice stems from my occasional coursework in human cognitive psychology. It shouldn't surprise anyone but apparently it is not at the forefront of everyone's mind (more on this in a second). The brain is a wonderfully synthetic organ that permits the linking of seemingly unconnected facts and experiences into a sometimes brilliant whole. It is fantastic at taking seemingly limited, low bandwith, pixellated information and creating a detailed picture. What this understanding means for pseuds is that you cannot help but leave breadcrumbs as to your identity. You blog because you want to talk about things that are important to you. Good blogging is infused with the personal perspective and the personal anecdote. One can't help but assert some aspects of ones authoritah! (more on this below) in making an argument. Categorical interests tend to set a context.
Most importantly these random details and contexts permit the Reader to rule out many of the obvious suspects for whom you might be.
Next, I turn to the question of voice. If you are doing blogging right (IMNSHO), you are infusing your writing with a defined voice. Usually, that is your voice and sounds one heck of a lot like the things that you usually say in real life. After all, these are matters that are important to you or you wouldn't be blogging. While there is no particular reason a complete stranger should recognize your voice, I hold it to be self-evident that your friends and colleagues will. My assumption has always been that if anyone who knows me runs across my blog and reads more than about two posts, they will know it is me. With very little doubt.
With that said, pseudonymity still works. Determining the identity of a given pseudonymous person on the internet still requires a bit of work, if one is not fortuitously connected to that person in real life. Depending on the various categories of personal information available, there may be many people who could be the blogger in question. This will vary tremendously depending on the number of the tiny bits of information one curious pseud-buster has available to them. One of the most important barriers to detection is therefore the avoidance of direct linking of a real name to a pseudonym in a place that is easily Google-able.
Due to these and other factors, maintaining the relative security/secrecy of ones pseudonym depends on the community. It depends first and foremost on the community not to put the identification of a pseud's real name with their pseudonymous person in any digital format that can be Googled and/or linked. This is a relatively easy distinction.
Integrity of pseuds also depends on the community minimizing the extent to which it provides, amplifies and broadcasts the tiny bits of information that identify the blogger. This, my friends, is the tricky bit.
A blogger may have provided some detail of their person, identity or life many years ago in a random post which a given Reader remembers. Generally speaking, if a blogger talks about something on blog, well this is fair-ish game. If I let you in on a detail of my life and leave it on the blog, I certainly can't blame anyone else for knowing this detail. And yet. A pseudonymous blogger may not wish the details critical to divining his or her identity to be repeatedly mentioned, in context, over and over for all and sundry to assess. But we exist in a community. We make friendships that depend on personal details in many cases. We make connections with Readers that are based on those tiny details and assumptions about our past and present. We embrace granfalloon. This works at cross-purposes with the integrity of the pseudonym. And so it depends on the community to uphold the pseudonym veil.
One defense I make for people who interact with pseudonymous persons and inadvertently make comments that would tend to out the pseud is a caution for those who are themselves pseudonymous. In many cases where a person identifies the real life identity of a pseudonymous blogger, it consequentially becomes unimaginable that this person is really trying too hard to be pseudonymous. As I said, if a person who knows me well runs across the blog, they are going to be thinking that it sounds so much like him that there is no possible WAY he is trying to be secret about it. Others who put the several obvious clues together, see that a pseud repeatedly mentions such clues and likewise conclude that it is an open secret of the not-very-secret variety.
The trouble is, it is very difficult for such people to remember that this is not the case for everyone and the goal is to not facilitate trivial identification. It is also difficult for people to remember that there are certain details that one does NOT ever cop to on the blog. It is difficult to remember that just one extra detail may narrow down the suspect from a group of six to an obvious one.
It is difficult for the well-intentioned internet friend to remember that a pseudonymous blogger is constantly adding new Readers and that they are not all aware of personal detail.
It is also difficult for the well-intentioned interlocutor to remember the possible harm that might be created by mistakenly linking a pseud to the wrong person- either because of direct accusation or because of mentioning details that might point in the wrong direction. There have been several cases brought to my attention in which it was clear that someone thought "Drugmonkey" was some other scientific peer of mine. This is, given my comments and tone about several serious things in science, not fair to them.
One reason that is a mainstay of my pseudonym is my understanding of the way that one's personal authoritah! within science can make one lazy when it comes to arguing about the conduct of science. Michael Eisen has made the case for this in an excellent post. I like rambunctious discussion and being called out on the stupid stuff I say on the blog. I value being called out on my privilege. While I consider myself to be no great shakes in the professional arena, it is assy in the extreme not to recognize that my role places me in a position of power relative to others. Some of whom are my readers. There are grad students, postdocs, junior faculty, my lateral peers and even graybeards from my field that interact with me online. People who might hesitate to say something for fear my role as a paper or grant reviewer, potential mentor, associate editor, casual peer-recommender or letter writer may be contaminated by some personal pique over online interactions. See Dr Isis' excellent post for a reality check on this fear.
A related reason lies in the disconnect between my prescriptive comments about the way this career business should go, my descriptive comments and how I might behave within my sphere of professional obligations. Especially at the start of my blogging, I was worried that I would be compromising the mission of the NIH were I to be directly linked to my blog comments; this had to do with grant review. It would be very easy to conclude that I was pursuing a grant review agenda that was entirely at odds with the charge given us by the CSR. I happen to think that I do a pretty good job of doing the work expected of me in navigating the provision of personal expertise for which I was selected within the instructions and obligations of the formal review process and the cultural expectations of a study section. And every reveiwer has biases. Unfortunately the CSR/NIH is in the business of pretending individual biases do not exist in study section and therefore the admission on the part of a reviewer would be a detriment to what they are trying to do. So this was an issue.
Another reason has to do with insane, theologically motivated opponents of animal research. As you know, we have several colleagues in the neurosciences that have been under siege in their homes for years now. I'll let you do the math on that one.
I have a spouse. At times, this blog ventures into territory in which people want to know a lot about said spouse and our domestic arrangements. I try not to make decisions and to take actions that directly involve other people's beeswax without their explicit permission. This is no different.
Now, one of the more interesting issues to distill out of the foregoing comments is that a pseudonymous identity can be misleading. Obviously there are going to be people synthesizing the bits of information and the statements and comments made to come up to a wrong impression. I mentioned misidentification of an individual above. But there is also the misidentification of various personal and professional characteristics. And this misidentification can be viewed as the type of dishonesty that is often used to argue why pseudonymous participants on the internet are horrible and evil.
One specific example has to do with a couple of my friends on the Twittahs. Who have taken to engaging in the sort of tangentially-outing behavior that I describe above as possibly coming from a place that does not include active malice. In this particular case it was by way of referring (inaccurately as it happens) to the number of R01 grants on which I serve as PI. The reason for doing so was because these individuals (or at least one of them) has the strong impression that my comments on the NIH grant game substantially misrepresent this fact about my career. In a way that somehow unfairly benefits my pseudonym. It is not clear to me whether the objection was to the force of my arguments or the appreciation the community has for my comments, these being the two sources of currency I can think of.
In a sense these are mind boggling accusations for anyone who has read my blog over any period of time. I make it pretty clear what my job category is, what my perception of "what it takes" is, my general type of research and approximate depth in the career etc. I also mention repeatedly how grateful I am for both my relative success within the NIH system and to the taxpayers for their ongoing support. All of these should give anyone who has a half a clue about this business some idea of where I stand. Apparently, however, it is possible that my Twitter persona creates an entirely different view of where I stand and therefore the persona created by the blogger seems....different. Somehow.
Obviously I am only partially responsible for the perceptions that I create. And there are people who jump to some pretty far fetched conclusions in their desire to undermine me, as opposed to my arguments themselves.
I think, on more sober reflection, that this anecdote underscores both my reasons for mounting my arguments from a position not directly tied to my status in science/academia and my comments above about the community involvement in maintaining pseudonym integrity.
I end with one of my themes for the year. I ask the outer of pseuds and the arguer against psueds:
What's the end game here?
As a blowhard on the internet is finding out this week, outing a pseudonymous blogger doesn't injure this person's standing, authoritah! or arguments. It doesn't reduce the size of the persons' internet platform for advancing a cause or, most likely, interfere with the real life career. If anything, it enhanced all of these things! And said blowhard clearly injured his own real-life standing with his petulance.
Communities have behavioral standards. They tend to be opt-in. On the internet, there is very little enforcement of the rules. So anyone is free to be any sort of ass that they desire. We should all recognize this. This corner of the internet inhabited by academics, and scientists in particular, is most assuredly a community, however. So if you choose to be an ass, the community is going to tell you so. We should all recognize this. All of us are going to be the ass at times. If you aren't, you aren't really saying anything of importance. We can control, however, the scope of our assiness. And the response we have when told we are being an ass about a particular topic. We should all recognize this.
I think I've done a post on this before but it arose again on the Twitts today.
As a lab head, I give all the trainees access to our funded grant proposals..and often the applications I am working on. I would certainly give them to someone in my lab upon request if I had forgotten to email something to them (or not bothered in the case of our current firehose of applications).
I am at a considerable loss to imagine why any lab head would have a problem doing this.
Things I find odd in academia: PIs who don't share grants - in prep or funded - with trainees working on project. #lifeinscience
— biochem belle (@biochembelle) July 2, 2013
@biochembelle yeah that's weird. "Don't" or "won't"?
— Drug Monkey (@drugmonkeyblog) July 2, 2013
@drugmonkeyblog I've observed both. Won't, as in refuse or change subject when asked - even funded proposals.
— biochem belle (@biochembelle) July 2, 2013
Does anyone have any new insight on why a PI would not make the funded grant proposals available? Doesn't everyone in the lab need to have at least some understanding of what is supposed to be accomplished?
Now, benign neglect, I can sort of understand. Not all the PIs out there understand how important it is to get the trainees thinking about the grant cycle as early as possible. Opinions vary on that. Some would rather trainees not be "distracted". I get that...but I think it outmoded.
But outright refusal to hand the grant over if asked? That is odd....almost to the point of suspecting shenanigans.
Anyone out there ever reviewed SBIR or STTR grants for the NIH? Any thoughts on what seems to be most important, common pitfalls and the like? Any thoughts on how the review discussion tends to differ from standard R01 review?
I have essentially zero experience with these mechanisms and some reader was asking.....
A question arrived about publication expectations for trainees at the blog mailbox recently.
I was wondering if you would consider a blog post and perhaps encouraging discussion on a related topic, on how do you evaluate your student/postdoc performance and how common is the 1 paper/yr "rule"?
At the outset I was skeptical that much use would come of trying to answer this because the real answer is "It depends very much on subfield and ultimate career aspirations, therefore broad sweeping pronouncements are of little value.". And this is true. But what the heck? I'll give you my thoughts from my point of view, no doubt some others will go shitnutz about how it is clearly different and maybe we can hash out the space of useful answers.
Some detailed stuff that I thought about, but often are not discussed thoroughly include:
- I always assumed that when people talk about 1 paper/yr it refers to 1 first-author paper but not in a top-tier journal (usually "best in the sub-field" journal, e.g. Org. Lett., J. Med. Chem., etc.)
Yeah. I think one paper per year is a pretty good general starting point. Emphasis on general. For trainees, I think this average will be lower, ditto if you only count first-author papers. But it is a pretty good target expectation for the central tendency. One first author per year in a "top tier" journal is a ridiculously absurd expectation for postdocs. Even one per year in a "top tier" journal as senior author is only possible for the very top laboratories and is therefore not the expectation for everyone. If you can do it, good on you, but it ain't typical. So if you are in a place where you think this is the standard for postdocs? please. I'm familiar with a lab that has probably one of the highest CNS counts ever and the postdocs do not hit one CNS pub per year as first author. They have not done so over the ~15 years I've been watching the lab's production. So anyone who does this out there in the whole postdoc population is the rare exception.
- How do you factor in non-1st author papers? Ignoring the effects of journal IF, would one 1st-author paper = two 2nd-author paper?
There is no direct relationship, I would argue. Non-substitutable quantities. No amount of non-first author papers makes up for not having any first-author papers. They are just that important in the minds of many people, including me. Conversely, the existence of some 2nd-Xth author papers is better than not having any, because more is better when it comes to publications on the CV. I suppose at some point there would be a balance point in which too many Nth author papers starts to subtract from the credit generated by the first-author list. It would be related to the thought of "why doesn't this trainee have more firsts if she is this experimentally productive?".
- Do people even consider anything greater than 2nd-authorship (i.e. having 3rd authorship is basically useless or not counted)? If so, does the level of the prestige of the journal change this perception (i.e. having 3rd authorship in PNAS is equivalent to a 1st-author in some 2nd-tier journal like Biochemistry)?
In my view, no, the Nth author on an article in a higher IF journal doesn't trump first-author in a lesser journal. See above, the Nth authorships count but I would say they are independent of the first-author credits. So within the sphere of Nth authorships, sure, the higher IF is better.
- How do you factor in the prestige or IF of the journal? Does publishing in Science/Nature/Cell count as having 2-3 1st-author papers in 2nd-tier journals?
Indubitably the CNS first-author counts more than several first-authors in lesser journals. One might even suggest that CNS first-author as a postdoc trumps infinity non-CNS first-authors. For some situations. There are those that assert that the presence/absence of very specific journals on the CV is the difference between round-filing an application for an Assistant Professor position and placing it on the long-list for consideration. I credit these assertions but would also point out that there are many perfectly acceptable jobs that would not have this absurd criterion.
- Do people take a time-average (i.e. as long as you get 5 papers in 5 years it's fine), or is having a regular output more important (i.e. would prefer to have 1 paper every year as opposed to 2 papers in 1st year and 3 papers in 5th year but nothing in between)?
I would say that it is only once one becomes a PI that it is ever reasonable to look at consistency of output. This particular example would not even be noticed, I would say. And even then it sort of depends on the type of work you do. I know of multiple types of work in my areas of interest (particularly human studies) that have years of data collection followed by a flurry of papers.
When I have recommended shooting for consistent output, being concerned with whether a manuscript submitted to Journal X at this point in the year will have a pub date from this year, etc it has to do mostly with motivation. Most of the time the pace of submission for a postdoc is not going to be easily controlled. The experiments have their own timeline. Things come up. New things need to be done to wrap up the paper. Then there are the many sources of delay in the review process. There is no reason to obsess about 2 in first year / 3 in fifth over meeting a strict rate of 1 per year for 5 years.
The clock is ever ticking, however and since one cannot go back and fill in missing publication-years, one is best keeping one's eye on the prize. If you haven't had a paper in a two year span, well maybe it is better to dump out a quick one, give up on hitting the highest possible IF, etc. You have to make this judgement thinkingly, of course. And no, there are no formulaic answers such as my correspondent seems to be seeking.
Balance. That is my best suggestion.
The notion that tenure provisions in the contracts of University Professors or school teachers means that they are uniquely protected against firing for incompetency is a scurrilous lie.
Many, many job places that do not have anything called "tenure" do in fact have procedures in place, formal or otherwise, that respect the duration of service to the place of employment.
The notion that those more senior than oneself are undeserving of the job titles, promotions, payrate and/or privileges that you do not currently enjoy is a nice comforting meme. But if you are going to advance a strong accusation against the seniority system and argue about who "deserves" to have a job and who does not, you better bring some ammunition.
Or, you know, run for office as a Republican where that kind of unverified ranting convinces someone useful.
The models indicate that as competition increases, many people can be taken out of the career pathway by... blind, stinking, clueless, doo-da luck.
Just as one can seemingly succeed through alignment of circumstances with a normal level of talent and effort, one can wash out through no fault of one's own too.
But the competition turns out to be very important in this model; and that relates to tenure. Many people want to see tenure replaced with a series of recurring short-term contracts. The authors imply that the short-term model could be harmful for the development of science. A failure in one short-term contract could derail a productive researcher, since early career shocks can ripple throughout a scientist’s career.
And this is why we're in the state of "Do it to Julia, not me, Julia" backstabbing panic about the NIH budget situation. The immense fear on the part of
all many of us that the next grant rejection means the end of our career is palpable. Visceral. The anger of the young that they are "better than" half of the existing faculty and therefore deserve that person's job is clear. Very clear.
but be careful about that to which you aspire. Our history of pure Darwinian tooth-and-nail employment is not a pretty one. The dawning of the industrial age showed us how that goes down.
Job protections are there because on average they make all workers' experiences better. Not there to protect the lazy and incompetent. That effect is an unintended consequence.
So when you are ranting your rants about the deadwood tenured fucks, please, do your homework. Show us how dismantling Professorial tenure is not going to rapidly devolve us to the level of the itinerant Adjunct Professor.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has an interesting manuscript submission process.
Apart from allowing NAS members to "contribute" a paper from their own lab that they've gotten peer-reviewed themselves, there is a curious distinction for more normal submissions.
The pre-arranged editor track permits you to find a PNAS editor before you submit it. Presumably a friendly editor.
In the best case it is similar to a pre-submission inquiry practiced formally or informally at the GlamourMags. In the worst case, an end run around "pure" peer-review via the Insider's Club.
(The end run being as benign as simply avoiding the desk-reject and as pernicious as getting a gamed peer-review.)
But is this any different from other journals? GlamourEditors require some buttering up. They brag in unguarded moments about how much they've "worked with" the authors to make the paper awesome. So many of those papers end up functionally identical to having a pre-arranged editor who has agreed to handle the manuscript.
In pedestrian-journal land, one can easily go Editor hunting. If a host of journals sort-of fit, and the IFs are indistinguishable, then it behooves the authors to seek a journal with a friendly Associate Editor. And to ask for that person in the many submission systems that permit such requests.
So really, how does the PNAS system really differ?
In fact, you might see that as being more honest and transparent.
Coincidentally, a couple of twitter remarks today also reinforced the idea that what we are all really after is other people who cite our work.
More people should cite my papers.
I totally agree. More people should cite my papers. Often.
was a bit discouraged when a few papers were pub'ed recently that conceivably could have cited mine
Yep. I've had that feeling on occasion and it stings. Especially early in the career when you have relatively few publications to your name, it can feel like you haven't really arrived yet until people are citing your work.
Before we get too far into this discussion, let us all pause and remember that all of the specifics of citation numbers, citation speed and citation practices are going to be very subfield dependent. Sometimes our best discussions are enhanced by dissecting these differences but let's try not to act like nobody recognizes this, even though I'm going to do so for the balance of the post....
So, why might you not be getting cited and what can you do about it? (in no particular order)
1) Time. I dealt with this in a prior post on gaming the impact factor by having a lengthy pre-publication queue. The fact of the matter is that it takes a long time for a study that is primarily motivated by your paper to reach publication. As in, several years of time. So be patient.
2) Time (b). As pointed out by Odyssey, sometimes a paper that just appeared reached final draft status 1, 2 or more years ago and the authors have been fighting the publication process ever since. Sure, occasionally they'll slip in a few new references when revising for yet the umpteenth time but this is limited.
3) Your paper doesn't hit the sweet spot. Speaking for myself, my citation practices lean this way for any given point I'm trying to make. The first, best and most recent. Rationale's vary and I would assume most of us can agree that the best, most comprehensive, most elegant and all around most scientifically awesome study is the primary citation. Opinions might vary on primacy but there is a profound sub-current that we must respect the first person to publish something. The most-recent is a nebulous concept because it is a moving target and might have little to do with scientific quality. But all else equal, the more recent citations should give the reader access to the front of the citation thread for the whole body of work. These three concerns are not etched in stone but they inform my citation practices substantially.
4) Journal identity. I don't need to belabor this but suffice it to say some people cite based on the journal identity. This includes Impact Factor, citing papers on the journal to which one is submitting, citing journals thought important to the field, etc. If you didn't happen to publish there but someone else did, you might be passed over.
5) Your paper actually sucks. Look, if you continually fail to get cited when you think you should have been mentioned, maybe your paper(s) just sucks. It is worth considering this. Not to contribute to Imposter Syndrome but if the field is telling you to up your game...up your game.
6) The other authors think your paper sucks (but it doesn't). Water off a duck's back, my friends. We all have our opinions about what makes for a good paper. What is interesting and what is not. That's just the way it goes sometimes. Keep publishing.
7) Nobody knows you, your lab, etc. I know I talk about how anyone can find any paper in PubMed but we all need to remember this is a social business. Scientists cite people they know well, people they've just been chatting with at a poster session and people who have just visited for Departmental seminar. Your work is going to be cited more by people for whom you/it/your lab are most salient. Obviously, you can do something about this factor...get more visible!
8) Shenanigans (a): Sometimes the findings in your paper are, shall we say, inconvenient to the story the authors wish to tell about their data. Either they find it hard to fit it in (even though it is obvious to you) or they realize it compromises the story they wish to advance. Obviously this spans the spectrum from essentially benign to active misrepresentation. Can you really tell which it is? Worth getting angsty about? Rarely.....
9) Shenanigans (b): Sometimes people are motivated to screw you or your lab in some way. They may feel in competition with you and, nothing personal but they don't want to extend any more credit to you than they have to. It happens, it is real. If you cite someone, then the person reading your paper might cite them. If you don't, hey, maybe that person will miss it. Over time, this all contributes to reputation. Other times, you may be on the butt end of disagreements that took place years before. Maybe two people trained in a lab together 30 years ago and still hate each other. Maybe someone scooped someone back in the 80s. Maybe they perceived that a recent paper from your laboratory should have cited them and this is payback time.
10) Nobody knows you, your lab, etc II, electric boogaloo. Cite your own papers. Liberally. The natural way papers come to the attention of the right people is by pulling the threads. Read one paper and then collect all the cited works of interest. Read them and collect the works cited in that paper. Repeat. This is the essence of graduate school if you ask me. And it is a staple behavior of any decent scientist. You pull the threads. So consequently, you need to include all the thread-ends in as many of your own papers as possible. If you don't, why should anyone else? Who else is most motivated to cite your work? Who is most likely to be working on related studies? And if you can't find a place for a citation....
Thanks to a query from a reader off the blog and a resulting request from me, our blog-friend microfool pointed us to some data. Since I don't like Tables, and the figure on the excel file stinks, here is a different graphical depiction:
The red trace depicts success rates from 1962 to 2008 for R01 equivalents (R01, R23, R29, R37). Note that they are not broken down by experienced/new investigators status, nor are new applications distinguished from competing continuation applications. The blue line shows total number of applications reviewed...which may or may not be of interest to you. [update 7/12/12: I forgot to mention that the data in the 60s are listed as "estimated" success rates.]
The bottom line here is that looking at the actual numbers can be handy when playing the latest round of "We had it tougher than you did" at the w(h)ine and cheese hour after departmental seminar. Success rates end at an unusually low point...and these numbers stop in 2008. We're seeing 15% for R01s (only) in FY2011.
Things are worse than they've ever been and these dismal patterns have bee sustained for much longer. If we look at the ~30% success rates that ruled the day from 1980-2003, the divergence from the trend from about 1989 to 1996 was interrupted in the middle and, of course, saw steady improvement in the latter half. The badness that started in FY2004 has been 8 unrelieved Fiscal Years and shows no sign of abatement. Plus, the nadir (to date) is much lower.
Anyone who tries to tell you they had it as hard or harder at any time in the past versus now is high as a kite. Period.
Now, of course, it IS true that someone may have had it more difficult in the past than they do now, simply because it has always been harder for the inexperienced PIs to win their funding.
sourceAs we know from prior posts, career-stage differences matter a LOT. In the 80s when the overall success rate was 30%, you can see that newcomers were at about 20% and established investigators were enjoying at least a 17%age point advantage (I think these data also conflate competing continuation with new applications so there's another important factor buried in the "Experienced" trace.) Nevertheless, since the Experienced/New gap was similar from 1980 to 2006, we can probably assume it held true prior to that interval as well.
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.