My boss and I were discussing his latest grant proposal and which mechanism would be more suitable. We start discussing more exploratory mechanisms and he begins to explain the difference from the typical research grants (R01s) that we apply for. I explain that I know what the R21 mechanism is and how it differs from the R01. The boss looks befuddled and asks how do I know this.
I'm at a crossroads here dear reader, I can tell the man that I have religiously read Gospel of DM & CPP for the past couple of years or come up with something on the fly. My answer, "Oh, they told us about it in a grant writing seminar."
I kneel before thee sir dudes for I am not worthy.
It's difficult and painful to watch researchers get the financial plug pulled on their research programs when the funding dries. One lab in particular in my department has been run on a shoestring budget pretty much since its existence but now they are digging in the couch cushions for spare change and coming up with buttons and stale ass Cheetos. The painful thing to see how this budget is starting to hamper the trainees and their projects, antibodies can't be ordered because they are too expensive, previously large scale experiments are scaled back to limit costs, etc.
This was a lab that didn't need much to get by and now they have nothing on the immediate horizon for at least 6 months to a year. Its dark days out there folks, if you've got it, be thankful for it. And if you don't, I hope you can get it.
So we were all saddened when NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg announced he would step down from his position and move to an administrative post at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (you folks are lucky to have him) in order to allow his wife, Wendie Berg, a brilliant radiologist to pursue further career opportunities. Berg was loved for his embracing blogging and talking to the people, not just down at the littles. So we were all a bit apprehensive to hear who would be named as his successor.
And a small blurb in this week's issue of Science, NIGMS is naming Chris Kaiser of MIT's biology department as the new of the IC. Kaiser made his bones studying protein folding in yeast and is currently serving as chair of the biology department at MIT. He also makes the fact well known that he plans to continue blogging about NIGMS's funding decisions. And this dear reader makes me happy.
So lets all wish the Kaiser best of luck.
We all know biomedical science funding is woefully not enough to support all of the science going on right now, what with funding levels hitting some all time lows. Some of us believe that this is the NIH intentionally trying to thin out the PI ranks, in hopes of decreasing the number of PIs so that you end up with less labs, albeit better funded ones hopefully.
No matter how right or wrong this motion may be, we cannot sustain the level of science (#s of research institutions, PI's, projects, etc) with the current set up and funding that we have. So what are we to do with these lost PI's that don't survive The Great Purge? Flip burgers at TGI McFucksticks? Scoop Poop? Sell their organs?
My thought on the matter is based around those teaching universities that decided to dive into the biomedical research game when the NIH budget doubled. I have friends that worked at more than a few of those and when the floodgates of federal money opened they were told to go chase the money or chase another job. Previously, research was really a secondary focus for them if that, their jobs were to educate young minds and they did just that. The institutions emphasis became less on teaching undergrads and more on them securing grants, and more importantly for the institutions, that sweet sweet overhead on them. Maybe its time for these places that may be faltering in the grants game to change their viewpoint. If everyone is having such a hard time securing these grants and the institution really doesn't have the funds to run with the big boys, then don't do it. Don't try to race a CPP's Maserati when you are barely rolling in an AMC Gremlin.
Let some of these people who were just focused on teaching before go back to just you know, focusing on teaching students. If they can't secure enough funds for research, make them focus on education, pick up another course section to teach. Sadly though this plan may have an unintended consequence of squeezing off employment of adjuncts too though.
What are the other options for these PI's who are going to get knocked out the game?
Francis Collins, the current NIH director who I affectionately call BoHonkeyPmpStick, put out a piece in Science Translational Medicine about the newly proposed NIH IC, the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS). According to Collins, the mission of NCATS is to
“catalyze the generation of innovative methods and technologies that will enhance the development, testing, and implementation of diagnostics, therapeutics, and devices across a wide range of human diseases and conditions.“
To my knowledge, NCATS sphere of influence will include the CTSA program, Offices of Rare Diseases Research, Cures Acceleration Network, Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases, and the FDA-NIH regulatory science collaboration. To my knowledge NCATS will absorb programs mainly from National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and some from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), probably with respect to GWAS is my guess.
Interesting article that boils down to BoHonkeyPimpStick trying to prime the scientific community for NCATS and to stoke the fire in the translational sciences folks, who are almost as whiney as all these neuroscience or deep-sequencing assholes.