I always joke to summer students and rotating grad students:
Your lab notebook. Keep it up to date. If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, I expect to be able to pick up exactly where you left off.
Heart attacks happen. Car accidents happen. Random acts of violence happen. But we stand on each others shoulders in science. We build upon the hard work of others, and expect others to build upon our work. So you have to plan for crazy shit (like getting hit by a bus) so all of your hard work isnt lost forever and everyone else is screwed.
Well, the news just reported that Senator Kennedys seizure was caused by a malignant glioma (a kind of brain cancer) reminding me of a scary incident a couple years ago. A collaborator, a principle investigator at a different university, had a seizure and went into a coma for a while. His physicians finally figured out it was brain cancer.
While of course we were worried about him, we were also worried about his research, his graduate students, and the status of our collaboration. This fellow was the primary PI on our grant. If he died, where would his grad students go (grad students tuition, etc is normally paid for by the PIs grants)? Who would take over his research? You cant win a grant and say “Wait, I dont want it. Im gonna give it to Steve down the hall”, and you cant just say “Well, Jims dead. Might as well give the money to Susan.” Should we continue with our experiments? Should we go ahead and submit another grant we were working on together?
The questions went on and on… I was very glad I wasnt Bossman… But I had to wonder what I would do if I were him. Or what would happen to me if Bossman got hit by a bus or got brain cancer.
Does the NIH have some sort of protocol for what to do when a PI dies? Do they just take the grant back and recycle it into a different award? Do they try to transfer it to someone else at the Uni who can do similar work?
Hell, screw the money, what happens to the ideas?? Thats what horrified me during our scare– We were helping this fellow with a really friggen cool idea. We were just ‘helping’. We couldnt run this whole thing on our own, it wasnt/isnt our area of expertise. But it could lead to a therapy that could help a LOT of people. What would happen to that cool idea if our collaborator died??
Im happy to say that I never had to find out the answers to these questions. Our collaborator is doing just fine! Had surgery and is back on the bench, full of piss and vinegar like he always was. Sure he is lucky, but we, humanity, is lucky too.
But we cant depend on luck to save science from freak accidents!
Whats the protocol for this?
I want a friggen flow chart!