Over the weekend, Comrade PhysioProf at DrugMonkey posted on the details of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds distribution for the US National Institutes of Health.
For some unusual reason, the letter that was sent to NIH investigators and posted on the NIH website has now been removed and replaced today by the statement:
The announcement from the Acting NIH Director will be issued later today.
We are making every effort to get this vital information to you as soon as possible.
This page was last reviewed on February 23, 2009.
From the DrugMonkey post and an article in The Scientist, it appears that much of the $8.2 billion going to NIH will be used to fund previously submitted grant applications that missed the funding payline, with only about $100-200 million appropriated for new “Challenge” grants. A large fraction of the funds seem to be going toward infrastructure, buildings, and equipment, mostly because the funds have to be used in the next two fiscal years.
So, if you’re a new investigator with a new lab and great ideas, chances are that you’ve missed the boat. My hope is that review of the current proposal rankings will focus on those junior, tenure-track investigators who have been shortchanged by the worst NIH paylines since the early 90s. However, it does appear that funds and supplements will be available for existing trainees and hiring of new postdoctoral fellows.
But with all due respect to our trainees, here is the concern I voiced at Drug’s place:
In general, I’m very concerned that the pressure to spend the cash in two years will continue the short-sighted patterns of past NIH planning.
We have far more trainees than tenure-track faculty positions. Available positions are already being frozen or eliminated at most state universities. So while I’d love to see more training dollars, the fact is that we need to focus on newly-independent investigators and asst/assoc professors in their first 10 years of independence. These people are our future and have already been suffering and leaving academia for other jobs or careers. These people are the seed corn of our national biomedical future.
I understand the pressure to spend. Everyone associated with any stimulus money is under pressure to fund “shovel-ready” projects. But let’s not shovel it down the shitter.
…or dig the same hole we dug during the doubling of the NIH budget.
As I said, I recognize that it may not be possible to effect long-term changes that impact more successful transition from postdoc to TT faculty member with monies that must be blown in two years. But we’ve got to show restraint and responsibility by not training another few thousand postdocs who still won’t have faculty slots to pursue in three years.
However, and I don’t mean this tongue-in-cheek at all, some current scientists may start looking more seriously at research reagent sales positions. Part of the stimulus funds, “will require researchers to report the number of jobs created or preserved by the grant to show that the money is boosting local economies, according to Elie Dolgin in The Scientist.
Finally, DrugMonkey notes something that we currently in research can do as part of the stimulus package: buy American-made reagents and equipment.