Terra Sigillata

We’re really fortunate here at Terra Sigillata World Headquarters to have a strong, dedicated readership. But I’m always tickled when we attract new readers and attention to the views we express here.

Late yesterday I received a very nice e-mail from Andrew Plemmons Pratt, Managing Editor of Science Progress, a blog of the well-known liberal think tank, Center for American Progress.


In his post, Don’t Bury the Next Generation of Researchers Under Billions in NIH Funding, Andrew notes my enthusiasm in our 23 Feb post for being sure that junior investigators already in the pipeline not be overlooked by stimulus dollars. Moreover, he seized on my suggestion that we not use to much of the stimulus money to overtrain scientists who cannot be absorbed by tenure-track academic positions or other employment requiring a PhD in a biomedical science:

The NIH has about $10 billion from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pour into job-creating grants and research infrastructure. The Scientist reports that the new Challenge Grants program will direct $200 million of that money towards areas of high-priority research. One opportunity here, as Abel Pharmboy points out at Terra Sigillata, is for those grants to support the crop of younger researchers who might currently have limited access to the upper echelons of their fields. He writes: “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.”

SP contributor Beryl Benderly tackled precisely this issue in her January piece, reporting that mismanagement of future NIH growth could have devastating ramifications for the long-term health of the research community in the United States

Benderly’s message:

This mismatch between effort and outcome is, according to leading labor force economists, the central obstacle discouraging many of America’s most talented young people from pursuing advanced scientific studies.

Go forth and read these two really nice posts at Science Progress, as well as the rest of their superb offerings:

Change Young Scientists Can Believe In: Time to Finance A New Generation of Researchers
by Beryl Benderly, 30 Jan 2009

Don’t Bury the Next Generation of Researchers Under Billions in NIH Funding
by Andrew Plemmons Pratt, 5 Mar 2009

Many thanks, Andrew!

Comments

  1. #1 bill
    March 6, 2009

    Too little too late for most of us “junior scientists” I’m afraid. But noble sentiment nonetheless, and maybe the next round of suckers will fare better.

  2. #2 Isis the Scientist
    March 7, 2009

    That’s really cool, Pharmington! You are the bestest!

  3. #3 Professor in Training
    March 7, 2009

    I’m with bill on this one. Those of us who are currently trying to get started as new/early career investigators are likely to be overlooked by the stimulus cash grab. We’ll get screwed, continue to struggle for a few more years, be denied tenure and leave academia altogether and when the current crop of established PIs start to wither and die in 20 years time, the sudden lack of up and coming junior faculty will become apparent and will be to the very great detriment of higher education in the US.

    On that somber note, IT’S FRIDAY! w00t!!!1!!!

    Congrats on the blurb, btw :)

  4. #4 Abel Pharmboy
    March 7, 2009

    Bill and PiT, my point is the you are EXACTLY the people who should benefit from this boondoggle. With no disrespect for undergrads entering PhD programs, you two have a tremendous amount of time and effort invested in the biomedical enterprise. It is your efforts and future success that should be prioritized.

  5. #5 Professor in Training
    March 7, 2009

    Abel: I should have been clearer in my earlier comment and said that I agreed with the point you made in your post. From what I’ve seen in the stimulus announcements from the NIH, there’s nothing in the cash grab that will specifically target early career investigators – the only mention I’ve seen is the statement on the challenge award RFA that says that “recipients will not be considered New PIs or ESIs when they apply for NIH research grants in the future.”

    This approach WILL create jobs further down the road though when we get denied tenure due to our inability to get funding!

  6. #6 Abel Pharmboy
    March 7, 2009

    Okay, now I see how I misread, PiT – sorry ’bout that. My wish is that some thought be given to a comprehensive long-view that provides sustainable opportunities for you to get the support you need through a tenure decision.

    The concern some have about training too many more postdocs comes from the decision to fund about 14,000 grants already in the review pipeline that received good scores but missed previous paylines. NIH should’ve used those funds to fully support existing grants whose support was cut during the project period – for example, mine was cut 28% at award five years ago, then 2.5-3% each successive year (all while my institution required cost-of-living increases in salaries).

    On a brighter note, I hope to use my new Scarpas today, thanks to your fine recommendation!

  7. #7 Professor in Training
    March 7, 2009

    No problem – and I agree with everything in your comment. Again, it’s a short-sighted approach that will create more postdoc (and presumably grad student) numbers in the short-term (which is what the stimulus bill was all about) but will lead to an even higher demand for junior faculty positions and early career PI funding in a few years … unless federal research funding is increased over the longer term to compensate. Sigh. All I can do right now is try to get a piece of the pie and continue to beat my head up against the wall in the hopes that things will improve in the coming years.

    Hope the Scarpas work out today! Just remember that they take a long time to break in but if you can persevere through that agony, you will have an awesome, comfortable pair of shoes for life. My Scarpas really enjoyed their first taste of snowshoeing earlier this winter :)