Longevity and Transitions for R01s in Years 40+

Feb 07 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

In the context of the potential "Emeritus Award" discussion, two of the points on interest were (1) an understanding of the situations of the senior investigators to whom such an award mechanism would be presumably targeted and (2) the fact that mechanisms already exist for transitioning labs to more junior faculty if that is desired. To get a look at one aspect of this, I examined active R01 grants in years 40 or larger. Of course, this is an atypical slice of this pie as many investigators, even if they have been continuously funded for decades, have not done so on individual grants that have been renewed.

I identified 62 active R01 grants in years 40-58. These were held by 59 investigators (three investigators each had two R01s on the list). Seven of the grants included co-PIs. The ages or year of degree could be identified for most investigators through internet searches. For 13 of the grants, it appeared that the grants had been transferred from another PI at some stage of its existence. In two cases, this appeared to be due to the death of the original PI. In seven cases, the point of transition could be identified and the original PI could be identified and all appear to be still alive. In these cases, the ages of the original PIs at the time of transition were estimated to range from 56 to 86 with a median of 74 while the ages of the PIs to which the grant was transferred were estimated to range from 42 to 65 with a median of 50. In the remaining four cases, the point of transition could not be identified, but the current PIs did not appear to be old enough to be the original PIs.

Overall, the ages of the current PIs for these grants are estimated to range from 49 to 93 with a median of 74. The ages at which the original PIs were awarded these grants were estimated to range from 24 to 40 with a median of 32.

21 responses so far

  • Drugmonkey says:

    And of course this doesn't just happen to 40+ year awards. The ones I know of personally were switched at year 26 or below. Can't recall a year 6 but I can think of at least one swap in year 11 .

    Another important point is to consider the ones that failed to be sustained by the new PI. They should definitely be included in any accounting, I.e., the success of transition is irrelevant to the discussion of a need for a new mechanism. (Though obviously important for discussing the wisdom of doing so)

    • datahound says:

      DM: This was definitely not intended to be a comprehensive analysis. There are many other grants that were transferred. The question is how to track such things without ending up with a huge amount of work. I am sure that this is not a "representative" sample. On the other hand, it does capture many of the relevant categories.

  • qaz says:

    I wonder how many of these transitioned grants needed to be transitioned and how many of them were inheritences (which we know causes severe problems with inequality [see Pikettey...]). What I mean by this is I wonder how many of those transitioned grants were for ongoing longitudinal studies that really were a continuation (the Alzheimer's Nun study, waiting for the next drop of pitch to fall) and how many were just "the next set of questions that were interesting" handed to a protege.

    Probably not measurable, but I'll bet a lot more of them were the latter than the former.

    • datahound says:

      qaz: You are correct. I think almost all of them appear to me to be "the next set of questions" grants. 9 of the 13 transitioned grants have gone through at least one cycle of competitive renewal (some, many) whereas 4 have transitioned more recently and do not appear to have not year been renewed under the new management.

  • mytchondria says:

    Sweet baby jabus. Of the 100 year old PIs that have these and held onto them, did you get an idea how many of the grants were > 250K/directs/year? I know some old BSD folk doods have 'only' one grant but 750K/year + for benchwork*.

    Oh, and here's a tricky one....any women?

    *Obs, clinical studies cost a crappe ton more (again, just for readers)

    • datahound says:

      The median annual total funding is $475K corresponding to annual direct costs around $318K. The first quartile is at $382K total corresponding to $256K direct. There is one very large R01 (epidemiology) over $5M annual total costs. The next largest grant is $1.3M annual total costs and that appears to be benchwork-based. Thus, the bottom line estimate is that 3/4ths of these grants are over $250K annual direct costs.

      There are six women, four of whom appear to be the original PIs and two of whom took over long-standing grants.

  • Philapodia says:

    How are these 40+ year grants split out by IC? Are they randomly distributed or are certain ICs (and study sections if they go back that far) more likely to keep these projects moving along?

  • datahound says:

    Here is the distribution by IC:
    NIGMS, 21
    NIDDK, 9
    NHLBI, 6
    NINDS, 5
    NIAID, 4
    NEI, 4
    NIMH, 3
    NICHD, 3
    NCI, 2
    NIA, 1
    NIAMS, 1
    NIDCR, 1
    NIDCD, 1
    NIDA, 1

    Thus, about 1/3 of the grantees are in NIGMS and 1/2 are accounted for by NIGMS and NIDDK.

  • datahound says:

    A member of this cohort posted something over at RockTalk. See http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2015/02/03/emeritus-rfi/#comment-22689

    I am a senior investigator, 81+ years old, who helped start the field I am in, and continues to be a leader in it. I have had my current NIH grant from GM for 48 years. In 2012-13 my NIH renewal proposal with 4 specific aims was turned down 2X by the GM, NCSD Panel, with 35%+ priority scores. The major criticism was that we were “trying to do too much!” I appealed the grant reviews to the GM Council and they awarded the grant to me for 3 years at somewhat reduced funding. This funding will finance my lab until Sept 2016, after which I will close down. I am NOT closing down because I have lost my energy for, or interest in, research: We have published 5 papers in good journals on our Spec Aims for this last grant, since it was first turned down in 2012, some with accompanying News and Views; the last reports appear in “Trends in Cell Biology” and “Current Biology” in February, 2015. I am closing down my lab because I can no longer put up with the aggravation of having my grants turned down clearly and simply because of my age, and that apparently is the case, altho the SRO of my panel will certainly deny it. “Trying to do too much?” Yes, and we can compete for an RO-1 as well as any younger scientist, but there is nothing we can do about being turned down just because we are older.
    For many of the same reasons stated by others above, I do not like the idea of Emeritus Awards. If one is still active & doing what a scientist is supposed to do, then they are unnecessary.

    • Helen says:

      Our senior colleague seems not to understand that no one would force anyone to take such a grant. There would be an application process specific for this funding mechanism, and a scientific review.
      The reptilian brain, it is powerful.

  • Philapodia says:

    Thanks Datahound. It's interesting that NIGMS and NIDDK has more than half of these long term awards. I wonder why that is? Clinical trials perhaps?

    In regard to the post by Joel Rosenbaum, I don't understand how being told they are doing "too much" (which is good ol' stock critique) is an implicit bias against age. Something doesn't jibe there... Perhaps his work has gone out of fashion and the reviewers no longer think it's important?

    • datahound says:

      The grants supported by NIGMS and NIDDK are almost all basic science programs that have been repeatedly renewed. They are not clinical trials (which rarely last more than 5-1o years).

      I think it is hard to interpret fragments of the Rosenbaum critique in the absence of the proposal and the full summary statement. In my opinion, what has been provided is not evidence of bias against age. Furthermore, a 35th percentile these days could actually be fairly good score with a supportive review in a very competitive field and study section.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Thanks for the great work, DataHound. I am wondering how you conducted the query on Project Reporter? I can see how to search for grants of a particular vintage (i.e., -48), but is there any way to do a range? Or did you just search for these durations one-by-one?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Separately, I am curious what you (and others here) would think about limiting grants to a single renewal, or any other limitations on duration? I previously thought it reasonable that renewal of ongoing solid work should be slightly favored within the system. But I think that Prof. Rosenbaum has inadvertently persuaded me otherwise.

    • datahound says:

      I, personally, do not favor limiting grants to a single renewal. Some longstanding research programs have been very productive and stability of support does allow investigators to pursue ideas that could (and often do) take a long time to reach fruition (for the benefit of science and the world). Of course, the counterpoint to this is the sense of entitlement that can develop. I think study sections and NIH should be able to handle these situations better than a hard cap, but there are going to be situations like the present one that raise disturbing questions.

      I will post your question for more discussion.

  • […] the context of the discussion of the "Emeritus Award" from NIH, Neuro-conservative […]

  • […] realized that my previous analysis was missing a key bit of information, namely how many long-standing R01s from previous years […]

  • […] or "Type 2" grants. In the context of discussions of the "Emeritus Award" discussion, I examined the distribution of R01 grants that had been renewed over a long period of time. Here, I look at the distribution of Type 2 grants over the period from 1995 to […]

Leave a Reply