Should grants be limited to a single renewal?

Feb 10 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

In the context of the discussion of the "Emeritus Award" from NIH, Neuro-conservative commented:

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.

Thoughts?

13 responses so far

  • SaG says:

    Perhaps Dr. Rosenbaum could make his summary statements available to the wider community and allow us to determine if he was discriminated based on age or simply treated like every other applicant?

  • qaz says:

    We all complain about the entitlements felt by the supersenior baby boomer generation, but that's not because it wasn't a good system, that's because we weren't given that system. We shouldn't forget that in those reliable-renewal days it was very possible to survive on one grant, that they did good science with less stress and less headache and less terror than we have now, and that the ratio of wasted work writing grants to quality work writing papers was very different.

    This is analogous to the recent take on the term "privilege". (I think it was Digby or TaNahesi Coates, but can't find the original post.) The problem isn't that there is a subset of people with privileges, it's that the rest of the population doesn't have those rights. Everyone should have the right to walk down the street safely. Everyone should have the right to get a good education. We need to bring everyone else up, not tear the successful down.

    I'd like to bring back the good-enough-job-gets-renewed. What I've argued for on DrugMonkey and elsewhere is a process where you know 2 years in advance if your grant is going to get renewed so you can either proceed apace or panic appropriately. The current system is not better than the old. It's just that giving these privileges to a subset of people is not ok.

    • SaG says:

      My understanding of the NIGMS MIRA grants is that they will provide this kind of slower cut off of funding. If you are not renewed after 5 years years you would get 1-2 years of funding to allow you time to apply for other grants or an orderly shutdown of your lab. Similar to what HHMI does. Of course, NIH could do this for every renewal grant if they wanted to.

    • drugmonkey says:

      Endorse qaz. The thing that frustrates people the most is the idea that some other folks have a super cushy ride while the rest of us struggle mightily. Particularly in a business where accomplishment is so intimately tied to the means and yet we tend to ignore that in career evaluation. Once you've been around long enough to understand there is nothing personally deserving about a McKnight or Rosenbaum that justifies their privileges, these special pleas sound really selfish.

  • Established PI says:

    Prof. Rosenbaum is exhibit A for what is wrong with continuously renewing project grants with automatic increases over each cycle. I have already saved a pdf with his post on Rock Talk and will use his story the next time my grant falls below the payline. But his post also shows why the NIH has to take a harder line on renwals for PIs whose day has come and gone. I wonder which early or mid-career investigator had to shut down his/her lab so that Rosenbaum could celebrate his 83rd birthday as an NIH-funded investigator.

    With regards to your main question - for those fortunate investigators who entered the NIH system during the fat years, those endlessly renewed "projects" were essentially MIRA grants: they funded the core projects in the PIs lab and their scope expanded over the years along with the budget. I like the idea of switching to a system that is up-front about this (the proposed MIRA) award, building in the flexibility to raise and lower the budget (or cut off funding entirely). Then let the PIs have additional, project-based grants as needed, but don't allow them to be renewable at all. While the latter system is foreign to NIH-only investigators, it is the system followed by the NSF.

  • dr.potnia.theron says:

    Oldest boomers are 69-71, youngest are 50-52, depending on your definition of the generation. Someone in their 80's is more different from me (a boomer) than the Gen-Xers. How different is someone who is now 49 from someone who is now 53 and got their phd in the same year? Rather than defining by "generation", or forcing arbitrary cut-offs on a continuous variable, why not work on some functional criteria? There is a problem here, although there is a lot of ad hoc arguing going on that is not so convincing. But no one has shown what I perceive as a reasonable solution other than kill the oldies.

  • drugmonkey says:

    wrt your "functional criteria", sure Potnia, let's take the date of first professorial appointment since that is most closely aligned to NIH grant privilege. Let's also use "appointed in the first half of the doubling or earlier" as the criterion. That's fair.

  • Established PI says:

    Dr. PT - I, for one, don't want to kill the oldies, but I do want to take away their funding advantage when they are clearly skating by on their reputation and are no longer pushing the field forward. There are PIs in my area of research who still have those R01s going on projects (and recent results) that would never get anyone else close to the payline. The work is incremental and same old-same old. These are people who are being given a big, huge pass by the study sections (or, as per Rosenbaum, by council) even when their time has truly passed. I find it hard to believe that those of them who are 70+ really can't afford to retire (some specific cases I know of are clearly quite well off); it's their egos that can't seem to afford to admit that it is time to pass the baton. The NIH shouldn't be supporting them - let their institutions continue to fund the work if it is so important to them to keep that lab open. If the NIH wants to be a responsible steward of the taxpayers' money, they need to make fairer decisions that benefit the scientific enterprise as a whole, not just a handful of insiders.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And seriously Potnia, what in the ever living earth is wrong with a retirement age? Can you explain that? Why is that even a question when the flip side is 30somethings who can't get into the game?

  • DJMH says:

    DM, age discrimination is illegal, so that's what wrong with retirement age.

    The fact that the squatters have created de facto age discrimination *against* the young set somehow is not relevant. (See also: $7 spent by feds on the over 65 set for every $1 spent on the under 18 set.)

  • E rook says:

    I'd been looking forward to the day that I get an R01 funded and calculated how many renewal cycles till minimum retirement age in my pension system. All the >15yr continuously funded projects (Ps and R01s) that I know of personally continue to be productive and have spin off projects as new PIs are born from them. I haven't seen this dead weight long term R01 that is written about here. (I do see dead weight hard money salaries at home though, which is infuriating). On the one hand, I wouldn't want this continuity to go away and I thought that scrutiny for productivity is higher after your first R01, so if it gets renewed then certainly something useful is expected, on the other ... what difference does it really make if a project is submitted as a renewal or if it is submitted "Type 2 Y11 as Type 1 Y1" like we now have "A2 as A0?" My sense is that everyone in the review process will know what's happening but we will loose the accounting / historical record that we get by seeing these larger Y numbers in grant #.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The point is rarely about "dead weight". It is about equality of opppportunity, investment in the future, portfolio diversification and opportunity cost.

    Descending into a debate about whether the emeritus PI is going to produce any useful science at all is a serious mistake. Just about anyone with grant funding turns out *some* productivity.

  • qaz says:

    "Just about anyone with grant funding turns out *some* productivity."

    So why are we arguing over parts of a percent?

    NIA is at 7th percentile for under-$500k and 4th percentile for over $500k . And it's all because of a surge in grant applications. (Source: http://www.nia.nih.gov/research/blog/2015/02/payline-update/)

    This is crazy. We waste so much time writing and reviewing grants. There has to be a better way.

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