Friday, July 16, 2010

If professor big shot can't land funding, am I screwed?

One of the recent conferences I was at was a bit sobering - not for the data or for all the cool shit people are doing, but for the fact that several really big names in my field are all having funding issues. These are people who have averaged at least 2 or 3 CNS papers a year for the last 5 or so years and beyond. These are people who have set the pace for the field for years. These are the people who give talks that everyone discusses afterwards at the break.

Holy shit.

One individual who is at a prestigious UK uni has been without funding for two rounds now, and they are making him move to a smaller office! Talk about tough love. I would be in a broom closet with two other people right now if those rules were applied to n00bs at my uni.

But the reality remains. These giants in the field are getting the $$. Granted, many of those I talked to were not from North America, so it may be a reflection of the economic realities of certain countries, but it's still a scary prospect. My hope is that funding agencies are making the move towards putting their dollars into the younger crowd, but if they are not willing to fund the people who are still VERY active and have a long history of innovation, it makes me concerned about the chances of my proposals.

We will see, I suppose.

13 comments:

  1. My hope is that funding agencies are making the move towards putting their dollars into the younger crowd...

    I've heard from several people that PIs with more than one large grant are getting hit especially hard. When they have other funding, they don't need this grant as much as a newbie with no funding, I guess. While it makes me somewhat more hopeful for my own situation in the coming years, it creeps me out when grants from big time profs are getting triaged. Scary shit.

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  2. Yes this is scary, it freaked me out when, just after the collapse, my post-doc advisor had trouble paying everyone because a "sure thing" NIH renewal got soundly rejected. Another well-established PI in my current dept. got four 1's and a 2 on a very recent NIH submission (new scoring rules), with the 2 based solely on a comment that the lab already currently has some funding (for completely unrelated projects) and doesn't need another grant. And it was not funded!

    Based on these two data points, it does seem like these decisions are being made with the express purpose of spreading the money around so everyone can at least get by in these hard times. Anyone else have anecdotes to confirm or rebut this? Hopefully, most of the cutting back is of the belt-tightening rather than the driving-out-of-business variety....

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  3. Whoa, was the comment about "already has funding" explicit? Because that is totally against the rules!!! Reviewers are absolutely NOT supposed to take current funding status into account, and while they often do consciously or unconsciously, they definitely do not usually put anything about it into the summary statement comments since it is not allowed.

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  4. Where's DrugMonkey to weigh in on this?

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  5. Ack, I am screwed. Exasperated, scared sigh.

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  6. Dude. It is scary. Hopefully, perseverence is key.

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  7. On what? Arlenna is correct, this is not supposed to be brought up at review. Program, OTOH, has been known to make such threats explicit but it is unknown the degree to which they've actually followed through.

    Prof-like, I do think you need to consider two things. First, each funding system is going to differ so it is hard to draw conclusions from other countries or even between NSF and NIH I would expect. Second, that comment from melissa about a "sure thing" needs to be considered closely. Some of the oldsters just haven't woken up to the new reality of no-sure-thing and may be taking time to understand their pubs are not going to make up for sheist applications these days.

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  8. In fairness, we're talking more than two funding agencies, we're talking several countries. Obviously there is a lot of variability, but it is still unnerving to see major players in your field going without funding. I should also say that many of the mid-career people seem to be doing fine, so there's that.

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  9. If Prof Big Wig has several current R01s and misses out on getting her new one funded so that I can get one and not lose my job, I think I'd be ok with that.

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  10. My PhD advisor said people my age shouldn't even try to do the tenure track thing -- that many of us wouldn't get a grant and would be denied tenure bc of the economy. I'm working on the assumption that he's overly pessimistic.

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  11. What DrugMonkey said. And don't believe these old fucks when they tell you that they got some supposedly awe-inspiring score but didn't get funded. And also, anyone who claims they got "four 1s and a 2" can only be referring to the criterion scores from one of the assigned reviewers. Finally, I have received a summary statement in which under the investigator criterion, one of the reviewers wrote, "Evidence of the excellent productivity of the PI is that he is currently extremely well funded."

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  12. Yup, you're screwed, maybe.

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  13. 1. Funding sucks - but you have a faculty position, so you might as well try? Still, the more of you who flame out, the better it makes me feel about never even ever getting a CHANCE to submit my grants (!)

    2. Even grants with perfect scores sometimes get passed over for lesser grants in hotter areas written by people with more political pull (I know this happens at NSF). That's the other part that really, really sucks.

    3. Most super-big PIs I know have their grants written by postdocs, but this is becoming harder as more and more postdocs speak little to no English, so the PIs are arrogant enough to think they can start doing it themselves again now after not having done it in many years

    4. Most super-big PIs I know read the minimum number of papers, which means they only kinda know what they've heard about at meetings (and that assumes they're paying attention to other people's talks). Most of them have no idea what's really going on in their own field and haven't served on a study section in a lot of years

    Anyway good luck!!! =D

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