Fixing NIH funding

Mike Gruidl mgruidl at COM1.MED.USF.EDU
Sun Aug 25 09:33:16 EST 1996

The current mechanism for training of students and post-docs needs to be fixed.  The 
traditional career path is no longer an option for many of those students.  In my 
opinion, we must first look at the root of this problem, which I believe is the 
tremendous conflict that is placed upon the laboratory PI. Students and post-docs are 
needed to do the research so that the PI can be competitive for grants.  I would argue 
that most PIs would not want to take on the moral responsibility of promoting a career 
for which fewer jobs exist than when they started their careers.

Therefore, I am proposing a simple idea which will difficult to implement.  Remove the 
money for student stipends and for post-doc salaries from investigator initiated grants. 
 Transfer those funds to block grants or to training grants which would be awarded 
directly to departments or to colleges.  The departments or college (as in a division 
within a larger university) would directly compete at the federal level for these funds. 
 I am also proposing two levels for which funding for the funding of students and 
post-docs.  One level would be an automatic level of funding of stipends and salaries 
based on the total level of funding for research and the number of peer reviewed 
publications produced by the requesting organization.  Some formula can be worked out 
where for every $200,000 of grant funds and 2 peer reviewed publications equals 1 
graduate student stipend.  I am sure that a closer look at how the NIH and NSF funds are 
spent on stipends and salaries as well as the number of publications which result from 
that research will allow derivation of an appropriate equitable formala for the 
distribution of funds.  

The second tier of funds would be awarded based on the submission of competitive grants 
from departments or colleges.  No individual investigator would be allowed to write for 
such awards.  The basis for funding these awards would be solely on the merit of the 
research involved and on the proposed training for the students and post-docs.  

Individual investigator initiated grants would still allow funding salaries for 
technicians and for funding salaries for non-tenure track research assistant professor 
positions.  Clearly, a research assistant professor is an advanced post-doc.  These 
funds would only be available for individuals who had completed at least two years of 
post-doc fellowship.

This proposal would place the power to award student stipends and post-doc salaries to 
the chair and deans of their respective departments and colleges.  This clearly has the 
possibility for abuse, but since these individuals would always be accountable to local 
authorities, I don't believe anyone could get away with a serious abuse without the 
local faculty raising the alarm.  If an entire department participated in a deception to 
aquire more than their justifiable allotment of funds for student stipends and post-doc 
salaries, the granting agency could penalize the institution by removing funds in future 

Another benefit would be the close scrutiny that students and post-docs would then be 
subjected to because of the limitation and difficulty of obtaining funds for stipends 
and salaries.  The best students and post-docs would be actively recruited and would 
only go to those institutions or departments or laboratories which could give them the 
adequate training.  Students would actually gain control of their own future.

The big looser in the short term would be the individual PI who could not recruit people 
directly with funds from NIH.  These individuals would need to hire qualified 
technicians or hire senior post-docs as faculty.  I believe these changes would give 
good careers to individuals without the desire or the capabilities to become independent 
investigators.  This would also give long term stability to many laboratories that is 
now lacking, because of the turnover of students and post-docs.

I am throwing these ideas out for discussion.  My intent is not to hurt or to point 
fingers or to lay blame on any individual or institution.  The system which we have all 
used is now in need of change.  If your intent is to flame or to incite, please respond 
directly to me by email and I will consider your comments.  Since I don't claim to have 
any great insight on the best solution, I am hoping that many people will contribute 
ideas which we can use to forge a better solution for how research is done.

Thank you for your time

Mike Gruidl

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