Fixing NIH funding
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
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
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