wasting money

Valerie Cardenas Nicolson valerie at itsa.ucsf.edu
Thu Jun 19 16:54:40 EST 1997


S L Forsburg wrote:
> in size.  It's my personal opinion that the NIH should not
> give additional funding to anyone with 500,000 or more in direct
> costs already.  The big guys are cannibalizing the young,

I guess I belong to a "big" lab (we're probably just over
$500,000 in direct costs at the moment, although we have
our lean and fat years).  We do a different kind of work
than you (electrophysiology and medical imaging on human
subjects), but *most* of our money goes into paying salaries,
subject payments, and paying the MRI time.  I'm not sure
how we're "cannibalizing the young," since many people in
our lab *are* young and are getting training/publications
so we can be self-supporting someday (and the lab has a
pretty good record of producing people who successfully
write their own NIH grants).

> so I spend way too much time trying to re-write comparitively
> small grants for  nitpickers on the study section and way too
> little time actually doing  the work!

Are you *sure* it's not the same in the big labs?  The head
of our lab once estimated that he spent 80% of his time
writing grants.  I don't think he's exaggerating by much.
And that 80% figure doesn't include the amount of time the
rest of us put in collecting/analyzing pilot data for the
grants, time spent making budgets, writing the human research
protocols that must be approved before NIH will *review* the
grants, making figures for the grant, and helping with writing
and editing the grants.  I've been with the lab full-time for 
3 years, and I don't think we've ever had longer than a 
one month break between one grant going in and beginning
work on a new (brand new proposal or revision) one.  Sometimes
our boss would be working on more than one grant, although
the personnel would rarely be working on two at a time (e.g.,
boss would be working with EEG people on one grant and working
with the imaging people on another).  We submitted one grant
four times before we got funded.  

I know we've been very lucky lately just because we're
looking at some hot topics.  I guess my point is that
part of the reason we're well funded is because we
write grants all the time.  And we're also lucky
that it's pretty cheap to collect pilot data for 
the electrophysiology studies (imaging data is
expensive, though).

> a few "haves" and squashing the many "have nots".

Well, I did have one NIH program officer advise me to
stay in a well-funded lab until I was a "have."  With
the current funding environment, and the way that
study sections examine your pedigree and list of
publications, he felt that it was safest to stay
where you were until you got a grant, then leave
and take it with you (if starting an independent
lab was your goal).

> by writing endless grants, is a waste of everyone's time and

> for money.  Looking at big labs that thoughtlessly drop massive
> amounts of money doing so-so science, I sometimes wonder

Though I agree with you that writing endless grants seems like a
waste of everyone's time, and I'm sure there are people who
write some excellent grants but don't get funded because they
don't have a list of publications as long as their arm, I don't
think you can say that big labs keep getting funded because they
were already big and well funded (which might not be what you 
really mean, but that's what it sounded like when I read your message).
There's merit to their work, and they probably spend the same
proportion of time as you do on their grant applications.

Valerie Cardenas Nicolson



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