spreading the wealth

Valerie Cardenas Nicolson valerie at itsa.ucsf.edu
Thu Jun 26 18:32:44 EST 1997


S L Forsburg wrote:

> grants is that the applicant must have a real position and
> "institutional commitment" (ie, money and space).
> Some institutions will create job titles for postdocs
>  easily, but many more will not.

Ah, well, it would certainly be a hardship if you worked
at an institution where titles were hard to obtain.  My comment
was based on my experience at my institution, where soft-money 
positions are relatively easy to come by, and *nobody* has 
a guarantee of space.  I know several people who have written
grants as post-docs (and yes, submitted with their boss
as PI and the post-doc as co-PI because post-docs aren't 
allowed to submit grants at my institution either), and
their reward was promotion to a titled, soft-money position
(adjunct or in residence positions).  I'm also aware that
this kind of arrangement is risky if your boss is unscrupulous.
And once they had the position they were able to pursue
their own research.  Some have stayed here, some have left
for their own tenure track positions elsewhere.  

> Remember, grants are NOT awarded to the individual.  They
> are awarded to the institution.

It sounds like you're more familiar with the numerous award
mechanisms at NIH and NSF than I am.  Last I checked (several 
years ago), except for mentored research awards, most grants 
were transferable to a different institution if the PI moved.

> Yes, but his rate of return is better.  He needs more

I think this would only be true if my boss was the *only*
person writing these grants, which is not the case.

> > write some excellent grants but don't get funded because they
> > don't have a list of publications as long as their arm,
> 
> That's usually not the reason.

Are you saying that the best grants get funded?  If so,
then what is your complaint?  I would complain if I were writing
excellent grants and not getting funded because I didn't have
an established record (something I have worried about, because
at a mock study section I attended, the reviewers spent about
2 minutes summarizing the grant and saying the science
was excellent, but spent the rest of their review rhapsodizing
about the PI's excellent publication and funding record).
I would also complain if I were writing excellent grants and
not getting funded because I wasn't at a top institution (as
one poster alluded to).  

> partly because when you have the resources you can build up
> a project on one grant before it's big enough to go out on its

I agree with you on this point.

> the pie isn't going to change, do you continue to let one
> guy eat 4 pieces, or do you let those 4 pieces feed 4
> people?  Because funding the big labs at big lab rates means
> that you can't fund as many labs.  So other people with
> good ideas don't get a chance.

I don't like this analogy, only because the big guy getting
4 pieces may be feeding 4 people.  You are correct that
funding big labs means you can't fund as many labs, but
that doesn't mean you aren't funding/supporting as many
scientists.  If the big guy getting
4 pieces just kept getting a bigger salary and wasn't hiring
more scientists, I would agree with you.  Maybe I have a rosier
view because I *do* feel like a collaborator in this lab,
who guides projects, is in on the planning and writing
of grants, and gets to pursue my own ideas.  I will 
never have a tenure-track position at this institution,
and for now (because of the two-body problem that's been 
discussed on this group lately) I am ecstatic that I can work 
in a big lab in a soft-money position and spend at least
part of my time pursuing my own ideas.

> Valerie might feel differently when she is trying to do expts to
> keep her lab running and wasting time grant re-writing and

Although I'm sure in this situation I will hate all the grant
re-writes, I can't imagine blaming my problems on "the big labs."
For the record, I worked for 3 years in a lab with no funding, 
worked for 3 years in a lab that was always on the edge, and I've 
been in a well-funded lab for 3 years.  The grants I've worked on 
were rejected for valid, scientific reasons, or because the agency 
just wasn't interested in the kind of work we were proposing.  
I've never been under the impression that "big labs" were to
blame for our problems.

Valerie Cardenas Nicolson



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