Most of us do research that is "trans-disciplinary" or "integrative" in one form or another. In fact, I have always touted that as one of the secrets to getting NIH funding: the careful design of a project that is of interest and importance to your IC's missions/goals, but will still answer the fundamental questions you think are important and gripping. For various folks from my background (evolutionary/ organismic/ ecologic), this is one path to NIH funding.
My NIH-identity does not easily fall into any IC. It's a disease, but one that doesn't have its own IC, like deafness or cancer, or even part of one, like stroke. It's not a well-defined clinician entity, with a large, sub-group, like dentistry or nursing. It's across the agespan, so it's not like Alzheimer's, which is largely a problem of the elderly, or prematurity, which is largely assigned to peds. The fact is nobody wants to fund my particular version of bunny hopping. They have said so explicitly, despite it being a major cause of morbidity and mortality for a number of other significant diseases.
This is very evident in that proposals get bounced around in terms of IC assignment. My poor postdoc in particular got told not to bother to submit the K-award by IC-one, because we're not funding that, any more, and IC-2 said try IC-1, because they do that and not us, and IC-3 never even answered the emails. Time to revise and resubmit.
The response of various people, people in this sub discipline, to this problem is very interesting, in part because of the different perceptions of "why" and what the problem really is.
I have my views. Of course I do. I think historically this has been a "women's field", like nursing, where most of the clinical practioners were women.Over the years there has been a lot of lip service to "interdisciplinary" teams, and this may have been true for the folks working with patients But it has not been reflected in attendance at meetings and publications in the flagship journal. Interestingly to me, at least, is that European and Asian societies are more diverse, in terms of discipline, and are much larger. That is, 5000 people at the meeting instead of 500. But that's not where the funding is.
A second problem is, in my view, but with some evidence, that through the 90's and 00's IC#1 (from above) funded a lot of work in this field. A lot of very bad work. Big clinical trials that were ultimately flawed or produced only negative results. Part of the reason for this, in my view, is that they were treating symptoms and not looking for mechanism. This was at a time, when NIH was shifting to mechanism and pathophysiology. At one point, a couple of years ago, one of the PO's from IC#1 basically said this to me, when I was on an in-house study section.
[As an aside, I know lots of people who "went over the PO's head" to absolutely no effect at all. In this case].
SO what is the response of the folks in this area to this problem? There have been two very distinct responses, that I have seen. One might chose to categorize them as Old- and Young- guard. But there are young 'uns in the old camp.
The old guard write editorials in the journal, and Talk Seriously About the Problem at the National Meeting. I seldom am invited to participate in these, because, after all, I am not a clinician. These people cling to their clinical status and research justification. And I work on animal models. (Aside, this is a meeting where I have been criticized for "pretending" that my animal models are relevant, because animal models not have compliance issues, or co-morbidity concerns. Explaining ceteris parabis to these people did not and will not work). But I read what they write and shake my head. Lots of self-pity, lots of "we need PR". Very little introspection as to what has been done wrong.
There is an anniversary divisible by 10 of the journal, and they commissioned a number of articles. Here, to me, is a reflection of the problem. I was asked to write "about animal models". Not about the questions of mechanism I have been working on. Not about the underlying scientific/ neurological/ physiological/ biochemical problems that I address with animal model models. I wrote the article as a plea for understanding pathophysiology and mechanism. You could take out my disease name, and put in "blindness" or "cancer" or "ALS" and it would be entirely relevant (although you'd need new references).
On the other hand, the young turk's response struck me as, well, incredible. Incredible in a wonderful way. Two young, one just pre-tenure, and one just post-tenure, organized a small local meeting. 20-25 people. I was flattered to be invited, and two other olde fartes were there. Everyone else was in spitting distance of their postdoc/residency. Lots of students there, too.
We got the agenda a few weeks in advance. The meeting was NOT presentations by anyone, although you could bring slides on a computer to support points. There were 1-2 major question in each morning or afternoon block, that were starting points. What is the definition of our clinical problem? In terms of physiology, in terms of patients? What is good and bad about how we look at it clinically? What do we need to do to understand this problem? What are the other problems that need to be addressed that we've not thought about? Two intensive days. It was incredible. What do we need to do and how can we best do it? I felt like I contributed to thinking about how to do research, and importantly, came back charged up thinking about what my work means and does and how to make it better. That meeting certainly informed my article about the role of animal research.
The Big National Meeting of this group always seems to me the same people saying the same things. It's small for A Big National Meeting, 400-600 people, of whom <150 present info. One session, everybody there. I have not been excited at this meeting for years. In fact, I'm not going to go this year. I send my trainees (who almost always get to present) and who have a good professional experience. Most of the young turks from the small local meeting will be there, and they are tremendously kind, professionally, to various younger trainees who show up.
But, there are always young people willing to sell their soul for a mess of pottage. The current president of the society is young and should be a rabble rouser and agent of change. He should be part of the Young Turk Group. But he's a physician who has morphed into an old man and espouses the party line.
I judge this group's ability to change the course of NIH funding priorities as small. But the young group? They are understand what research is, what modern, current, NIH priority research is. They are funded, and in fact, they are the ones who will be making a difference in the world, for the patients, for our understanding.