Foolishness about NIH funding

May 12 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

In the comments on Mike Lauer's the discussion about limitations on NIH funding, was this one:

Jessicaon May 4, 2017 at 10:37 am said:

I agree. I’d love to see the Ks done away with and R01s for new PIs require a 10% senior investigator mentor who can guide them on things like handling a budget, hiring staff, overseeing staff and time management; along with actual scientific mentoring. It would seem to me that it would offer a graceful and dignified transition for senior investigators nearing the end of their careers. And it would serve new investigators better than 5 years of being mentored on a project that they can’t afford to do on a K budget.

DM had a comment:

I think there is something more problematic here. I'm guessing Jessica is a basic scientist. I am guessing Jessica has a (relatively) new TT job, and is struggling to get funding to keep her lab afloat and do What Needs To Be Done to get tenure. Which, needless to say, involves R-level funding. I feel for the Jessica's of this world, as I mentor a passel of them here, and elsewhere. T

The first result or consequence of doing away with K's will likely be more Olde Fartes getting R-awards. I do not think putting more money into R's, even with an explicit commitment to NI/ESI folks, will result in more of those people being funded. It hasn't worked so well thus far, right? Even limiting PI's to 3 awards, I'm not sure additional funding will end up going to younger folks. We need to work towards ways of making that happen.

A second consequence of doing away with K's would be to seriously change the make-up of who does research. One goal of the many K's (and yes, there are about a dozen different K mechanisms, see below) is to help clinical researchers. There are K mechanisms explicitly for clinicians and explicitly for clinical research. These are different things, and while the overlap, they do not completely overlap. Such awards are marvelously successful at helping clinicians. This is part of the reason I suspect Jessica is a basic scientist/non-clinician. I cannot imagine any clinical person, independent of clinical degree making that statement.

I have mentored (and been The Mentor on many K23's, etc) clinicians. They have a different set of problems and imperatives governing their lives, which present them with issues different from basic scientists, or even basic-science (ie non-practicing) PhDs who do clinical research.  I'm not just thinking Physicians/MDs, but also PTs, OTs, SLPs,  PhD's in Psych, etc. There are clinical programs that give you a PhD at the end (SLP, Psych). There are folks who have a Masters-level clinical degree, or even the relatively new DPT degree, but went back and got a basic science PhD, and do research that falls in the middle of the spectrum. Frequently, the debt load of clinicians is higher than science-PhDs. There are not tuition waivers and TA's for these people. The logic is that they are going to make a lot of money when they are done. And, thus, the pressure (internal and external) to have a clinical practice (in whatever form they practice) is much higher. Whereas basic scientists often teach as well as research, these guys see patients, run clinics, make rounds, do surgery, whatever, and so at a much higher time commitment than most PhDs in anatomy or neuroscience or physiology or cell biology departments.

Stay with me. I know the reflexive impulse of basic-science PhD's/researchers is to despise such people. To hate on the medical students (if you teach medical students). I anticipate the various objections: they chose a clinical career and get paid for it. Yes, true. But does that mean they shouldn't do research? I am betting there are lots of you who say no. I do believe that there are lots of clinicians doing good, valuable and otherwise unapproachable research (and yes, there is a huge amount of garbage, turned out by people who think the letters after their name mean they Know Something). But, to be brutal, what basic scientists think is nearly irrelevant here. The NIH thinks differently, and the NIH wants clinicians doing clinical research. Which, as an aside, often doesn't require the same financial support as basic science bench work.

K-awards are a critical life saver to young clinical people. Yes, there is not much money for research in these awards. But if you are 70-80% clinical that means you have ONE DAY each week to do your research. One day each week, in 48-50 weeks in a year. Its not just teaching a course in the fall, and then having all spring/summer full time for research. Its not even teaching two courses in the fall and one in the spring and doing summer school. The 20% "protected" time that clinicians get is a much more honest estimate of effort spent than lots of the estimates I've see of teaching effort at MRU. The K-award is the difference between a successful research-clinician career and a pure clinical career, which at BSD/MRU institutions is like not getting tenure.

So here is a list of most of the K-awards. Go through the kiosk and look at the K-awards. Some are for "scientists" but most are for clinicians. Keep in mind not all IC's sponsor/accept/give out awards for all of these mechanisms. The K-awards that exist for experienced post-docs, but not TT, don't have a lot of money. But they are a damn good alternative to being an adjunct.

K01 Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award

For support of a postdoctoral or early career research scientists committed to research, in need of both advanced research training and additional experience.

K02Independent Research Scientist Development Award

For support of an early to mid-career scientists with research funding, in need of additional protected time committed to research.

K07Academic Career Development Award

To support either a mentored or independent investigator to develop or enhance curricula, foster academic career development of promising young teacher-investigators, and to strengthen existing teaching programs.

K08Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award

To provide the opportunity for promising clinician scientists with demonstrated aptitude to develop into independent investigators, or for faculty members to pursue research, and aid in filling the academic faculty gap in health profession's institutions.

K12Clinical Scientist Institutional Career Development Program Award

To provide support for newly trained clinicians appointed by an institution for development of independent research skills and experience in a fundamental science within the framework of an interdisciplinary research and development program.

K22Career Transition Award

To provide support to outstanding newly trained basic or clinical investigators to develop their independent research skills through a two phase program; an initial mentored research experience, followed by a period of independent research.

K23Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award

To provide support for the career development of clinically trained professionals who have made a commitment to patient-oriented research, and who have the potential to develop into productive, clinical investigators.

K24Midcareer Investigator Award in Patient-Oriented Research

To provide support for mid-career clinicians with research support, to allow for protected time to devote to patient-oriented research and to serve as mentors for beginning clinical investigators.

K25 Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award

To support the career development of investigators with quantitative scientific and engineering backgrounds outside of biology or medicine who have made a commitment to focus their research endeavors on basic or clinical biomedical research.

K43Emerging Global Leader Award

To provide research support and protected time to a junior scientist with a faculty position at an LMIC institution leading to an independently funded research career.

K76Emerging Leaders Career Development Award

To advance the development of physician-scientists prepared to take an active role in addressing present and future challenges of a global biomedical research enterprise.

K99/​R00Pathway to Independence Award

To support both an initial mentored research experience (K99) followed by independent research (R00) for highly qualified, postdoctoral researchers, to secure an independent research position. Award recipients are expected to compete successfully for independent R01 support during the R00 phase.



3 responses so far

  • becca says:

    I enjoy research more when there is more cross fertilization between clinicians and basic science, but I cannot see how the economics should work.

    If you are NIH, would you rather buy 20% effort from a physician or 100% effort from a dedicated scientist? If we're talking the going rate for a general practice physician, 20% time of median salary of $164,000 works out to $32,800- it's not very hard to get a grad student for that in many places.
    What is more problematic is that a lot of the people who are most competitive for K awards, and in fairness most likely to be doing exciting research, are medical specialists who are in academic medical centers. A neurosurgeon's median salary is $589,500; so 20% works out to $117,900. Would you rather have one day of a neurosurgeon's time, or all of an assistant prof, or perhaps two postdocs?

    We can pretend that K awards pay for release from clinical time, but clinical time is simply too lucrative. Institutions have every incentive to nudge clinicians to do clinical work. At that point, research is just a status-symbol- you are *so* good the institution wants to keep you even if they have to accept you've got a side gig for your own personal intellectual life.

    There are, of course, prestigious clinical researchers who bring an enormous amount of good press to institutions through really cutting edge clinical trials. But it's still very much in the institution's interest to pay those people as clinicians, and have them hire research directors for the research.

    • potnia theron says:

      Firstly, there are salary caps on NIH grants. They don't pay 20% of a surgeon's salary, but 20% of the cap. Secondly, most young Asst Prof MD's are not making anywhere near that. Most medical centers have complex schemes that have (relatively) low bases, and more salary in "bonus" for productivity. Thus, the penalty for research isn't quite as bad for young people. Thirdly, K-awards *require* a minimum of 75% protected time. K's also have separate budgets for salary (again, dictated by the cap) and research (usually 20-50K$).

      The model of PhDs for research & clinicians doing medicine in clinical depts. is not much different than many basic science depts. having PhDs for research and other PhDs to do teaching. Or adjuncts to do teaching & TT to do research.

  • SM says:

    The K01 I received was critical to my success. If I had not received it, I would have had to switch projects to stay in my postdoc lab, due to funding lapses. That would've severely impacted my productivity and I would have been much less competitive for faculty positions. As PT mentioned, all Ks are not the same--even the same K code can mean something very different at different ICs, including the amount of money or length of funding.

    Also, I wonder how many junior PIs have really benefited from the Olde Fart-Young PI set up?

    I am so tired of this line about how untenured profs aren't qualified to do anything without a Olde Fart telling them what to do. I'm all for mentoring (I've had some great mentors), but almost no one is getting an academic job without 5+ years of postdoc to figure out what you're getting into. If you aren't resourceful enough to seek out help for the parts of the job you don't understand or aren't good at, your long-term prospects in academia aren't great.

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