Archive for: May, 2017

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.



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Why do people become adjuncts?

May 11 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I don't know all the reasons, because I don't know all the adjuncts. But I know some.

Let's be clear about whom we are speaking. We are not talking about practicing professionals: doctors, dentists, lawyers, businessmen who come back and do some teaching, of various time commitments. Such folk have a variety of reasons for doing this, some reasons are even altruistic. But none of the reasons is money. These are the folks who make real money at their day jobs.

What we're talking about the ABD's, the recent grads, the young people who work for something like $3-4K per class, and given their hours, they make less than minimum wage.Indeed, most of the these folks would jump at a TT job. Most of these folks have been trying to get a TT job, and send out reams of applications, while trying to publish just one or two more papers. And, yes, an adjunct position is definitely a second-best option for the people I know.

So. A comment said that adjuncts are paid in a false coin: the promise of it being a stepping stone to a "real" job.

I disagree. There may be hand-waving and vague comments in that direction, but nothing substantial. Nothing that smacks of "promise".

Many of the people in adjunct positions that I knew/know, both IRL and in the blogosphere, have other considerations that prompted them to take an adjunct position: family issues (spouse, children, parents) that keep them from being able to take a job in the hinterland, a commitment to living in a Certain Place. Some I've known are married, with kids, and struggling to finish a PhD with no support, and need/think they need a job. Of course, people who can afford to stay in a postdoc position, often do. It certainly pays better than adjuncting.  And I have seem a few, by and large single, white, male, footloose and fancy-free, who can't find anything else, and are willing to try to stick it out in the system for a bit longer to see if they can get a job.

I know I sound like a broken record, but I think there are two things operating here, the first of which is choice. No one is holding a gun to anyone's head and saying "I will blow your brains out if you do not take this adjunct job". There is lots of information around about alternatives, columns in SCIENCE, and internet resources that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. There is more than one choice being made here.  Choices that say: I don't want to move, I've commitments to this geographic area. Choices that say: I do want a SLAC, I don't want a SLAC, I want Ivy League, MRU, or I want to be in A Big City.

Some of these considerations are not frivolous, and they are valid life choices to make. We each decide what is important to us, and frequently our decisions look irrational or stupid to someone else who has made different decisions.  I'm not saying that its right, let alone a good thing, to make people balance two careers, to make people choose to be near family or take a job somewhere else or to ask a person of color, a LBGT person to move to place that is blatantly hostile to who they are, just because that is the only job there is for them. I also know that a choice to stay where one's spouse has a good job is a very different thing than the dilemma of a  POC or LBGT have to make. My point is only that there is some choice operating here, and no one takes an adjunct position without being aware of those choices.

The other operational consideration here, one more time, is too many mouths at the trough. If you are a faculty member, and over your lifetime, let alone right now in your lab, you've trained more than 1-2 PhD's who go into research, you are not part of the solution. This is true even if you are the Most Important BSD doing research to cure cancer, make disable children walk, or solve Global Climate Change. The reason there are not enough jobs, not enough grants, is because more people want these things than are available. Even if grant money flowed more easily, more frequently, and in higher aliquots, the positions available would be soft-money ones, that depended on continual funding, and not tenure track. It would be a marginal improvement, in terms of salary, but not in terms of security and future. Universities are not about the expand the number of TT positions.

So we've got adjuncts. Make sure your trainees know the score. Make sure the trainees in your department know the score.

19 responses so far

quote of the day: Dragons edition

May 10 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. --Neil Gaiman, in his 2002 novel, Coraline.

Time to go slay some dragons.

Related image

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Research for credit, adjuncts and abuses in academia

May 04 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

A comment to a previous post said:

I did lots of research for credit, and always found it ironic that I was paying tuition to essentially volunteer. In some ways, research for credit is MORE problematic. Welcome to academia, where we vastly underpay people for their work (think adjuncts).

I responded that I think there are situations in which credit/no pay is appropriate: When there is teaching going on, when the student is doing a project that teaches how to do research, when it is not just washing bottles or cleaning animal cages. I think one diagnostic feature is that the teacher/prof is putting significant (more?) energy into teaching the student, than end product that comes out.

But the issue with adjuncts is more complex than this.

So to start:  I do not think that academics are particularly underpaid. I was just speaking with a physician friend, who view on academic physicians was quite nuanced. When I was in a clinical dept at MRU, there was quite schizoid views on the "job" of physicians. Many wanted to make significant amounts of money, which is by and large not compatible with doing  research. My friend said that she thought physicians needed to make a choice: to be academics, take the salary offered, and teach and do research and basically accept that you're not going to get all the perks of a private practice. And that if you did want to get "rich" you should eschew the academic route and just devote yourself to those private patients. The problem of course, is that people, physician people, wanted both.

The punch line from my friend was apt: I get paid plenty, and have what I need, as an academic physician. It is the psychological need or compulsion to have "More" that creates problems. Relative to private practice peers, academic physicians can/sometimes perceive they are not paid enough. I hear my readers laughing at "not enough" for people making > $100K/yr.

Which brings me to one of my favorite (attribution unknown) quotes: who is rich, and should be taxed more? Anyone who makes more money than I do.

Are adjuncts underpaid? If you asked my grandmother, who worked for pennies a day, less than minimum wage in today's dollars, she'd say you're crazy. You ask an adjunct who looks at tenure track people doing similar, if not the same, work for lots more, they would be adamant that yes, they are underpaid. It's relative.

But this comes to the question of why do positions  called "adjunct" exist? From the Administrator's perspective, adjuncts are cheap, very cheap, easy to justify to the bean counters  and make a difference to over all productivity. From an adjunct's point of view, it's a way to stay in the system and hope things get better. From an economist's point of view: adjuncts exist because there is a job offered at a particular wage, and there are people willing to do this work for this wage.

And so once again we return to the mouths at the trough problem. If there were a shortage of professors/teachers / people who could and would teach college courses (supply) relative to the number that need to be taught (demand), then wages would rise. But there is an oversupply of teachers. There is a supply of people who will do this job at this wage. They may get used up and quit, but right now there is a near endless supply of such people. Universities are churning out of PhDs who are willing to do that teaching at that price, so from the administrator's point of view why offer more money? (yes, there are arguments about quality, about commitment, about long term development, but they can be countered,  we are not trying to persuade administrators at this point, and this post is already too long). There is similar logic for postdoc salaries, but see previous parenthetical comment.

The solution seems obvious: stop training so many PhD students. Or be honest with the ones you do take in. Actually, it's more than being honest: think about exponential growth. If jobs for professors are in a "replacement" mode at best (ie no growth in positions), then within a lifetime, a prof should produce ONE replacement for themselves. If a prof produces even two, and those two produce two each, in 10 generations there will be a thousand (2 ^10 = 1024). And if all those people are writing one NIH grant a year, let alone one every cycle, then of course the number of submissions is going to go up exponentially.

So to come back to the beginning: are academics underpaid. If you want to make lots of money, academics is probably not for you. But everyone in the system now has a responsibility to understand the implications, the long term implications, of their actions.

19 responses so far

quote of the day(2): but see also...

May 03 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

The use of religion for political ends is not righteousness, but idolatry -- Jonathan Sacks

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quote of the day: corruption of power

May 03 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Power often corrupts and absolute power often corrupts absolutely, but the greatest corruption of all comes from withholding power, which grants victory to tyrants. -- Shlomo Riskin

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